Roasting has converted the starches in the raw agaves into simple sugars. People break off pieces and eat them like candy: sweet & tasty.

San Juan Del Rio San Juan Del Rio

For efficient milling, the large agave pieces coming from the roasting pit are cut into smaller pieces, using axes and machetes.

real minero real minero

Succulent, right? Here’s the moment when you begin to understand why mezcal tastes so good.

San Juan Del Rio San Juan Del Rio

Next, the cut-up roasted agaves are crushed in a rotary, horse-drawn stone mill called a tahona or Egyptian mill. This releases the sugary juices.


Here’s a mule pulling the tahona after a quick snack.

Prior to the tahona, distillers crushed by hand in a canoa, a hollowed out log, using wooden mallets. This takes many, many days. The distillers in Potrero still do it this way. So does Alberto Ortiz in Bramaderos.

concrete canoa at Real Minero in Ocotlán

Don Luis Contreras Don Luis Contreras

a wooden crushing pit in Jalisco

Bramaderos Bramaderos

Mallets used by Alberto Ortiz in Bramaderos. It takes three men fourteen hours to crush enough agave to fill one fermentation tank.

Old millstone in front of a destilería in Santiago Matatlan

Photographs by Katherine Lewis and a tourist