Bacanora: the “forbidden elixir” of ancient agave liquors

Deyanira Cantú, distributor of Jiak Bacanora, told us all about this eccentric drink that you’ll be able to try in the upcoming Expo Agave Tijuana

If you’re an adult and you like alcohol drinks, you have probably heard or tried drinks such as tequila and mezcal. They are very common in bars and clubs, especially tequila.

However, these are not the only distilled beverages made from agave; you’ll be able to find liquors such as sotol, raicilla, and more that have been made for centuries in Mexico at Expo Agave Tijuana, but today we’ll focus especially on a treasure that was forbidden for decades: bacanora.

In an exclusive interview with San Diego Red, Deyanira Cantú, distributor of 'Jiak Bacanora' for more than two years, told us all about this ancient drink.

Origin of bacanora

First of all, it is important to know where this drink comes from. Bacanora originates from a town in Sonora, which is why it carries that name, just like it happened with tequila in Jalisco.

It started to be made more than 300 years ago in Bacanora, Sonora, product of the cultural meeting between America and Europe due to the arrival of the Spanish. Pre-Hispanic cultures learned how to distill drinks that they obtained from fermented cereals.

This liquor is made exclusively from the angustifolia haw agave and is currently produced in 35 municipalities of Sonora.

This word comes from the Opata language, Sonora native ethnic people, and it means hillside reed. These people created a fermented drink made from charred agave for their rituals and most important celebrations, which in time led to the elixir we’re talking about today.

Distillation process

First, the angustifolia haw agave must reach maturity, which takes 7 years.

After this time passes, the agave is cut. A process called jima takes place after that, which means removing all the leaves and leaving only the cone.

This cone is cooked with holm oak or mesquite firewood in an oven with stones put around it, placed in jar-like mesh with soil or clay.

After that it passes through the mill to shred it and from it one gets the pulp.

This pulp rests in containers to accelerate the fermentation process. After this, two distillations are made to eliminate water and concentrate the alcohol.

It is then filtered in order to get a transparent and shiny liquid and then it is put in a bottle.

Differences between bacanora, tequila, and mezcal

Bacanora can only be made from the angustifolia haw agave while tequila comes from blue agave and mezcal can be made from 12 other agave species.

Alcohol levels are also different. The vintner master (the one in charge of making bacanora) adjusts the alcohol level of the final product between 38 and 50 degrees. The level is usually set at 42%.

How should you drink this liquor?

Bacanora needs to be “smooched”, without lemon or salt. The goal of these small sips is to make taste buds get used to the flavor; it also gives you time so that you can smell its smoky aroma, which is a result of the mesquite firewood that is used during its production.

This liquor can also be used in mixology; there are prepared drinks that mix bacanora with hibiscus, rosemary, and fruit juices.

In addition, it can be used alongside many meals. It can be tasted with shrimps or meat cuts, and it can even be used to flare up the flame cooking the meat.

It can also be used in desserts such as flan, barrel ice cream, or cakes.

The most innovative creations are bacanora with flavor and bacanora creams, which unlike the 42% alcohol content of the original, end up having an alcohol level of 20%, without losing its authentic smoked flavor.

You can find this flavor in coffee, piña colada, cranberries, tamarind, mango, grapefruit, among others. It can also be found in carbonated drinks with blueberries and strawberry-lime.

It should be noted that bacanora has digestive properties, so it can be taken after eating. It also regulates triglycerides and cholesterol.

Bacanora was illegal for more than 70 years

In 1915, then Sonora governor Plutarco Elías Calles issued a Prohibition law, which forbid the import, production, and trading of intoxicating drinks.

Calles thought that alcohol of any kind was the main cause of decadence in the people because, according to him, it destroyed people physically and contributed to moral perversion.

Four years later, the law was adjusted to allow beer, wine, cider, and champagne, so that they wouldn’t be considered intoxicating drinks and so they were able to be traded with no problem at all, but bacanora did not have the same luck.

Whoever did not follow the law could be sent to jail and/or given the death penalty.

This caused a decline in this industry, however, this ancient Sonora native drink survived illegally underground thanks to makers’ efforts and struggles.

In 1992, 77 years later, the government authorized the fabrication and sales of this agave liquor.
In 2000, it was officially given the distinction of bacanora as it is now considered a Designation of Origin product, through the Official Diary of the Federation (DOF).

This international recognition is useful to label a product from a certain place, whose quality and characteristics are exclusive to its geographical location. This is regulated by the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI).

This means that it can only be made in 35 municipalities of the state of Sonora, and they must follow certain requirements so that it can remain unique.

What is missing to make bacanora popular?

In the words of Deyanira Cantú, consumers must stop being afraid of it. ”Many people read an alcohol level of 42% and get scared”, but it should be noted that this is a 100% natural drink with no chemicals or added sugars.

It is, for its more than 300-year tradition, an ancestral, spiritual, and artisan drink that currently needs more promotion to reach more markets and consumers. This is why there are massive events such as…

Expo Agave Tijuana

Bacanora is only one of this plant’s liquors that is part of Expo Agave Tijuana. If you wish to know more about bacanora or tried it in any of its forms, don’t miss this exhibition from July 13 to July 16 at Avenida Revolución.

This is a family friendly event that will be located between Calles Octava and Novena from 1 to 11 PM.

If you wish to know more about this event, these are its social media pages:

Facebook: (/expo.tequilatijuana)

Instagram: (@expo.tequilatijuana)

Website: (www.expotequilatijuana.com)

Deyanira Cantú: bacanora distributor

Deyanira Cantú poses with a bottle of Jiak Bacanora
Deyanira Cantú poses with a bottle of Jiak Bacanora

Our interviewee is Deyanira Cantú, a woman from Ciudad Obregón, Sonora. She did not know anything about bacanora until 2020, when the pandemic changed everyone’s lives.

In the midst of quarantine, Deyanira was one of the people who had an idea for a business and she decided that she wanted to promote this drink that identifies all Sonora natives.

That is how 'Jiak Bacanora' was born, a product that has been distilled in the town of Rosario de Tesopaco and has been commercialized for more than 2 years.

Jiak Bacanora
Jiak Bacanora

She explained that just like bacanora is named as such due to the municipality of Bacanora, 'Jiak' means 'yaqui' in the Yaqui langauge, a native people that used to live in Ciudad Obregón.

Without a doubt if the state of Sonora had a flavor, it would be bacanora.

Deyanira Cantú is very clear with this bottle: it just doesn’t sell alcohol, it sells the roots and tradition of Sonora. This is why they’re inviting the public at large to Expo Agave 2023 so they can try bacanora and consume a liquor that is also a piece of Sonora’s big heart.

Because not only in Sonora, but all over the world, drink bacanora.

If you wish to know more about Deyanira Cantú and her product, Jiak Bacanora, follow their social media pages:

Facebook: (Jiak Bacanora)

Instagram: (@jiak.bacanora)


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