May 1, 2017
SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, MÉXICO — Francisco Nucamendi Pulido places four glasses on the counter and pours.
“At the beginning, it has a color that impacts — a celestial color in the bottle — that draws much attention because all the distillates are white and this one has that characteristic that in large quantities is celestial,” he says. “This is produced by the agave honey; the use of agave honey is what allows this coloration.”
The color he describes comes from comiteco, an alcoholic beverage produced by maguey comiteco plants, a type of agave that is grown in Comitán de Domínguez, the fourth largest city in Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas.
Nucamendi Pulido is an associate of Comitequería San Sebastián, a comiteco outlet and bar in Comitán de Domínguez. Much like a mezcalería is an outlet for mescal, the specialty at Comitequería is comiteco.
At Comitequería, cocktails are made with natural ingredients, meaning that no soft drinks or sodas are used in any of the twenty specialty cocktails they offer. Instead, they use fruit or natural syrups with flavors such as cardamom, coffee, vanilla, lime, orange, and other local fruits. They also offer mango, pineapple, apple, mint and ginger, making for an interesting and diverse array of flavors.
Marissa Revilla, GPJ Mexico
“The drink is actually white if you see it in a glass,” says Nucamendi Pulido. “Once in the cup, you can sense a smooth, herbal aroma that logically sends you to the agave plant, which is a plant that smells like a fresh field. That’s a bit of what you sense when you smell it, and once in the palate, it leaves you with that taste of honey with which it’s prepared and the earthy aftertaste of agave. That’s how I can describe it. The aroma of the plant, nature, and aftertaste of fresh soil and strong, powerful plant.”
In the bottle, comiteco appears to be a blue color, a unique characteristic of the drink that is attributed to the agave plant from which it is derived. Given the drink’s origins, Nucamendi Pulido’s description is spot-on.
The aguamiel, a fermented sap or honey water, is extracted from plants before undergoing a specific distillation process. The final product, comiteco, is the culmination of an exhaustive research process and an ongoing effort to produce a drink of the highest quality.
Keeping It Natural
“The comiteco is a transcendental drink because it’s considered a high quality beverage made in the New Spain, when Chiapas wasn’t yet Mexico. We’re talking about more than 500 years,” says Carlos Jorge Guillén Gordillo, a producer of comiteco and a legal representative for the Comiteco Balún Canán S. de R.L. de C.V. company.
Comiteco Balún Canán produces comiteco on their maguey plantation in Tuilaíto, Punta de Diamante in Comitán de Domínguez, where they also aim to preserve and highlight the drink’s natural spirit.
“They maintain the spirit, what the land generates. Nature’s unique way. It’s the factor that leads to spirituality,” Guillén Gordillo says, referring to the agave plants, “We’re going to transmit those same traits in a process that takes care not to diminish its virtuosity.”
Marissa Revilla, GPJ Mexico
At Comiteco Balún Canán, the beverage goes through a distillation process in which the aguamiel is heated and then cooled. In order to avoid toxicity during the heating process, the temperature must not rise over 79 degrees Celsius. The company uses a traditional variety of yeast to ensure the process is appropriate, along with equipment designed to guarantee quality control.
Guillén Gordillo explains that the company’s research began with a process to identify a protocol for the preparation of comiteco through technological and scientific innovation, in order to reach international markets.
Part of the research includes looking to the past. One of the characteristics of the maguey plant is that the aguamiel, if left within the plant, starts to ferment. In ancient times, says Guillén Gordillo, people could drink it and become intoxicated.
Now, one of the intentions of the company is for the plant to be recognized as being from to Comitán de Domínguez and as the source of a natural alcoholic drink that is processed without chemicals. The company is in the midst of a certification process that would change the official name of the plants to “Maguey Comiteco”.
Another mission is the commercial production of comiteco.
Every day, the agave honey is extracted at 6 a.m. and at 2 p.m., says Francisco Humberto Laureano Ortega, the manager of the extraction process.
He explains that at night, the plants open their stomata — tiny openings in the leaves — to absorb carbon dioxide, as there is more moisture in the air during these hours. This means they don’t need to be watered.
“That’s how they’re self-watering all night, just moisture and by the next day we are extracting the honey or they are already in a greener shade because they have water,” says Laureano Ortega. “That’s the issue, that we don’t have to water the plants every moment, every hour. Every once in a while, if there’s no rain and nights are dry, you have to come out and pour some 20 liters on each plant.”
The plants must be full-grown and have reached an average age of eight years old to be considered for honey extraction. According to Laureano Ortega, the maguey comiteco plants at Comiteco Balún Canán have a certain period for generating honey that can last up to three months, in which each plant produces 200 to 300 liters of honey.
“The maguey is a thousand-year-old plant represented by Mayahuel, the goddess of one hundred arms. It’s history, it’s culture,” says Guillén Gordillo.
For Nucamendi Pulido, the drink is also connected to an identity.
“To me, as a comiteco, it gives me identity. It’s the par excellence drink of the town, famous for many years.”
Lourdes Medrano, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.