Directly translated, cántaro means jug or pitcher that is used to hold a liquid and is made of clay. In Oaxaca, it also refers to the vessel where the freshly distilled mezcal drains into. Cántaros were also used by people buying mezcal to carry home- their own convenient and, frequently, ceramic, growler. Richer and more distant buyers would purchase barrels both because it was easier to transport and because they wanted a longer store.
Cántaros are also used to store water and you will often see cántaros in local Mexican markets filled with pulque or tepache. In tequila country, they have become somewhat infamous as they are used to hold giant batches of a cocktail that is part tequila, citrus, Squirt and other secret ingredients. In addition to the giant cántaro that holds the mixture, they are served in mini cántaros or cantaritos. Be sure to read Bryant Orozco’s hysterical tale of the famous Cantaritos El Guero.