- Pulque is the predecessor of mezcal and tequila. The three drinks come from the agave plant family, but pulque is fermented and does not require distillation.
When the Spaniards reached the New World in the 16th century, they were amazed by the maguey or agave plant for its incredible variety of uses. However, without a doubt pulque is one of the most sacred products made from the plant since time immemorial. In the pre-Hispanic period it was the prerogative of priests and elders and it is said that warriors who were to be sacrificed in the Huitzilopochtli temple were also allowed to drink to their fill until they became drunk. The rest of the population could consume it only on special days, such as feast days; otherwise it was prohibited and drunkenness was severely punished in the Mexica Empire. Pulque was also used as a medicinal remedy, because it was believed to have curative properties. Moreover it was considered a food supplement for pregnant women and was essential for the entire population when water was scarce.
Fray Bernardino de Sahagún describes the pulque offerings made in pre-Hispanic Mexico to diverse gods and how the makers: “for four days should fast and abstain [from sex] during their work, lest [the pulque] sour.” The so-called Anonymous Conqueror pointed out that “this beverage is the healthiest and most substantial food of many known in the world, because he who drinks a cup of it, although he go out for a day’s work, can spend the entire day without eating anything else.”
It was impossible for the Spaniards to fight against the Aztec pulque tradition, so from early on they established the famous pulquerías (pulque taverns).
Pulque curado—in other words, blended with other flavors—became very popular in the early 19th century, perhaps to make it more appealing to a larger number of people. Pulque haciendas underwent an era of splendor during the years of president Porfirio Díaz, and in Central Mexico so many pulquerías were opened it is said that in Mexico City there was one per block. They were popular places for social gatherings.
Little by little and as the cultivation of barley and beer production increased, pulquerías and pulque haciendas began to decline and close their doors, until they remained the exception more than the rule. Today there has been renewed appreciation for this typical ancestral beverage. A number of restaurants have begun to offer it on their menus and some chefs add it to their dishes for a subtle twist. There is something mystical in the essence of pulque, perhaps because its principal ingredients include the many legends surrounding it.
- It is the oldest alcoholic beverage in Mexico.
- The agave or maguey used to make pulque takes between 8 to 12 years to reach maturity and to produce aguamiel (agave nectar), the basis for pulque.
- Fermentation begins as soon as the plant is cut and the aguamiel begins to seep out.
- The liquid continues to ferment even as we are drinking it; it reaches alcohol levels of 2 to 8%.
- It is an important source of probiotics, proteins, and vitamins and minerals.
- It is consumed mainly in Mexico City, Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, the State of Mexico, Puebla, Querétaro, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacán
- Pulquería La Risa, on the street of Donceles, and Pulquería La Pirata, in the Escandón neighborhood (both in Mexico City) are among the most emblematic in Mexico.
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