Mazatlan may be a bit off the beaten path when compared to mega resorts Cancun and San Jose del Cabo, but its often these types of “sleeper” destinations that make for the best stories. While visitors to bigger resorts might spend their time there in a haze of Cabo Wabo, Mazatlan is a city that will yield charming secrets after a bit of exploration. Onilikan Licores Artesanales de Mazatlan occupies an unimposing storefront on Playa Gaviotas (off the much more heavily trafficked Av. Camaron Sabalo) in the city’s Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) which is populated with plenty of resort hotels, but with a somewhat refreshing lack of the usual U.S. chains.
The robust air conditioning provides some refreshment in the doldrums of the afternoon heat, especially if the tradewinds aren’t trading, and the still in which the liqueurs and spirits are distilled takes a prominent place in the airy, tiled lobby. A chalkboard indicates which spirit is currently in distillation – in this case it was mango liqueur, one of the most common. If you think the name Onilikan sounds decidedly un-Spanish, you’d be correct. Onilikan comes from the Nahuatl language, which was spoken by the indigenous Aztec peoples of the region prior to European contact, and means “Place of Liquor” – which is fitting because all Onilikan products are produced right in this very spot.
Both Agave and Mango are distilled into spirits (higher alcohol content) and liqueurs (higher sugar content) and although agave spirit normally carries the name “Tequila”, the State of Sinaloa is not a designated place of appellation for tequila, so agave products from Onilikan must be termed “agave liquor”. Upon taste, however, there’s no difference, and the spirits and liqueurs produced by Onilikan are of excellent quality, particularly the relatively rare distillations of mango, which is relatively unknown. Several flavors are produced, from Mango to Key Lime to Jamaica (Hibiscus Flower) to a luscious coffee-flavored liqueur made with Mexican coffee.
It’s a small place, but it’s easy to get lost in the storytelling of the fully bilingual staff as they talk about their products and offer tastings. There are also dried fruits, chocolates, and other sundry gifts, but the best prize to take home is a bottle or two of this wonderful local liquor as a lasting souvenir of this soulful Mexican ocean side town.