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Book Review: 'How the Gringos Stole Tequila'

Ellen Levitt

Posted on August 10, 2020 01:56

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Want to learn about the history of tequila? Want to learn a lot about Mexico? This entertaining and engaging book is for you.

Social distancing and not working has benefitted me in a few ways; I've been reading much more. One book I read was How The Gringos Stole Tequila by Chantal Martineau, an impressive account that draws on various themes and subjects. It may be about an alcoholic spirit but it's a sobering read.

Some background: I'm a light drinker. I took a mixology class while a college student. I read a book about the history of beer in the US. Over the years while vacationing, I've enjoyed visiting wineries, breweries, distilleries.

I write freelance for more than one website, and one editor asked if I would read the Tequila book and write about it. And so I did. I'm also reviewing it here for The Latest, but with a different emphasis.

How the Gringos Stole Tequila brings together tequila and mezcal, history and culture, cultural appropriation and appreciation. It weaves together sciences (chemistry, botany, environmentalism, etc.), technologies traditional and modern, and businesses both big and small. It provides an extensive history of Mexico and Mexicans, and I realized how little I knew about the United States neighbor to the south. The book also touches upon marketing and branding, people of various professions and social classes, government policies and international trade. It educates and entertains, and sometimes aggravates.

One of the most interesting themes of the book is the tequila versus mezcal debate. Little did I know how much of a deep cultural discussion centers around the changing fortunes of mezcal and tequila, and other related spirits. A casual imbiber in urban America would know little about this, and it was eye-opening.

The first half of the book, which focuses more on Mexico than on the Gringos, was more interesting and emotionally involving, in my opinion. In fact, the book ended so abruptly, I felt, that I was in disbelief. Page 182 just chopped the story right there, like the coa de jima, the machete-like tool used for harvesting the agave plant that is used to manufacture tequila.

In fact, the centrality and great importance of agave is a major aspect of How the Gringos Stole Tequila. If you're fascinated by the history and fortune of plants in economies over time, this book will captivate you.

The book has its faults at times, and I still don't quite like the title. I must admit that when I first typed it, I spotted the corny connection to the Dr. Seuss classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Was that done tongue in cheek? And I did want the ending to be fleshed out more fully.

Don't overlook the photographs in the book; some are quite beautiful.

Last night my family and I ate (outdoors) at Silvia, an amazing restaurant in the Hudson Valley, managed by a friend of mine. The cocktail menu included drinks made with tequila and with mezcal. I thought about ordering one of these drinks as they sounded delicious. But I was the designated driver, alas. "Pobrecito," eh?

Ellen Levitt

Posted on August 10, 2020 01:56

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Source: Forbes

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