Odd Spirits: Pulque

The ancient ancestor of mezcal and tequila, pulque works in mysterious ways and is starting to regain some of its popularity.

Pulque is a milky, slightly foamy and somewhat viscous beverage made by fermenting (not distilling) the fresh sap of certain types of agave, and pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish by something like 1,500 years. Now if you were to distill agave, it becomes mezcal, and if that particular agave grows in certain regions, you can call it tequila.

Because pulque is fermented juice from agave, and not concentrated from distillation, it tends to be on the lower end of the alcohol scale; somewhere in the range of 2% to 8%. For some Indians of the central highlands, pulque was once a a core staple of their religion and the cure for just about everything – from diabetes to sleep disorders. Of course with most alcohol, it also has a history of being used as an aphrodisiac. Even today, some pregnant women and new mothers still drink it to promote health and lactation.

When beer arrived with the Spanish, the popularity of pulque declined, but in recent years there has been a resurgence, thanks to younger Mexicans embracing the cultural significance of the beverage.

Pure pulque is milky white in appearance, smells lightly of sour yeast and is viscous (think like the texture of a gluey-syrup). It’s a difficult drink to get used to at the beginning, which is why in the 19th century, pulque began being mixed with fruit juices and oatmeal, creating what is now know as pulque curado. The preparation consists of crushing selected fruit and boiling it with little water and sugar or honey until it has a thick consistency, let this preparation cool, mix it with pulque, stir it with a spoon until everything is incorporated, and cool it.

Most traditional curado recipes are those of pulque with red tunas, strawberry, walnut, guava, and some with chocolate or chili. There are also other options more recently that include other types of fruits such as kiwi and piñón and even tomato juice.

Chances are your not going to find pulque outside of Mexico, but if you’re in the country, your best option is to look for a pulqueria, a bar specializing in the beverage. There are also some commercial options available in various flavours and generally come in six pack cans.

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