What Is Pulque And Why Do People Either Love It Or Hate It?
Along with tequila and mezcal, pulque is the one of the most iconic Mexican alcoholic beverages. Its origins ago deep in history and speak of the indigenous past and present of the country. This is what you need to know about this mythical drink that is making a comeback as a mainstream road to indulgence.
So what exactly is pulque anyway?
Pulque is beautiful in its simplicity. The drink is the fermented sap of the maguey or agave plant. It has a thick, gooey consistency that takes some time getting used to. It has a milky color in its pure state, but many pulquerias add fruit juices and honey to make it a curado or flavored pulque. This is how journalist Emily Sargent described pulque in The Times: “sweet, thick, syrupy agave juice served inexplicably in pint-jug portions”.
It was known as octli by the Aztecs and is surrounded by fascinating myths.
Pulque has been drunk for at least 1,000 years. The Aztecs believed that the liquid collected at the center of the succulent known as maguey was actually the blood of Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey. It was also believed that if you got drunk on octli a rabbit would possess you. There were 400 rabbits known as Centzon Totochtin, and they were the children of Mayahuel. Up to this day, some pulque drinkers spill some of their drink to the floor as an offering to Mother Earth. The word pulque is Mexican Spanish, dating in print to 1877.
Pulque is a key element of Mexican popular culture.
In particular, pulque is a constant in visual memories of the Mexican Revolution. Salud!
There are even B-movies that honor pulque culture!
In the 1970s and 1980s, low-quality films known as sexy-comedias-mexicanas showcased pulque culture in various films. The most famous is La Pulqueria, directed by Victor Manuel Castro and featuring la creme de la creme of Mexican comedians and the most famous boxer in Mexico’s history, Ruben Olivares.
Pulque is now being consumed by Mexicans of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
For decades, pulque was associated with the lower classes, which speaks of the sad but inherent racism that permeates Mexican mestizo culture. For example, it was common to see homeless men drunk on pulque featured in Mexican cinema. The drink has made a huge comeback in the past 15 years, and pulquerias, traditional dens where people meet to drink pulque, are popular amongst city dwellers of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Pulque production is mostly artisanal and “organic.”
Rather than being distilled as with tequila and mezcal, the elixir that emanates from the maguey is left to be fermented. First, the sap is extracted from the center of the maguey and then placed in 50-liter barrels called tinas. After than, mature pulque, known as seed pulque, is added to jump start the fermentation, which takes from one to two weeks. The pulque maker needs to consider factors such as the weather and the quality of the sap to determine the exact fermentation period that stops the pulque from turning sour and undrinkable. It is more art than science.
Pulque is the product of a long, natural process.
Pulque is a labor of love. Each maguey plants needs to mature for at least 12 years before the sap can be extracted. After that, it produces sap for only one year at the most. That is a long wait, but the benefits are worth it.
And hey, it brings some health benefits too!
Of course you need to drink it in moderation, but pulque does bring important nutritional benefits. An academic paper states that for some Mexicans “pulque was the third most important source of iron (non-heme form), ascorbic acid, riboflavin, and other B-vitamins”. Carnales, it’s science!
Pulquerias usually have creative names.
Great names include “My Office”, “Memories of the Future”, “Drink and Go”, “I’m Waiting for You Here at the Corner”, and “The Recreation Center of Those Across the Street”. A true testament of Mexican everyday creativity and knack for humor.
The state of Hidalgo is pulque heaven.
Even though pulque is produced across the country, particularly the areas surrounding Mexico City, the state of Hidalgo takes the crown as the most prolific. There are about 250 pulque haciendas in the state.
In Tlaxcala, the state government has organized a tour called “la ruta del pulque.”
You can visit different production sites… and perhaps be possessed by a rabbit if you drink a bit too much!
There is no right or wrong way when it comes to pulque-drinking receptacles!
You know how people get snobbish when you drink white wine with a red wine glass? Well, that is not the case with pulque, which you can enjoy in basically anything that holds the nectar from the gods. Each pulqueria has its own style when it comes to serving methods.
You can even drink it directly from the plant when it has been naturally fermented.
Yes, even a used Coke bottle will do! Just look at this pulque master!
Or you can also drink it straight from a maguey leaf.
Can you think of a more Instagrammable way of doing this? We can’t!