This article is from the The Mexico File newsletter.
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Pulque, A Blast from the Past
No one seems to know the firs t time pulque was consumed, but it was a long time ago. Long before tequila became the national drink of Mexico pulque was the fermentation of choice. The Aztecs were certainly pulque drinkers and it probably predates them by hundreds of years.
It is made by scraping the base of the huge maguey cactus to stimulate the flow of the juice. Three or four quarts can be extracted from each plant, which then goes through a fermentation process much like beer. The final product is a milky, slightly sour tasting liquid that takes a little getting used to. The potency is somewhere between beer and wine, nothing like the mule-kick you get from tequila or mescal. Although, you drink enough of it and it will get you sideways just as surely as its more potent and well known cousins.
You usually won't find pulque in a traditional bar in Mexico. It is the drink of the lower class, and is found in neighborhood pulquerias. Often, the smallest pueblo will have few service businesses, and apulqueria will be one of them.
These are very basic establishments -- a few wooden tables and chairs and a makeshift bar counter are the usual decorating schemes. You can get a liter bottle to go (you can bring your own bottle to be filled or they will use whatever is available) for about thirty cents. Or if you're a sociable type, a half liter glass will run forty cents to drink with your friends. Only in recent years have pulquerias been open to a female patronage, and usually just in the larger towns. Most pueblos and villages are still "male only."
Some of the more progressive pulquenas offer various fruits to be mashed up and added to your drink. Strawberries, mango, guava (or whatever else is in season) can make the unique pulque flavor more palatable for the lightweights. You may be subjecting yourselfto jeers and derision by taking these options.
The stigma of pulque being of "lower class" has started to hurt its popularity and even the prospects of its fiture. In the late nineteenth century there were numerous maguey plantations, some 30,000 acres and more, producing mass amounts of this then widely-consumed liquor. But as ice and refrigeration became more widespread, the popularity of beer followed. And, of course, tequila has become the drink most identified with Mexico.
Many of the ranches that cultivated the maguey are no longer doing so. There just isn't enough demand. One company in Mexico City is trying to save the tradition. Bebidas Naturales San Tsidro is marketing a pastetiirized pulque sold in pop-top aluminum cans. It is sold under the name ~ectar de Apam," and is being sold in specialty stores to enhance the image that has become so tarnished. Tt comes in various fruit flavors as well as natural. The test market has been in tourist oriented cities such as Tijuana, Cancun and Acapulco.
If this re-introduction proves successful, the United States could soon be the next logical step, in much the same way that premium mescals are now being marketed and sold at some of the trendiest bars from New York to Los Angeles. Are there any enterprising entrepeneurs out there? Maybe you should be the one to bring it to the U.S. My ears are always open.