In the Right Spirit: Cinco de Mayo

‘The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico.’

– Octavio Paz

Mexico is a land of people who know how to celebrate. That’s precisely where we picked up on the word “fiesta”, after all. There is little doubt about the capacity of Mexicans for and their affinity to el wiski. Cinco de Mayo literally translates as the 5th of May, it is even celebrated as the big Mexican festival in the United States.

Celebrated with much pomp and grandeur in the Puebla region of Mexico, the occasion marks the victory of Mexico over Napoleon’s troops in the Battle of Puebla, 1862. A David against Goliath feat, this, as Mexico was already civil war-torn and economically weak at that point. Cinco de Mayo, however, is not to be confused with the Mexican Independence Day, which is on the 16th of September. It isn’t a bit surprising though, that the actual significance of the day is little known to outsiders as it tends to get washed away amid the alcohol that goes into the merrymaking. It’s the spirit that counts.

Imports of Scotch by Mexico have risen steadily, and are now higher than ever before. By 2015, it was at an all-time high of just short of £120 million. It’s a whisky sunrise, now in Mexico, as clearly, Mexicans don’t feel like sell-outs (malinchista) any longer for choosing whisky over tequila. The significance of this observation is that patriotic palate has its limitations. Culture and identity are not to be dictated by territorial boundaries as the spirit of Mexico has already transcended them. And the spirit is what really matters, not the fundamentals of definition.

So paisanos, make this bold statement loud and proud, when you choose the darling Glenlivet this year, on Cinco de Mayo. Let mezcal with limon and chile be set aside for the touristy gringo, and the guy who wants an “authentic glimpse into your culture” who wants to participate and observe, who will never get that Mexico is, importantly, a state of the mind. Let us be polite, and not talk down to our highly esteemed guests.

Leave dinner-table debates aside, for those are the domain of anthropologists and politicians and other great conversationalists who want to put things into high-definition perspective. Not that you cannot hold your own in this conversation yourself, but because here is a little list of some whiskies to distract you that you might find worth stocking up on in time for the festivities. We’re in March already. Also because it’s you Mexicans that taught the world how to celebrate in the right spirit.

The List:

  • Chivas Regal 12 Year Scotch
  • Ballantine's Finest Scotch
  • Aberlour 10 Year Malt Scotch
  • Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon
  • Blanton’s Special Reserve
  • Blair Athol (12 year old)
  • GlenDronach (12 year old, Pedro Ximénez cask)

In case your learned guest is amazed and a little scandalized to see your fine collection, tell them, “Nah dawg, I’m just a whisky virgin trying to get the right feel of a good scotch.” Nobody’s sentiments ever got injured, when you say it with just the right amount of humility, and you’re taken in the right spirit. And a great scott, sorry, scotch, will be had all round. Feliz Cinco de Mayo!