You can get a good bottle of tequila or mezcal in many parts of the world, but pulque – an alcoholic beverage made from the sap of the maguey (a cactus‑like member of the agave family of plants) – is best tasted in Mexico, near where it’s made. The fermentation process only takes a few hours and the drink doesn’t travel well, so the finest pulque is found in Mexico City or in the surrounding states of Tlaxcala, Puebla and Hidalgo.
The history of pulque
The sacred, lightly intoxicating drink (it ranges from four‑ to six‑percent alcohol) dates back to pre‑Hispanic Mexico, when it was known to the Aztecs as octli and to the Mayans as chih. The milky elixir even has its own fertility goddess, Mayahuel, “the woman of 400 breasts,” who, legend has it, fed her 400 children pulque.
For most of the past two millennia, pulque has been widely available across Mexico and revered for its medicinal properties, including protecting the immune system and lowering cholesterol. The late 19th century brought new railway lines that transported the drink into Mexico’s cities, making it even more ubiquitous and arguably the country’s favourite tipple, until the arrival of foreign breweries helped beer push pulque out of the mainstream.