Does this cold weather have you dreaming of a trip to Mexico? If you book a flight, you need to know about pulque. A former drink of the elite co-opted by the male masses at the turn of the 20th century, pulque is undergoing a resurgence like no other, thanks to the Mexican youth. And while it's certainly a beverage that few know about and even fewer outside the country have likely tried, it's also one that's intensely and wholeheartedly Mexican.
What Is Pulque?
Produced from the sap of the agave plant, pulque is most aptly described as the forefather of the infinitely more popular tequila and mezcal. While the latter two are distilled, pulque is made from fermenting the agave sap. And while anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of Mexican drinking habits can tell you that they love a good fermented drink (think: tejuino, tepache, and tuba), this is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch.
In fact, pulque is the very definition of an acquired taste. White and cloudy in appearance, pulque makes for a unique drinking experience. It clings to your tongue before slithering down your throat, hiding a fizzy fermented kick in the midst of its peculiarly slimy (yet, at the same time, foamy) texture.
For pulque newbies, there is a slightly more enticing version in the form of the curado, aka flavoured pulque. The flavors — which range from pine nuts to mango, and tamarind to oats — help take the edge off the unique texture.
Rich in vitamins, minerals, and iron, a popular phrase among pulque fans is "sólo le falta un grado para ser carne" (meaning it's only a shade away from being meat). In fact, it's even said to help regulate sugar levels, provide protein, and help soothe a queasy stomach.
The History of Pulque in Mexico
Pulque has been going strong for centuries, clocking in as the oldest alcoholic drink in Mexico. In Mesoamerica it was a treat for the elite, priests and emperors amongst them and afforded only to the elderly, pregnant women, and the soon-to-be-sacrificed on occasion.
At roughly the turn of the 20th century, with the Mexican Revolution brewing, pulque became the drink of the masses. By the mid-20th century, popularity of the beverage once known as the drink of the gods took a nosedive, thanks to a smear campaign at the hands of money-hungry beer companies eager for a healthier chunk of the Mexican market share. They started the rumor that pulque was fermented with feces and branded it the drink of the lower classes, rather than that of the gods.
The Resurgence of Pulque in Mexico
Recent years have seen pulque rise through the ranks once again, becoming more of a drink for the masses than ever before, attracting attention from younger Mexicans looking for something less commercial than beer yet edgier than mezcal. It has been redefined as the drink of choice for Mexico's rebellious youth in recent years.
With anti-Mexican rhetoric cluttering the international media, drinking pulque, the intensely Mexican drink that is impossible to export and, thus, commercialize to the extent of its agave partners in crime (tequila and mezcal) has become a symbol of a very different kind of Mexican revolution.
Pulque was, in hindsight, the obvious answer to this anti-globalization drinking dilemma, given that it is about as Mexican a drink as they come, notoriously temperamental, and therefore impossible to export. It will spoil at the drop of a hat and is likely to turn sour for the most minor of offences on the part of the batch brewer, which has given rise to numerous superstitions surrounding the tricky, easy-to-mess-up brewing process. Pulque producers will do everything from abstaining from sex during fermentation, to refraining from wearing a hat around the brewing batch.
Given that it can take 12 years of maturation for the agave plant to reach perfect pulque-producing status, it's understandable that many makers adhere to these traditions.
Pulque is a source of national pride for a segment of the population disillusioned with the growing globalization of U.S. culture and uninspired beer options. In short, pulque both stands for Mexican identity and has redefined the concept Mexicanidad.
Have you tried pulque? Let us know!