ZUMPAHUACÁN, Mexico -- Eyes pop open, mouths contort, a chorus of crisp "ahhs" rings through the room.
The mescal, the Mexican firewater best known in the United States for the worm in the bottle, has incinerated the tongue, scorched the back of the throat and begun its lava flow to the stomach.
No shots here; the drink is sipped and savored, swirled about the mouth like the finest of wines, inducing a chaser of haughty adjectives.
"Citrusy." "Honey-scented." "Woody," come the assessments from the gathering. Far from a college dorm party, it is a group of mostly 20- and 30-something professionals discovering the finer points of the artisanal version of the drink at a recent tasting in this farming village two hours from Mexico City.
"This is clean liquid," Fructuoso Garcia, 84, one of a handful of producers in this region, stood and declared to the group. "We don’t put anything in to beef up the flavor. This is nothing like you get from the factory."
Mr. Garcia is one of several local producers fighting to share in the boom in Mexican spirits, with mescal, against all odds, taking a star turn.
It is moving a bit out of the shadow of tequila, the far more popular and, let’s face it, smoother spirit that has won fans (and hangovers) around the world.
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