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¡Tequila!: Distilling the Spirit of Mexico Paperback – November 12, 2014
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"In her book, ¡Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico, Professor Marie Sarita Gaytán provides a rich account of the compelx and disjointed paths through which agave is produced, consumed, and represented in Mexico and beyond its national borders, paths which converge in the construction and renegotiations of Mexican identity . . . Her attention to film and music demonstrates some of the multidisciplinary reach of cultural studies and the institutional criticism spearheaded early on in communications studies and continuing in anthropology in Latin America and beyond. ¡Salud!" (Lisa Peñaloza Consumption Markets & Culture)
"This book is its namesake liquor manifested: blanco in its rollicking prose, reposado in its smooth unveiling of an epic saga, añejo in its deep research. Add a touch of lime and salt, and you have a perfect evening of reading." (Gustavo Arellano author and columnist of ¡Ask a Mexican! )
"Food and drink are every bit as important to national images as flags and anthems. For Mexicans, tequila, sipped with a slice of limón and a pinch of salt, is, as Marie Sarita Gaytán puts it, the very spirit of Mexico . . . Yet, as Gaytán points out in this deft history, tequila is, like most national icons, of recent vintage." (Rachel Laudan)
"¡Tequila! Distilling the Spirit of Mexico is a welcome addition to the literature on material culture in Mexico and the first to critically examine tequila as enduring symbol of Mexican national identity . . . [Gaytán] writes in a clear, engaging manner and the text would be an excellent addition to undergraduate courses on modern Mexican history or popular culture as well as anthropology and sociology courses dealing with food and drink." (Ronda L. Brulotte)
"This riveting, beautifully-written book presents a groundbreaking examination of why and how tequila has achieved special distinction as a national symbol. Especially impressive is Gaytán's discussion of the ritual practices associated with tequila and the multiple ways in which the drink has come to represent both tradition and modernity. Simply terrific." (Stanley H. Brandes author of Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead: The Day of the Dead in Mexico and Beyond)
"¡Tequila! is an intellectual spirit, and a model for rigorous transnational and interdisciplinary analysis of Mexico's tequila cultural symbolism, production, and consumption. A superb investigation of Mexican nationalist consumption and power." (Deborah R. Vargas, University of California Riverside)
"This fascinating, well-written book explores how tequila has come to symbolize what it means to be Mexican . . . A must read for all serious scholars of Mexican history as well as those engaged in alcohol studies research . . . Highly recommended." (F.H. Smith Choice)
About the Author
Marie Sarita Gaytán is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah.
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If you are a purveyor of cocktails, look elsewhere. There is not a single recipe to be found in these pages. If you are looking to expand your awareness of tequila and other agave distillates, also look elsewhere. There is little in the way of classification and nothing remotely resembling tasting notes. If, like myself, the allure of alcohol goes way beyond what you taste and what you feel when you drink it, then you might be interested in this book. Even then, you must approach this with the idea that you are learning about the culture of Mexico through the lens of Tequila and not the other way around. You must be acutely interested in the history of Mexico and it’s people, far and above the interest you gain as simply a tequila drinker.
For some context, I will set before you the chapter titles:
Fermenting Struggles: Pulque, Mezcal, and Tequila
Intoxicating Icons: Pancho Villa, Masculinity, and U.S. - Mexican relations
Gendering Mexicanidad and Commercializing Consumption: Tequila and the Comedia Ranchera
Touring Tequila and Harvesting Heritage: the pasts enduring presence
Pursuing Prestige: regulation, resistance, and the limits of mexican authenticity
Consuming Complexity: Tequila talk in Mexico and the United States
From a historical and distilling perspective, from the chapter titles alone, this book has some very good information to offer. Too often I have struggled to find the real difference (and legal classifications) between Mezcal and Tequila with insufficient answers from people who claimed to know such things. While it may not have answered my questions fully in regards to the production methods, this book certainly gave me context for why those answers may be so difficult to attain (spoiler alert: it’s the Mexican government).
As a professor of Gender studies, I can safely assume that Marie Gaytan knows a great deal more about the ways in which we have expressed and rebelled against notions of femininity over time than I do. With that in mind, I will not even attempt to put into words the ideas that she put forth in this book, since she does it so much better. Instead, I will focus on what I considered to be the most thought provoking element of her research: the complicated interaction between the government, small distilleries, and alcohol conglomerates. At the time of publishing in 2014, Seniora Gaytan talks about how in the main cities of Tequila, small craft distilleries are struggling to compete with the advertising, resources, and political pull of the larger distilleries, many of which are owned by corporations based well outside of Mexico. While there is nothing wrong with that in itself, these large corporations are weaving a narrative of tradition and culture that smothers the actual culture of the region. This illusion of craft, local, and traditional is something that plagues distillers across the globe as everyone tries to stay ahead of shifting trends and convince an ever-picker audience that their product is the one to grace the shelves of a home bar.
Living in the American Southwest and growing up in a largely hispanic area has given me a healthy considering for Mexican history and culture and how it may affect my state of living today. It is in this spirit that I do recommend Tequila: Distilling the Spirit of Mexico as a sincerely interesting read. It made me think, it made me ask questions, it made me look at the world I live in with a different perspective. That said for people whose interest is in cocktails, tasting and inebriation, I fear you might be sorely disappointed in this book.
Beyond these two though, I would recommend this book because I feel that Tequila and it’s story is a microcosm of the alcohol industry today. The stories of whiskey, rum, wine, brandy, and beer are all woven through global culture and each of them has played a role in history almost organically. Tequila strikes me as different… It was so late to the global market, born and raised in such a tumultuous environment that every aspect of the story of Tequila has been deliberately shaped. It is a study power of governments, businesses, and the collective to determine what place certain symbols can hold. To people who don’t have an emotional attachment to tequila, it is the lens through which we can look at other spirits and ask ourselves if we are happy with the industry as we know it. Ask ourselves how we can change it to make it better and how we can create more educated consumers in the face of a veritable avalanche of misleading information. This book may not have been what I was expecting, but it certainly did not let me down.
-First and foremost, Ms. Gaytan is more then a little heavy handed with sociology theory and terminology, at times reading like a textbook with voluminous footnotes and cross-references with other works. Historians will no doubt appreciate this, but it might drag down the experience somewhat for everyone else.
-She has the bad habit of many modern historians to discuss the human experience exclusively through the lens of social division and oppression. According to the author every part of the history Tequila evolved in spite of latin colonists, the spanish upper class, only to be appropriated by that self-same upper class and later international corporations as an additional tool of oppression. All this might be true, but the unleavened cynicism is tought to digest at times.
None of this is to say that Tequila is not worth reading, so long as you are in the right mindset, but there are more enjoyable, digestible, and equally rich histories available.
As the ingenious title suggests, Dr. Gaytán’s primary focus is how tequila became Mexico’s national spirit, taking an in-depth look at the national and international forces that have shaped its perception, and, in one stand-out chapter, why it beat down the many other contenders for the throne. Tracing the drink from its pre-Colombian origins to its present-day ubiquity, Gaytán’s deep research employs historical texts, film, novels, media, interviews, and examinations of important cultural figures such as Pancho Villa and Lucha Reyes, who have, rightly or wrongly, become synonymous with the beverage.
Later chapters look at how marketing and legislation have cherry-picked iconography from tequila’s past to maintain and elevate tequila’s emblematic status, all with thoughtful analysis of the actors conspicuously excluded by this process.
The last chapter consolidates the ideas of the previous five through interviews with tequila consumers. Gaytán’s scintillating prose shows how enjoying a simple beverage can be code for so much more.
With my university days an increasingly faded memory, I’m not a huge reader of academic tomes. I am missing at least 20 years of cultural/ gender/ commodity studies vocabulary but luckily Dr. Gaytán has a knack for getting complicated ideas across without dumbing down or diluting meaning. Stanford University Press have on their hands the most accessible, readable, in-depth study of tequila I have yet come across. Dare I even call it a page turner.