10 Reasons Why Worms Drink Mezcal
Nobody likes me, everybody hates me….think I’ll go eat worms. So sang the British band ‘The Boys’ in 1977. Kind of weird, right? Well….just maybe their true inspiration was mezcal!
Mezcal producers have been popping worms into their bottles since the 1950’s. Actually, contrary to popular belief they aren’t really worms. They are in fact various types of larvae. Mmmmm larvae, who wouldn’t want some of that?
These creatures are pests that infest the agave plant from which the mezcal is made. Some are white, some are red. Depending on the type they can be found on the leaves or the core of the plant….and they may be the larvae of caterpillar, moth or weevils.
I think I now understand why they are referred to as worms (“gusano” in Spanish)…much more appetising.
There was a time when many, maybe even the majority of mezcals contained a gusano. Now however, it is far less popular…although still not unusual. Well maybe it is a little unusual, but you know what I mean.
The big question is, just how did this tradition come about? There are lots of theories and claims…and without further ado I can present to you the 10 most likely and believable:
Observe the gusano. If it is alive – wriggling and dancing around – the alcohol content is not high enough! If it’s as dead as a city street during quarantine, the alcohol level is too high!
I’m not sure about the reliability of the test though. Surely some gusanos have a higher tolerance than others. The Keith Richards gusano would still be unstoppable at an alcohol level of 90%.
It has been well documented that in pre-Hispanic times the Aztecs used agave as a source of food. They understood its nutritional benefits and in addition, it is believed that the larvae was not spared. Thus, it seemed a worthy tribute to the origins of mezcal to add them to the final product.
It’s a Test
This is your chance to prove your level of machismo or machisma! Are you are real man…or woman?!
Goddam eat that worm! It’s full of booze. It’s ugly. Maybe it’s poisonous. Prove your worth.
There has always been a lot of confusion and misunderstandings with regards to the differences between mezcal and tequila. In fact, while they do have many similarities…there are also plenty of points of difference. At some stage I will cover the differences in detail, but for now just know that mezcal is better!
Annnnyway…there is some belief that mezcaleros added a gusano into their bottles as a means of identifying the drink as mezcal, and not tequila.
The drunken gusano has now moved into number one place as the most likely cure for COVID-19 according to a poll of Facebook medical experts. Say no more.
Proof of Authenticity
The worms (ok larvae) in question can only be found on the agave. It was thought that by adding them into the mezcal it proved that no other, inferior plant had been utilised.
Hmmm, not sure. How difficult would it be to use a different product and simply grab one of the critters from an agave and bung it in to fool everyone? Not very.
As mentioned earlier the larvae are in fact pests when it comes to the beloved agave. What better way to seek some revenge for the damage they cause than drowning them in a delicious, but deadly pool of mezcal? I like this theory.
Oaxaca is the Mexican state which is famous for easily producing the highest quantity of mezcal in the world. It is also home to some very interesting eating habits! Local delicacies include cricket, grasshopper, ants and surprise surprise…gusano. Therefore it’s not a shock that these little bugs have ended up in mezcal.
Flavour and Magical Powers
Some believe that the gusano adds extra or different flavours to the mezcal. Others say it has hallucinogenic properties and many other additional benefits and powers such as – you guessed it – curing impotency.
Maybe it can assist me in assembling an IKEA pack. I doubt it.
Sadly, as far as I’m concerned this is the biggest reason.
There may be an element of truth to some of the theories outlined above, but I believe the desire to be different and create more sales was the principal motivation.
Gusano Rojo (red worm) was the first known company to try this little trick in the 1950’s and it immediately proved popular with tourists from the US. It wasn’t long before word spread about the Mexican liquor with the worm (although some mistakenly believed it to be tequila), and from that time on many companies jumped on board with the practice.
It is now actually pretty rare to find a premium mezcal which adds a gusano, although some continue to do so due to its cultural significance in the world of mezcal.
Personally I’m not really a fan. Such is my admiration for the amazing handmade liquor that is mezcal, I don’t really think it needs a gimmick such as this to promote it…actually I think it takes away somewhat from the reputation of such a high quality product.
Having said that, it’s just my opinion…and I don’t think there are too many mezcal aficionados that haven’t experienced the ritual of eating the gusano…or encouraged a drinking buddy to do so.
It’s a bit of fun for everyone – except the “worm.’’