Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She visited the New Museum of Agave Intoxicants in December 2015. Enjoy!
In December 2015 I found myself in Mexico for a new research project. Although my work had nothing to do with intoxicants (the subject of my first book), I couldn’t resist stopping by the Museo del Mezcal y Tequila (Museum of Mescal and Tequila) one free afternoon.
In years of travel, I’ve visited many intoxicants museums. The Drug Elimination Museum of Yangon, Myanmar attempts to scare schoolchildren away from methamphetamine with graphic images of dying addicts and bloody battles between traffickers and government forces. In Thailand’s Golden Triangle, not one but two Opium Museums recount the history of the drug in Southeast Asia and China as a tale of Western oppression and spur to state-building. The Coca Museum in Cuzco, Peru seeks to replace the legal, mildly stimulating plant’s fatally tarnished image as the raw form of cocaine, with a more positive association with national culture. Free coca-filled chocolates round out the experience. (They taste terrible.)
The Museo del Mezcal y Tequila, which opened in 2010, is a different experience altogether. Like Mexico’s other famed agave museums in Cancún and Guadalajara, this institution might best be characterized as a promotional opportunity for the alcohol with the fastest-rising sales in the United States. Although tequila has long suffered from its association with shots, drunk college students, and intense hangovers, in the past decade it has followed vodka, whiskey and bourbon into the luxury sector. Reflecting increasing demand among consumers for artisanal comestibles, most growth has occurred in super-premium sales (that is, tequilas that cost more than $30 per bottle and consist of pure agave). Meanwhile, mescal, associated even more firmly with “authentic” local production, is also experiencing booming growth—in fact, many tequila brands today have begun to fear its competition.