I love booze, not for the heady optimism, comforting warmth, or the easy courage it brings (although I appreciate those effects), but rather, because it enhances my two true passions: learning and traveling. For example, whenever I travel to a new area, the first thing I do is make an effort to get to know the people. I have found that by engaging the locals I’m able to discover everything I’d like to know about a culture and a land, and in far more intimate detail than any guidebook could possibly betray. Yet, I’ve never been the type of guy that can just walk up to someone and say, So, how do you feel about your country’s thirty-six-year civil war ending? I prefer to approach my would-be friends on the more neutral ground, and unlike religion, politics, or love, every culture shares the same belief in booze. Once I learn a little about the local libation, I have a great icebreaker into any conversation.
Recently, I traveled to Mexico and had the incredible fortune of discovering Casa Raab, a beautiful bed, and breakfast that offers a hands-on learning vacation in the art making of mezcal, the state pride of Oaxaca. Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant (a form of agave, Agave Americana) native to Mexico. In fact, many people have unwittingly tried it—tequila is actually a type of mezcal made specifically from the blue agave in select regions of Mexico, but due to the strict regulations and laws, it often lacks the complexity and personality of other mezcal. Whereas the making of tequila has become the profitable fruit of big business (think Jose Cuervo), mezcal distilleries, known as palenques, are usually no more than rudimentary setups in someone’s backyard, like Casa Raab.
This incredible vacation takes place amidst 40 acres of agave plants and is led by the owner, Tony, who is a walking encyclopedia on mezcal. He will take you through the production process from the planting of the maguey plant to the final distillation. You will also take a field trip through the hills of Oaxaca to meet other Mescalero’s (makers of mezcal) where you will learn to taste the subtle differences created by the varying species of maguey. Lodging is on-site and all-inclusive. The rooms are beautiful and the home cooked meals will amaze you. Course lengths are customizable and flexible, but most people stay five days (count on travel days on either end, so a total of seven days). Finally, at the end of your course, you will even get to go home with your own bottle of homemade mezcal.