Mexican Shots: Take 'em Easy

Sep 18, 2018

'Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says you should love your enemy.' -Frank Sinatra

One of the first cultural differences I noticed upon moving to Mexico was the way they take a shot of alcohol. Ultimately here a 'shot' just means a small glass of hooch--usually (but not always) liquor. Same as in the US. But this idea of slamming it back in one gulp?

No mames, güey.

What's a shot anyway?

Where does this word 'shot' even come from? It's tough to know, but The Oxford English Dictionary says the first use of 'shot glass' comes from a book by Dr. Jehu Z. Powell, A History of Cass County Indiana from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time [Lewis Publishing Company, 1913].

Your Best Shot

It seems that in 1857 there was an incident in New Waverly, Indiana, in which a local man intended to start a saloon. A barrel of whiskey arrived by train and was sitting on a freight platform, awaiting delivery to him. But unfortunately there was another local man, a big temperance supporter, who brazenly shot the barrel from his upstairs window, draining the beautiful booze. This approach worked temporarily, as the saloon never opened, but soon others would. And it became common for the area quaffers to order 'a shot of redeye.' But that doesn't necessarily explain when people began to think the only way to take a shot of liquor was to slam it quickly.

In trying to research this, I've come up empty so to speak. I'm finding stories about hardworking laborers after a long day's work and in need of some rapid relief, slamming their shot. I also found an interesting article that suggests this technique may have become popularized with the advent of 'shooters.'

'According to cocktail historian Dave Wondrich, shooters came about after the end of 50s and 60s cocktail era (think Mad Men, Martinis, sad fabulousness), a time when the next generation was far more interested in recreational drugs than the hard drinks of their parents' generation. By combining relatively uninspired/uninspiring spirits with syrups and giving the results clever names, liquor companies were able to rebrand the experience—and general purpose—of hard alcohol to keep up with the appeal of drugs. Liquor basically became something to be masked with syrup, shot down, and chased with equally uninspiring beer. The importance wasn’t the taste, but the effect.' History of the Shot

I don't recall ever really enjoying such a rapid 2 ounce gulp. The only time I did it is when pressured to by a group of guys (and often gals) who seemed to consider it a demonstration of bold, masculine toughness. It kinda drives me nuts when I see this on so many movies or TV shows: people ordering up shots, saying, 'Leave the bottle,' and snorting down another. And another. And another. All in less than a damn minute. Have you ever noticed the faces and sounds made by most who do a shot? Intense grimaces and groans of disgust, no? As one who actually likes to enjoy what he imbibes, I personally considered it a fairly stupid thing to do--even before I moved south of the border. But when I got here, sure enough, I found they do things my way.

Tranquilo, Bro

I consider it to be part of a wider appreciation for all things culinary in Mexico. Americans have enjoyed Mexican food for generations, but I'm not sure most understand how very seriously Mexicans take food and cooking. I've spent time in Chile and have friends throughout Latin America, for instance, who will claim that perhaps no nation within approaches food with such passion, technique and concern for quality as Mexicans do. My friend from Windsor, Canada, Kenny Peters, who owns a great bar here in San Miguel de Allende, Bond 007, has further hipped me to the typical, local drinking proclivities.

Me, Taking it Easy

He tells me, usually, gringo patrons are better for his waitstaff since we tend to tip quite a bit more than Mexicans. But adult Mexican patrons are better for him since, when they decide to hit the town, they only want the best: their favorite, high-end liquors, for instance. This despite the fact that a good majority of them don't have the disposable income expat Americans or Canadians have. So what do you think? When they slip out to enjoy an aged Torres brandy or a Don Julio 70 tequila with their amigo, do you imagine they want to slosh it down in a single second? Claro que no! They want to savor it, enjoy it, revel in it.

And there's my point. How can you really enjoy any liquor you slam? Your palate will virtually always benefit from a much slower approach. That little sip of booze, rolling around in your mouth, splashing across your taste buds, interacting with the oxygen and other flavors that happen to be in there: food you're nibbling, a puff of smoke from a delicious Oliva cigar, etc. I have to explain this to so many people who try the artesanal mezcal I bring in from Oaxaca. People way past 60 still haven't come to understand that the reason they think they like liquors that are 'smooth' is simply because they're drinking them a little too fast; taking a bit too much in at once.

It's cool. Some of us figure it out; others don't see any need to adopt a new drinking policy. All good. But for those of us who have awakened to the complex beauty of distilled elixirs, why in hell would we ever just toss back a shot? you're at a bachelor party or something, and everyone starts grunting and chanting for a group shot. Fine. Once. But, although I detect a good number of cultural differences between me and my Mexican neighbors, when it comes to enjoying a brilliant, little glass of 48% madre cuixe mezcal? I'm taking it easy with them.