Until you delve into the world of mezcal, it has a sort of hazy outlaw connotation, what with the worm and all. It's easy to imagine it as the drink of choice for that bad-ass bandido with the glinting gold tooth and a bandolier of ammo criss-crossed over his chest. But then you travel into the heart of artisanal mezcal terrain and you discover that this mystical spirit has a complexity akin to that of wine, with a similar display of terroir. A product of the ancient Aztecs, mezcal is thought to derive from an even older drink known as pulque, the fermented sap of the agave plant that is milky and lightly alcoholic. Once cooking and distilling entered the process, the flavor and potency of pulque were amplified into what is known as mezcal. It has been made for centuries from the many varieties of the agave plant or, as it's called in Mexico, maguey. This is not actually a cactus, but a type of succulent that includes the espadín, pictured above. During our recent trip to Oaxaca, we were lucky enough to get a glimpse into artisanal mezcal production under the tutelage of local connoisseur and scholar, Ulises Torrentera. A writer who fell in love with the mysterious poetry of small-batch mezcal, Ulises has a deep collection of carefully sourced spirits he serves at his groovy little mezcal bar in Oaxaca City, In Situ. Spending the day with him really left us in high spirits.