Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An Expanded History of Pechuga Mezcal

(This is a revised/expanded version of a prior article I wrote on the history of Pechuga Mezcal. I've added a number of additional documented references to Pechuga, roughly doubling the prior amount, and also felt the history would benefit from standing on its own.)

Tequila gets far more publicity, as well as more shelf space at bars and restaurants, than Mezcal but Mezcal is more than worthy of your attention, being complex and intriguing, and often made by more traditional methods. In short, Mezcal is a distilled spirit from the agave plant and Tequila is actually a type of Mezcal, though the average consumer is probably unaware of that fact.

For some background information on Mezcal, please check out several of my prior Mezcal articles, including Rant: 400 Rabbits Say "Drink More Mezcal"Mezcal Bars in the Boston AreaMezcal & BeyondAmuleto Mexican Table, Mezcal Vago & "A Slap To The Face", and Ten Reasons To Drink Mezcal. With this new article, I want to concentrate on a more unique version of Mezcal known as Pechuga.

Pechuga is basically a flavored version of Mezcal in which one of the steps of the distillation process includes some type of meat. The Spanish term "pechuga" basically translates as "breast" and commonly refers to a "chicken breast" though it can also refer to the breast of any type of poultry. Despite the name, Pechuga is not limited to the use of poultry. Currently, you'll find versions of Pechuga made from a variety of animals, including turkey, deer, goat, cow, pig, rabbit and even iguana.

Was chicken breast the first type of meat to be used to produce Pechuga? Currently, the answer is unknown though the earliest known documented reference to Pechuga mentions chicken. Obviously Pechuga was invented some time before the earliest written reference so we cannot say for a surety that chicken was the first meat used to create Pechuga. A different meat could have been used for the first Pechugas yet maybe then there was a change at some point to the use of chicken. Maybe chicken was less expensive than other options.

My own theory, which needs far more evidence, is that turkeys may have been the first animals used in the making of Pechuga. The turkey is native to Mexico while the chicken was an import brought by the Spaniards. Turkeys were, and still are, eaten and used in numerous Zapotec rituals, while turkeys and their eggs were also commonly given as gifts for celebratory occasions. Pechuga is often said to be commonly consumed for holidays and celebratory occasions so why wouldn't the symbolic-rich turkey be used? Far more research into that question is needed.

To make Pechuga, a Mezcal is commonly distilled for a third time with a raw piece of meat suspended inside the still. In addition, various fruits, herbs, nuts, grains and/or spices are added into the still. Pechuga is sometimes referred to as a harvest Mezcal as it is commonly produced during November to January, when the wild fruits are ripe, such as apples, plums, red plantains, pineapples, and more. The specific recipe of that melange of ingredients will vary from mezcalero to mezcalero and as there is no legal definition for Pechuga, the recipes can be quite diverse.

The base Mezcal is usually produced from Espadin agave, as it is one of the most common, hearty and least expensive agaves. Placing all of the various ingredients into the Mezcal will tend to overwhelm any subtlety of the agave so it would make little sense to use some of the rarer agave varieties to make Pechuga. The heat of the still will cook the meat and the vapors will pass through and into the meat. Sometimes, a few mezcaleros will conduct this process during the second distillation instead of adding a third.

How does the meat affect the taste of the Mezcal? Some claim the meat helps to mellow and soften the Mezcal, and others state it gives the Mezcal a fuller body. If you taste a Pechuga, you probably won't be able to identify the specific type of meat that was used, but will likely detect more savory notes, and possibly even some gamier elements. Every Pechuga I've tasted has been intriguing and delicious, as well as very different from all the others.

Though Pechuga is relatively rare, it can be found in the U.S. market, primarily due to the work of Ron Cooper of Del Maguey. Around 1999, Cooper, after a few years of fighting the bureaucracy, was the first to bring Pechuga into the U.S. market. Currently, they sell two Pechugas, one made with chicken and the other with Iberico ham. Since then, a number of other Mezcal producers, including Pierde Almas (using a rabbit),  El Jolgorio (using a guajolote, a creole turkey rooster ), Wahaka (one also using a guajolote and another which is a vegan version), and Fidencio (using chicken breast). As Pechuga is made in small batches, it tends to be very pricey, and you can expect to pay $100-$300 a bottle. Some restaurants and bars sell Pechuga by the glass or a small cup so you can taste one without shelling out the money for an entire bottle.

The origins of Pechuga are murky, both its date of origin as well as the reasons behind its initial creation. When I initially surveyed the current information about Pechuga, there was some evidence that it reached back at least to the 1930s as there were glass bottles labeled Pechuga from this decade. As for printed evidence, the earliest was alleged to be a book from the 1950s which mentioned a Pechuga made from baby goat breast that was added during the second distillation. It seemed likely that Pechuga originated before the 1930s, but the evidence seemed lacking.

I decided to seek more evidence about Pechuga's origins, beginning with a search through some newspaper archives. I didn't have high expectations but knew the searches wouldn't take too long so it wasn't a major investment. My efforts quickly paid off as I uncovered a newspaper article from 1901 mentioning Pechuga! That alone was exciting but I then used that article as a springboard for deeper research, uncovering numerous other Pechuga references, especially in a number of Mexican newspapers and books.

At this time, I've discovered printed documentation of Pechuga extending back to 1864, meaning it is over 150 years old. In addition, I've located multiple printed references to Pechuga, ranging from 1864 to 1945, which provide more insight into this unique type of Mezcal. Despite my fascinating discoveries, there are still significant questions remaining about the history of Pechuga. Additional research is certainly needed to address the unknowns and I strongly suspect there is more to find out there.

The oldest documented reference to Pechuga that I found was from August 1864, indicating that the existence of Pechuga extends back over 150 years. In the Boletin de la Sociedad Mexicana de Geografia y Estadisticathere was a lengthy article, Memoria Sobre El Maguey Mexicano Y Sus Diversos Productos, written by D. Manuel Payno (August 1864). There is a passage in this article that stated: “El primer producto que se obtiene y que se llama vino ordinario, sufre una segunda destilacion, que pro duce el vino refino, que se expende en el comercio con un grado de 46° (Gay Lussac). Las primeras porcio nes que pasan en esta segunda destilacion, toman el nombre de flor primera, segunda, etc. Hay un vino que - rectifican añadiéndole gallina y no recuerdo qué otras cosas bien poco volátiles, que llaman vino de pechuga, el cual lo preparan solamente para regalo."

This passage mentions "vino de pechuga," which was made by adding chicken and other unstated ingredients. This is basically what we know as Pechuga, a Mezcal which adds meat and other ingredients. The passage also notes that this Pechuga was prepared only for a gift, something for a celebratory occasion, which is also something which fits much of what we know. Unfortunately, there were no other references to Pechuga in Payno's lengthy article.

One issue we may have with finding older references to Pechuga is that it might be difficult if the term "pechuga" is not used. At some point in history, a mezcalero decided to add meat to his Mezcal still and it may not have had a special name at that point. Who knows how many mezcaleros emulated this pioneer before someone finally decided to name it Pechuga? Then, we don't know how long it took after that for someone to mention Pechuga in a book or newspaper.

It's interesting that the next documented reference I found is from a Colorado newspaper, Out West (November 21, 1872), which provided a travelogue, written by Rosa Del Monte, who journeyed with a group to various parts of Mexico. At the Hacienda de Quesaria, the group had breakfast, checked out their sugar mill and were amazed by "chicken wine." As the passage states: “But the most remarkable product of the estate is “Chicken Wine.” As any-one may imagine, we greeted the member of the party who made the discovery with shouts of derision, but he stuck to his statement, and soon a bottle with “Vino de Pechuga” (the breast of a chicken) on the label was produced. We tasted the decoction, and found it very bad rum, with no perceptible taste of feathers. Three barrels, worth $36 the barrel, are made daily, and two chickens are boiled in every four gallons of the wine. Such is the fact—but the reason why remains a mystery to this day.”

This is a fascinating passage and the writer might have been confused as to the actual method of production of the Pechuga. This was likely created with Mezcal and not wine, as Pechuga is sometimes referred to as "vino de Pechuga," despite no actual wine being involved. It is also surprising that this Pechuga is allegedly made every day, and not just as a gift as mentioned in the Payno article. This is also the first time we have a price for Pechuga, $36 per barrel, though it is unsure whether that is in U.S. dollars or Mexican dollar.

During the 1870s, a number of Mexican newspapers printed ads for the sale of Pechuga, which seems to indicate it was being produced for more than just gifts. The El Padre Cobos (November 2, 1873), and in a number of other issues during the next few months, posted an ad: "Gran Lecheria! En la calle de la Alcaiceria entre los numeros 27 y 28 se vende leche pura garantizada desde las cinco de la manana adelante y chocolate superior de varias clases, al estilo de Guadalajara. Proximamente se recibera de esa ciudad un abudante surtido de vino de Pechuga febrido in Tequila, Frijol garbancillo y Cigarros de la Conchita y el Buen Gusto todo legitimo y a precios comodos."

This ad mentioned that an assortment of "Vino de Pechuga," which was made in Tequila, would soon be available for sale. This article thus indicates Pechuga was being made in the Tequila region, though there isn't any indication it was made exclusively in that area.

Later in that same newspaper, El Padre Cobos (January 18, 1874)and in a number of other issues during the next few months, posted a revised ad, noting "..: vino de Tequila comun y de pechuga, tan puro como no se ha tomado nunca en esta capital;.." This ad highlighted the high purity or quality of these products, including the Pechuga.

The El Libreto (January 4, 1875) also ran an ad for "... del Pechuga legitimo y Tequila puro de la mejor clase." This ad emphasized "legitimate" Pechuga, which could indicate that fake Pechuga was also being sold on the market.

An article in La Bandera Nacional (October 6, 1877) mentioned: "Hay alli un tequila, legitimo pechuga, que a los jalisciences les recuerda Jalisco, un vino de Papa Clemente, que hace sonar con el Vaticano, un jerez que entusiasma a los espanoles; pero mas que todo esto, se recomienda la amabilidad de quien despacha." This references "legitimate" Pechuga that reminds some people of a Sherry wine from Spain which is favored by the Pope. This is certainly high praise for the Pechuga, as well as raising once again the potential issue of fake Pechuga.

In La Libertad (March 13, 1878), and in a number of other issues during the next month, there is an advertisement mentioning: "...Tequila de Pechuga de la fabrica del inteligente Sabas Cruz. Por su gusto y aroma parece un balsamo, y no se sacia uno de saborearlo: tiene ademas virtudes medicinales." Besides mentioning once again that the Pechuga comes from Tequila, there is also the first reference to Pechuga possessing "medical virtues," though no specifics are provided.

Later that month, La Patria (March 31, 1878) noted that Jesus Flores won a prize at an exposition for his "vino de Pechuga." Unfortunately, the article didn't provide any additional details about this winning Pechuga but now we see that Pechuga was sometimes entered into competitions. More evidence of Pechuga at competitions will later be seen from other sources.

Almost a year later, La Patria (February 1, 1879) ran an advertisement from a seller, Nicolas Andrade, of Tequila and Pechuga. The ad lists the prices, in Mexican dollars, for various containers, from a cup to a barrel. It is interesting to see that Pechuga generally cost twice as much as Tequila. A cup of "Grande Tequila" costs $0.03 while a cup of Pechuga cost $0.06. A bottle of Tequila cost $0.37 while a bottle of Pechuga cost $1.00. A Jar of Tequila cost $3.50 while a Jar of Pechuga cost $7.00. A Barrel of Tequila cost $25.00 but there wasn't a price for Pechuga by the barrel. It is hard to say the reason for the higher cost of Pechuga, whether it was due more to rarity or whether it was because it was considered to be of higher quality. Or maybe a combination of both.

More prices were provided by the El Municipio Libre (April 3, 1879), in an advertisement by a liquor store. Mescal de Tierra Caliente cost $1.50 for a bottle and $20.00 for a Box (though there is no indication how much the box contains). Tequila Superior cost $3.00 for a bottle and $40.00 for a Box. And "Legitimate" Pechuga costs $7.00 for a bottle and $90.00 for a box. These prices are higher than the other advertisement though Pechuga is still the most expensive. What is also curious is that this ad states its Pechuga is "legitimate," continuing to raise the question whether some people were selling fake Pechuga. Maybe that is why the other seller's prices were so cheap.

La Patria (April 26, 1879) notes a recommendation for a vendor of "...en particular el exquisito vino pechuga para familias, que por sus virtudes higienicas ha merecidos el titulo de elixir mexicano:" The phrase "el elixir mexicano," the "Mexican elixir," was in italics. This is another reference to Pechuga being healthy for you, noting its "hygienic virtues," though once again, there are no specifics listed.

In 1880, Mariano Barcena presented a study, La 2. Exposicion de “Las Clases Productoras” y descripcion de la ciudad de Guadalajarato the Secretary of Development. There was a list under the heading, Bebidas Azucaradas y Otras, which included a number of Pechuga references, usually as "vino de Pechuga." There were also references to “vino de Pechuga y almendrado” (Pechuga and Almonds), “Pechuga Almendrado,” and “Pechuga Naranjado” (Orange Pechuga). These terms seem to indicate the additional ingredients added to the base Pechuga. It raises the question then whether originally Pechuga only contained chicken, or another meat, and not the fruits, nuts, and such known to be used to create later versions of Pechuga. This study also mentioned that Sr. D. Carlos G. Sancho presented a "very good" Pechuga.

Pechuga apparently was entered into international competitions, as noted in El Monitor Republicano (April 22, 1880) in the following passage: "Vino Tequila de Pechuga, Almendrado, llamado Vino de Tertulia, fabricado por Librado Escamilla, en Guadalajara, y premiado en la ultima Exposicion Universal de Paris. Conocidas ya las cualidades del Vino Tequila para la cuaracion de diarreas cronicas, anemia, malas digestiones, reumatismo, falta de apetito e irregularidades en las enfermmedades del sexo femenino, se hace mas recomendable la preparacion del Vino de Tertulia, porque su gusto exquisito lo hara agradable y facil de tomar a las Senoras y ninos."

This passage mentioned a "Pechuga Almendrado," which was also called Tertulia Wine and made by Librado Escamilla in Guadalajara. There is no explanation for why it is called "Tertulia," though that term translates as "gathering," and thus might be an indication that the Pechuga is a drink for gatherings. This specific Pechuga is also said to have been given an award at the last Universal Exhibition in Paris, likely in 1878, indicating this Pechuga was considered high enough quality to be entered into a competition, as well as good enough to win. There aren't any details though as to the nature of the competition, and what the Pechuga might have faced.

In addition, this fascinating passage provides details on the alleged health benefits of Pechuga, which can be used for the treatment of chronic diarrhea, anemia, bad digestion, rheumatism, and a lack of appetite. It is also noted that this Pechuga Almendrado can help irregularities in the diseases of women, especially as it is considered smooth and easy enough for both women and children to drink. This won't be the only reference to Pechuga Almendrado being especially appropriate for women.

In the Anales del Ministerio de Fomento de la Republica Mexica (1881), there are references to a few specific producers of Pechuga, Jesús Flores is noted to be the owner of a wealthy distillery in Tequila and produces a variety of Mezcals, including Pechuga and Alemendrado. He was also the only person win a first class medal in the first Guadalajara Municipal Exhibition. Sabás Cruz received an award for his Pechuga at the recent Exposition in France. And Cárlos Sancho is mentioned as making a very good Pechuga.

For a more technical reference to Pechuga, El Monitor Republicano (July 23, 1881) has an article, "Inspeccion De Bebidas Y Comestibles," which notes: "..; por ultimo, el aguardiente de tequila llamado vino de pechuga, vino de familia, es un verdadero elixir en el que hay buena proporcion de azucar y alguna sustancia aromatica, adiciones que aumentando la densidad del liquido hasta hacer flotar en su superficie el alcohometro, obligan a destilarlo para conocer su riqueza; hecha esta operacion en esos aguardientes de las cuatro cantinas aludidas, dieron como termino medio 38.5 por ciento; sometiendo esos elixires a las manipulaciones indicadas para buscar las reacciones caracteristicas de la presencia del alumbre o del acido sulfurico, el resultado fue claramente negativo." In short, this passage notes that Pechuga is a "true elixir" and contains a good proportion of sugar and some aromatics and these additions increase the density of the liquid.

In 1882, the Memoria de la Primera Exposicion Industrial De Queretaro, y Lista de los objetos presentados en la misma ("Memory of the first exhibition industry of Queretaro and list of objects presented"), written by Celestino Diaz, had a couple references to Pechuga. First, it mentioned that Francisco A. Vargas won a First Class Award for his "Pechuga Naranjado." Second, it mentioned two bottles of Pechuga that were made by Mariano R. Velazquez. There was a third reference too, using a different term for Pechuga, which was wasn't clear unless you were already aware of this other term.

There was a mention of "mezcal de sustancia, que los Srs. Becerill y Ordonez fabrican en San Angel." From another reference I found, I was aware that "mezcal of substance" was another term for Pechuga, and I'll mention that later in this article.

I was surprised to find a reference to Pechuga in an Italian journal. In the Archivio per l'antropologia e la etnologia: Volumi 13-14 (1883),  the Archive for Anthropology and Ethnology, there was an article titled "Il Pulque (Neutli) Dei Messicani" (The Pulque of Mexicans) which referenced Pechuga in the following passage: “Tequila dà il suo nome alla bevanda spiritosa del mescal, come Cognac dette il suo all'acquavite di Francia, ed il pulque di Tequila (Stato di Jalisco), che è il migliore, unito ad altre sostanze volatili prende il nome di supremo Tequila de Pechuga ed è fabbricato unicamente per commissione e re galo. Il mescal è d'uso comunissimo ed anche aristocratico.”

A rough translation is "Tequila gives its name to the mescal spirit drink, as Cognac gave its France brandy, and the Tequila pulque (State of Jalisco), which is the best, combined with other volatile substances is named Supreme Tequila de Pechuga and is manufactured solely by commission and king. The mescal is very common and also aristocratic." The passage indicates, that at least to the Italians, they saw Pechuga as one of the highest forms of tequila, and produced for the elites.

Published in January 1884, the book Estudio quimico-industrial de los varios productos del maguey mexicano y analisis quimico del aguamiel y el pulque ("Chemical-industrial study of various products of Mexican maguey and chemical analysis of aguamiel and pulque") was written by José G. Lobato and contains the following passage: "El estado de Zacatecas posee varios distritos mezcaleros; pero entre ellos el de Pinos es muy notable por las plantaciones y cultivo de sius magueyeras, que producen much mezcal, alcohol de primera y segunda clase, llamdos chorrera el primero, y pechuga el sugundo. Esta misma denominacion se les aplica en San Luis Potoso, Guanajuato, Queretaro y otros Estados."

This passage mentions that the Mexican state of Zacatecas, located north of Jalisco, has several Mezcal producing districts and that the Pinos district is notable. This district is best known for two classes of Mezcal, Chorrera and Pechuga. It continues noting that this also applies to other Mexican states, including San Luis Potoso, Guanajuato, and Queretaro, indicating the prevalence of Pechuga Mezcal.

Another passage in that same book goes into some additional detail, "El mezcal de pechuga de San Luis Potosí, de Pinos en Zacatecas, de Tequila en Jalisco, etc., es un alcohol muy aromático, muy sápido, muy carminativo, debido esto al aceite esencial del maguey, al ácido agávico y á la agavina encontrada por el Sr. Fernandez en 1876, con moti vo del análisis que exprofeso ejecutó, comisiónado por el Ayuntamiento de Guanajuato con motivo del envenena miento de este alcohol por el plomo."

It is stated that the Pechuga of San Luis Potosí, the Pinos in Zacatecas, and Tequila in Jalisco, are very aromatic and full-bodied. Strangely, it's also stated that these mezcals are "carminativo," which translates as carminative, meaning they can induce or prevent flatulence. Mezcal has long been said to cure many ailments, but mentioning its carminative properties along with it being aromatic and full-bodied seems to be a strange combination. The passage also mentions that these qualities are considered to be due to the essential oil of the maguey plant, agavic acid and its agavina (natural sugars).

An advertisement in the El Correo de San Luis (April 23, 1885) (and May 19) noted its low prices, for "Vino de Pechuga Almendrado," which is also stated to be "propio para las senoras por su suavidad y buen gusto," ("suitable for ladies for its softness and good taste"). This is the second reference I've seen that refers to women as a specific demographic for this type of Pechuga. Is it only because almonds were added to this Pechuga? This reference seems to raise more questions than it answers.

In the 1887 edition of The Mexican Guide by Thomas A. Janvier, which appears to be a travel guide of sorts, it mentions that “A strong distilled spirit is made from the root of the maguey, the best variety of which is the tequila de pechuga. It has something the taste of Scotch whiskey. It costs seventy-five cents a bottle.” This is another reference to Pechuga being the highest quality tequila and it even provides a price for it at this time, a mere seventy-five cents. I should also note that this mention of Pechuga isn't included in the 1886 edition of this guide.

There is a brief mention in El Amigo de la Verdad (January 28, 1888) of several classes of Tequila, including Sweet, Tequila with Walnuts and Pechuga Almendrado.

There is a reference to Pechuga being sent to the U.S. in the El Tiempo (October 10, 1889), noting an American steamship traveling to San Francisco with a load of 60 barrels of Mezcal and 1 barrel of Pechuga. It seems Pechuga wasn't as popular in California as was Mezcal.

There is an interesting passage in the El Abogado Cristiano Ilustrado (June 15, 1890) noting: "Hombre! me occure ahora que si--como se dice el autor de aquella cita resulta ser un Jesuita, este escribio ese parrafo, de que tanto bombo hace La Ilustracion, bajo la influencia del jugo fermentado de las uvas de Engadi o del pechuga de Tequila al que no dejan de ser afectas las gentes de sotana." This seems to discuss a priest who might enjoy wine from "Engadi" grapes or Pechuga.

An advertisement in La Patria (July 2, 1890) states: "El afamado deposito de vinos de Tequila propiedad del Sr. Aurelio Gutierrez, situado en la calle de Manrique num. 1, acaba de recibir un magnifico surtido de Pechuga doble, Pechuga almendrado y Tequila de la bien reputada fabrica de la Sra. viuda de Martinez." It notes a vendor who recently acquired an assortment of Tequila, including Pechuga Doble ("Pechuga Double") and Pechuga Almendrado, which came from the well-regarded distillery of the widow Mrs. Martinez. This is the first reference I've seen to Pechuga Doble.

An intriguing book, El Maguey. Memoria sobre el cultivo y beneficio de sus productosby Jose C. Segura, was published in Mexico in 1891. Jose Segura (1846-1906) was an agronomist engineer and a professor at the National School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, having written several other books and numerous articles. This book, published in Spanish, discussed the many uses of the agave plant, including its use in making Pulque and Mezcal. It is probably worth a deeper examination as it may contain other intriguing information about agave, Pulque, Mezcal and more. It would also help if there were an English translation.

Segura references Pechuga, though he used a different term, referring to it as a mezcal of "sustancia," substance, a term which we saw earlier in this article in an 1882 book. Segura wrote "Dos clases de Mezcal se conocen en el Sur de Mexico: el mezcal de cabezas, que es el que se obtiene destilacion del liquidoen donde se han puestoa fermentar las cabezas, y el que llama de sustancia, que es el que se obtiene distilando el jugo fermentado de las cabezas con carne de gallina cocida, o patas de ternera. Tambien acostumbran en algunas partes, aromatizar el mezcal, destilandolo sobre cascaras de fruta." This passage states that the mezcal of sustancia was distilled with chicken or legs of veal. There was also a mention that sometimes fruit peels are added to the mezcal to help aromatize it.

Finding prices for Mezcal and Pechuga is always interesting. The Boletín de Agricultura Minería e Industrias (January 1, 1892) references "pechuga almendrado" with a barrel priced from $16-$18 in Mexican dollars. For comparison, a barrel of "Mezcal Tequila, buena clase" is priced from $10.75-$11 and a barrel of "Mezcal Tequila, doble o de punta" (double or pointed) from $18-$20. As such, Pechuga is more expensive than some other Mezcals, but not all types.

In the El Municipio Libre (August 1, 1895) there is an article about the upcoming National Exhibition of 1896, where various Mexican states will exhibit some of their best products. The article states: "A mas del aguardiente se elabora en algunas haciendas vino de mescas que es muy apreciado, con especialidad el de pechuga y almendrado." This basically indicates that some haciendas, which produce Mezcal, specialize in Pechuga and Almendrado.

In the Saturday, January 5, 1901 edition of The Oasis, an Arizona newspaper, they published an article, Mescal Making, though the author of the article was not identified. The article discussed the Mezcal being produced in the Sahuaripa district of the Sonora state in Mexico, stating the area was "...noted far and wide for the excellence and quality of the mescal there produced,..."

There was a further explanation of how Mezcal was produced, including information on its quality levels, which mentioned Pechuga. “Of the finished liquor there are three qualities determined by the number of distillations to which subjected. The product of the first distillation is called “vino,” and is the cheapest grade of mescal. The “vino” when subjected to a second distillation loses about thirty per cent in weight and then is known as “Bacanora.” This is a much finer and more expensive liquor than the “vino.” In the third distillation the “Bacanora” loses another thirty per cent, by weight, of the “vino” and the product, known as “pechuga,” is a very fine and costly liquor, within reach of the purses of the wealthy only. It is a soft, smooth liquor, having all the strength of the “vino,” contained within forty per cent of its weight but losing none of its fiery qualities and pungent taste.”

It is important to note that this article didn't specifically mention that Pechuga was made with meat, but it was stated to be produced from a third distillation. Did the author misunderstand the actual nature of Pechuga? It doesn't seem logical that this Pechuga didn't include meat. Why else refer to it by a name meaning "breast," especially "chicken breast?"  There doesn't appear to be any other historical evidence that the term Pechuga was ever used for anything but Mezcal flavored with meat. I think it is probably most likely the author made a mistake, an omission error, failing to mention the addition of meat in Pechuga. We also see that Pechuga was very expensive, and tasted soft and smooth, though still possessing the fiery character of Mezcal.

As an aside, on Saturday, May 24, 1902, The Oasis published a second article, Mezcal Manufacture, mentioning Pechuga. However, the article was simply an expanded version of their prior article, using much of the same information, and didn't add anything new about Pechuga.

In El Agricultor Mexicano (June 1, 1901)there was a passage "En el estado de Zacatecas, que cuenta con mucho distritos mezcaleros, el mas notable es el de Pinos que produce un alcohol supremo, y que es de dos clases, la de primera se llama "chorrera" y "pechuga" la de segunda." It mentioned the Mexican state of Zacatecas, located north of Jalisco, which had many Mezcal producing districts with the Pinos district being considered the best. The Pinos district was best known for two types of Mezcal, Chorrera and Pechuga.

The term "mezcal de sustancia" appeared again, in the Diccionario de Aztequismos: ó sea, Catálogo de las palabras del idioma Nahuatl, Azteca ó Mexicano, introducidas al idioma Castellano bajo diversas formas, written in 1904 by Cecilio A. Robelo. The book provided a list of various types of Mezcal and defined "Mezcal de sustancia" as "el que se obtiene destilando el jugo fermentado de las cabezas con carne de gallina cocida, o patas de ternera." That basically states that it is made by distilling the mezcal with chicken or veal legs.

Prices also arose again, in the Periódico Oficial del Estado de Zacatecas (July 16, 1910) which notes bottles of pechuga almendrado for sale for $0.75 each while different brands of tequila cost only $0.25 to $0.46 per bottle. Pechuga was thus clearly more expensive, three times as much as the cheapest tequila.

An advertisement in El Informador (August 14, 1930) is intriguing as it states: "Alegre sus dias de campo obsequiando sus amistades con Tequila "Providencia," "Pechuga Almendado" que da gusto al paladar mas exigente." That roughly translates as "Cheer up your field days by giving away your friends with Tequila Providence, Pechuga Almendado which gives taste to the most demanding palate."

For at least the next fifteen years, El Informador printed a number of advertisements referencing Pechuga. In their October 2, 1932 issue, there was an advertisement for Providencia Tequila, both an Anejo and Pechuga Almendrado, priced at 75 cents (Mexican) per bottle. In the November 1, 1932 issue, there is an advertisement from a different vendor of wines and spirits, mentioning the Providencia Pechuga Almendrado but it doesn't provide a price. The November 19, 1933 issue has an ad from an exclusive distributor of many different brands of Tequila, including the Pechuga Almendrado Ruiz. There are multiple copies of these advertisements in other issues but they don't add any new information. It is also interesting that the ads only mention the Almond Pechuga and not any other types.

In El Informador (January 1, 1937), there is a large advertisement for the Providencia brand, noting its Anejo Rey VSOP, Providencia Supremo and Pechuga Almendrado. The photo above was taken from the ad, showing a drawing of the bottle of Pechuga. In the April 23, 1940 issue, another advertisements mentions the Pechuga Almendrado Regio, priced at $1.25 (Mexican) per bottle. In the March 31, 1941 issue, there is an ad referencing Crema Pechuga Almendrado. The January 1, 1943 issue has an ad that mentions Sin Rival Tequila, which also makes Pechuga Almendrado. It is  interesting that all of these ads only reference Pechuga that is made in the Tequila region, and they continue to only speak of Almond Pechuga.

In an article about traveling through Mexico, The NY Post Daily Magazine Section (December 14, 1945) printed, "Another great delicacy of the countryside is Pechuga, made by dropping the breast of a chicken in mescal before distilling it and keeping it there for ten days until it has a certain odor and a yellowish color, not unlike corn whiskey." I'm not quite sure the writer understood exactly how Pechuga is produced.

It is abundantly clear now that Pechuga wasn't a 20th century invention, but extends back at least to 1864, over 150 years ago. These are fascinating finds, and I hope that it might lead to even more such discoveries in the future. We may have peeled back several layers of the "onion" of Pechuga but there are plenty of other layers to still uncover.

Have you tasted Pechuga? If so, what were your thoughts? What are your thoughts about this history of Pechuga?

(Update 5/4/2018: I've added a number of additional references to this article, primarily references from the 1930s and 1940s.)

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