PHOTO BY MARK C. ANDERSON

Raicille

The woman spoke fervently about the magic of Yalapa. To be fair, many visitors to the small, semi-remote fishing village feel compelled to use this word. Such are the effects of its waterfalls, wildlife, and workshops on everything from portal surfing to sacred orgasmic dancing.

But this woman carries more credibility than others. Jeannie Hnytka first visited in 1989, long before WiFi and quad bikes supplanted word-of-mouth tourism and the ever-popular donkeys, 12 years before she made it her home and host of his language school. (WiFi always gets spotty when it’s cloudy.)

“There is magic here, but of a different kind than other places,” she says in Spanish. “Yalapa reveals to you what you need to learn.”

He showed me via puffer fish, polliwogs, land crabs, bonito and a special kind of mezcal: raicilla.

It can be found in trendy beach bars and restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, where you can take water taxis to Yalapa. Once in this jungle beach hamlet, however, the best place to get your mind done in the surrounding hills is in a local’s living room.

My innkeeper directed me down a dusty dirt road to meet a man in his 60s wearing a sweaty ribbed tank top over a spherical stomach. As a football game was being played on TV and his wife was napping on a no-frills mattress, he decanted raicilla from large jugs into repurposed bottles that once held cheap vodka.

He wouldn’t budge on the price, because he knows he’ll have no problem selling it. One sample quickly reveals why – it’s a lemony, vibrant, earthy mezcal that works like an upper rather than a downer, a sacred orgasmic dance in liquid form.

Raicilla is unsurprisingly rare around Monterey Bay. But suddenly it’s not so hard to find.

In a development that poetically syncs with the sixth anniversary of its August 2017 debut (and Edible’s cocktail party number), Cultura Comida y Bebida in Carmel recently finalized a six-page double-sided masterpiece of a list of mezcal to supplement his intelligence and health. -conscious Oaxacan food from chef and partner Michelle Estigoy.

The spirits menu is full of mezcals in carefully selected small batches, described by distiller, village and type of still used. There are dozens of expressions in total, displaying a depth and richness that makes it half an ounce for many (one-ounce pours are the other option, as are smart cocktails like Beets by Day) .

Cultura’s managing partner, Michael Marcy, presented me with hummingbird-scale sips of each of the raicillas on the list, which also includes other rare, regional, and non-Oascan mezcals like sotols and bacanoras.

“Qualities are getting consistent,” Marcy said, “and really good.” Managing partner and chief mezcal curator Sarah Kabat-Marcy, who happens to be married to Michael, wants the wide selection to do justice to the many agave options.

“It gives people the opportunity to explore the vast selection of Mexican spirits,” she says. “Each state has its unique options, and we want to let people know about the diversity that’s out there, experience the terroir of each place, and the artistry of each distiller.”

The Venenosa Etnica Tutsi, with a pleasantly rubbery nose and super clean profile, ranks among the most outstanding raicillas, but there is no shortage in the group. Other standouts include a rich BoNeTe Costa distilled from a tree trunk and its sister version Sierra, which brings the high-altitude terroir to the taste buds like a well-made wine.

The sweetest of the ones I tried, a clay-distilled, caramel-resonant La Venenosa, might have been my favorite. The strongest, a sister Venenosa with 68 ABV, was incredibly sweet.

They are excellent on their own and also benefit from the contrasts that can be drawn between them. Combined with the sublime balance and seductive spice of homemade mango “ceviche” on a shaving of watermelon radish, a hint of raicilla creates – you guessed it – a kind of magic all its own.


Mark C. Anderson is a writer, photographer, editor, and explorer based in Seaside, California. Join @MontereyMCA via Instagram and Twitter.