Pechuga Mezcal - An In-Depth Look at this Unique Mezcal Variety
by Greg Rutkowski
What Is Pechuga Mezcal?
Pechuga mezcal is what is known as a destilado con. Meaning that it is a type of mezcal distilled with something other than the fermented agave.
Typically a destilado con pechuga mezcal is distilled twice before the ingredients to make pechuga mezcal are introduced to the still for a third distillation.
At this stage, a number of techniques are used depending on the region in which the mezcal is being made.
Generally, the maesetro mezcalero will hang a chicken breast with wire where the still cap meets the base. Other ingredients used are seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs which are either thrown directly into the pot or sifted through cheesecloth, among other methods.
Lastly pechugas are not limited to the mezcal category and can be found in many other types of agave spirits.
What Is The History Of Pechuga Mezcal?
Many have tried to unearth the history and origin of pechuga mezcal with inconclusive results.
What we do know is that the tradition dates back several generations, and likely has its origins in Oaxaca.
Alvin Starkman of Mezcal Educational Tours in Oaxaca is one person who was able to trace the tradition of pechuga mezcal back to the 1930’s from an oral history told by a Santiago Matatlán local.
“All variations of pechuga which employ a meat protein continue to be served today at many rite of passage celebrations in Oaxaca such as weddings, quince años, baptisms, significant birthday and anniversary celebrations, and so on.”
Deer Pechuga Mezcal Maguey Melate
What Kinds Of Meats Are Used For Pechuga Mezcal?
Pechuga in Spanish literally translates to breast or breast of a fowl. In the past, however, people have used every kind of meat imaginable, including chicken, turkey, deer, lamb, rabbit, iguana and even lobster.
The lobster pechuga mezcal, in fact, was an invention created by Alvin Starkman in partnership with Rosario Ángeles of Mezcal Rambha.
Of all of the pechugas that I have tried, my personal three favorites are the traditional pechuga, the deer pechuga, and Starkman’s own lobster pechuga mezcal.
Does Pechuga Mezcal Need To Be Made With Meat?
Traditionally pechuga mezcal is made with meat, but it’s not an imperative.
More recently, several maestro mezcaleros have started producing high quality pechuga mezcals with only fruits, vegetables and herbs—vegan pechuga mezcals, if you will.
As the agave spirits category broadens, you will see more and more maestro mezcaleros experimenting and pushing the boundaries of traditional mezcals.
Like many things in mezcal, there are no absolutes. The one thing that you can count on is that mezcal will vary infinitely from one mezcal palenque to another and from bottle to the next.
Pechuga Mezcal Preperation By Dixeebe
What Does Pechuga Mezcal Taste Like?
In the articles What Does Mezcal Taste Like? and Mezcal Tasting Notes; Why I Don’t Opine, Nor Believe In Them, we dive deep into tasting philosophy as well as some caveats that apply here. For further education, I’d highly recommend these articles, but for the sake of this article, allow me to summarize.
When drinking a pechuga mezcal, one note that stands out when compared to non-pechuga mezcal is the umami note. This, of course, is from the meat that is introduced during distillation. Expect a savory, decadent, sometimes even gamey or wild taste (in a good way). But do not expect the flavor to be overwhelmingly strong. It is more like a subtle addition rather than a flavor punch in the face.
Of course, if there is no meat in the pechuga mezcal, you can expect something seasonal-tasting with fruit (ripe or dried) and herb flavors than you would typically taste in a run-of-the-mill espadin mezcal.
But it goes without saying that in the destilados con category, your imagination is the limit when it comes to tastes, smells, and flavor profiles.
The Case For Pechuga Mezcal
Many mezcal purists say that destilados con mezcals are diminishing the natural flavor of mezcal and adding something unnecessary to the process.
But making pechuga is traditional in some villages and many pechuga mezcals are incredibly tasty.
Some pechuga mezcals are rare and special, distilled only annually, while others are unique creations made for special occasions or events. Still others are such well-kept secrets they’re not even for sale to the public.
In my opinion, this exclusivity alone merits them a place on any serious collector’s shelf.
Not only do they make a great conversation piece among guests and friends, but they will elevate a mezcal tasting with even the most experienced of mezcal connoisseurs.
Pechuga Mezcal Food Pairing Ideas
Here are some pairing Ideas From Oscar Montes Iga Of Uncorked Vintage Academia
Oscar Montes Iga is a wine and spirits expert and educator. When asked what his favorite pechuga mezcal food pairings were, he said that “every batch needs to be looked at for pairing possibilities.” A mezcal in this class will have a wide range of character depending on the method and state of production, the agave species, the added protein and the flavoring condiments (fruits, spices, etc.).
Soft Cheese Dried Fruit Board
Baked Brie Cheese Mezcal Pechuga Pairing
Enchiladas Suizas Mezcal Pechuga Pairing
Mediterranean Lamb Chops
Apple, Fennel, Grape, and Peanut Salad With Sesame Vinaigrette
"I recently had the Yuu Baal Espadín destilado con Pechuga de Guajolote with Swineapple, a pork loin-stuffed pineapple wrapped in bacon weave. What a delight!This can also pair nicely with Swiss enchiladas, yellow or green moles, or chicken tostadas.
Raíz de Origen, Cenizo from Durango destilado con Pecho de Venado has a wonderful pairing affinity to cheese & charcuterie boards, venison jerky, roasted goat or grilled/fried/roasted quail.
Bozal Sacrificio (Espadín/Mexicano/Tobasiche) destilado con Pata de Jamón Ibérico would be incredible with a soft cheese like brie, camembert, mont d'or, chavignol, delice de Bourgogne, cana de cabra, etc. This also pairs well with pork tostadas, and green or red pozoles.
In contrast, Flor del Desierto Sotol destilado con Pecho de Venado is more delicate and goes well with fresher items like fennel/apple cashew salad, margherita pizza, antipasto and light cheese, and wild game sausage."
Other Pechuga Mezcal Pairing Suggestions
Pork Belly and White Mole Sauce (Mole de Novia) with Pickled Cabbage and Roasted Broccoli.
Created by Chef Miguel Muñoz Galaviz, a mezcal enthusiast and owner chef of MMugazz in Bucerias, Jalisco, this pechuga mezcal food pairing will dance on your palate.
Chiles en Nogada
This famous traditional Mexican dish is usually made around Mexican Independence Day on account of its white, green, and red colors that resemble the Mexican flag. It is considered another light pairing. Yes, the herbs, sauce and fruit will compliment a creamy pechuga mezcal any day of the week.
Fried Fish or Shrimp Tacos
A friend of the Agave Spirits Institute and owner of Viva Tacos and Tequila in Charleston, SC says that his shrimp tacos would be "banging" with a mezcal pechuga. This light and savory combination is sure to delight your taste buds.
This article was edited and rewritten for accuracy on 12/28/22.
Greg Rutkowski, President of Mezcal For Life
Greg is a certified Agave Spirits Advisor and Mezcal Sommelier through the Agave Spirits Institute. He contributes to a number of agave spirits projects inside Mexico including Raicilla tours and also his agave spirits distillery in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco.
Great article. Thanks very much. I really enjoyed the pechuga I received this fall with the club bimonthly shipment. Question – where to source all these unique and tasty pechugas? Many thanks.