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Sampling the corn-based liquors of Mexico gives new twists to old favorites


Nixta Licor de Elote  is a liqueur unlike any you will have tasted before. - RON BECHTOL
  • Ron Bechtol
  • Nixta Licor de Elote is a liqueur unlike any you will have tasted before.
There’s a saying used to describe the essence of Mexico: “Sin maiz, no hay pais.”

To be sure, that relationship between corn and country goes back to pre-Columbian days, when the ancient Mayans believed human beings were in fact created from maize. While many consider tortillas the primary conduit for corn in modern Mexico, it turns out you can have your corn and drink it too.

The country produces several maize-derived spirits worthy of exploration.

Twist the top from a cob-shaped bottle of Nixta Licor de Elote and take a deep breath. It’s evocative of masa. Or a freshly made corn tortilla with just a hint of sweetness. Made from Cacahuazintle corn, half fresh and half dried and nixtamalized — or soaked and cooked in limewater — as it would be for masa, the base is macerated in Abasolo Corn Whiskey, which we’ll discuss more later. It’s also blended with water and piloncillo, or unrefined cane sugar.

The result is a liqueur unlike any you will have tasted before.

Sipping Nixta (pronounced “neeshta”) straight has its appeal. However, it’s better used, I think, as a cocktail ingredient — say in place of Cointreau in a Maiz Margarita. The corn is there, to be sure, and its presence turns the party favorite into something deeper, more profound, and more, well, completely Mexican. See the recipe below to give it a try.

The producer claims it’s also good simply poured over ice cream or into coffee. They don’t suggest that spiced café de olla might be an even better companion, but why not give it a try?

Americans are used to corn in whiskey form — think bourbon as the prime example. But rarely is bourbon completely corn-based, and it’s never made from nixtamalized maize.

On the other hand, Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whisky is a mix of nixtamalized and malted Mexican corn that’s double distilled in copper pot stills, then aged in American oak for 24 months. The spirit sips well neat, evoking the chamomile and a touch of honey along with the expected corn.

Try it in a cocktail with Nixta and Cocchi Americano or vermouth blanc in equal parts ratio, and the corn comes out in spades: sweet and earthy all at once. I’d add a squeeze of lemon to tone down the sweetness a tad and even further amp up the corn.

Abasolo isn’t the only corn spirit in Mexico, however, and it’s apparently not the first.

It’s said that Tzotzil Mayans have produced pox (pronounced “posh”) in the cloud-shrouded mountains of Chiapas since at least the 16th century. But its distribution outside the state has only been permitted since 2012. Initially used by native healers for its alleged medicinal and healing properties, one commentator claims that “the liquor acts an entry point between the material and metaphysical world in indigenous communities and cures both physical and spiritual ailments.” So, if you need an excuse …

In its most primal form, pox is made from sugarcane and fermented corn. Wheat bran sometimes shows up, along with herbs such as rosemary and bay. The only version that seems even moderately available in the U.S. is Pox Siglo Cero. You can find it, along with Nixta and Abasolo, at Alamo City Liquor and behind such bars as Pharm Table in Southtown.

Corn is apparent from the first whiff of Pox Siglo Cero, but it’s balanced by the grassy earthiness of unrefined sugar and the foundational ballast of the wheat. I personally like this one sipped straight, preferably over a large ice cube, but some bartenders suggest subbing it for rum in tiki drinks.

That serving suggestion takes us from the milpas, or cornfields, of Chiapas to the cane plantations of Michoacan and to charanda, a Mexican rum also relatively new to our shores. I leave the tiki drinks to bars, such as the recently opened Hugman’s Oasis on the River Walk, with the atmosphere to support the genre. The ultimate rum test for me is the daiquiri in its purest form. Again, see the recipe below.

The bottle of charanda I used, Uruapan Charanda Blanco, has all the earmarks of sugarcane-based rhum agricole from the French Caribbean, although with a slightly more rustic edge. That quality is apparent in the finished drink.

Paranubes, produced in Oaxaca, is another Mexican “rum,” or aguardiente de caña, as it’s known locally, and I haven’t yet tasted it. But soon.

Summer cocktail season is upon us, and why should margaritas get all the attention?

Maiz Margarita
1½ ounces reposado tequila
1 ounce Nixta
¾ ounce lime juice
¼ ounce agave nectar
Pinch of salt

Shake ingredients and pour over ice in a glass of your choice.

Charanda Daiquiri
2 ounces charanda
¾ ounce lime juice
1 tsp. sugar

Stir the lime and sugar together in a shaker tin until dissolved, add the charanda and ice, shake for 10 seconds or so, strain into a chilled coupe glass.

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