Ronda Brulotte
Ronda Brulotte

University of New Mexico Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Ronda Brulotte will travel to Oaxaca, Mexico this later this year. She has been awarded a fellowship by the Fulbright US Scholar program which provides the means for faculty and specialized professionals to work and study abroad for up to a year in more than 125 countries.  

An undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin before coming to UNM will inform Brulottes work while abroad. Brulotte received one of only two grants given by the Fulbright institute for the country of Mexico this year; she will be working in Oaxaca for approximately nine months during the 2014, 2015 academic year.

Agave plants near Oaxaca, Mexico
Agave plants near Oaxaca, Mexico

Recent trends in artisanal liquors and beer have led to a rebirth of many varieties of alcoholic beverages that were once thought of as low class or just plain vile. One such, produced in Oaxaca, Mexico is called mescal. It is a hard, and often harsh liquor made from the succulent mescal plant and has long had the reputation of bathtub gin or white lightning. Now the drink that helped raise cups in toast of the past is shipping out to boutique bars and hipster hangouts.

Oaxaca, on the pacific coast of Mexico is where Brulotte hopes to develop a deeper understanding of the social and economic impacts of the area’s growing importance as a producer of mescal. Often mistaken for a bathtub variety of tequila, mescal is now becoming a carefully crafted drink in its own right and its growing popularity in drinking establishments around the world is shining a light on the people who grow, harvest and distill the spirits.

Cuting agave
Cutting agave

Brulotte will be researching the effects of the new demand for the drink at a social and economic level, and the effects are far reaching. Migrant farmers are heading back to Oaxaca instead of away from it. Money and opportunities are coming in and those two things always seem to be followed by a host of troubles and change. An influx of outsiders is present as well, more for corporate exploitation than tourism she speculates. “You can’t take two steps without running into gringos anymore”

The changes will be the focus of her research for what will be the first ethnography done on the subject, but it was not a love for the drink that led to the project. “I was raised on a hops farm in Washington State.” She said when asked about her apparent interest in the spirit. “I want people at the bar in New York to see the connection to the farmer in Oaxaca.”