Discover Pulque, Mexico’s Drink of the Gods

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This milk‑white fermented drink has been around more than 2,000 years – and it’s making a comeback. Here’s everything you need to know about the lesser‑known cousin of tequila and mezcal.  

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.

June 29, 2021
A Mexican bar with colourful flags hanging from the ceiling with a group of people being served at a table.
A pulqueria in Tlaxcala state.    Photo: Second Half Travels

What Pulque Tastes Like

In recent years, the pre‑Hispanic beverage has experienced a resurgence among younger Mexicans – but it has also developed a reputation as an acquired and challenging taste for modern drinkers. Pulque can be overwhelming at first sip, with a unique texture and flavour that take some getting used to. It’s sour, slightly fizzy and viscous, although refreshingly zingy (once you get used to it).

How Pulque is Made

While tequila and mezcal are distilled from the cooked core, or piña, of the maguey, pulque is much easier to make and involves simply fermenting the spiny succulent’s sap or aguamiel – literally, honey water.

A wooden barrel painted red and white with the words "Pulqueria La Gloria" on the side.
Pulque La Gloria, Mexico City.   Photo: Martin Herrera- Secretaria de Cultura CDMX

How (and Why) to Drink Pulque

It’s best to start with a milder “pulque curado,” a flavoured version often sweetened with honey and mixed with fruit, like pineapple or mango, to balance the tartness. Many drink the fermented beverage because it’s a good source of probiotics and nutrients, or as an aphrodisiac like their ancestors did.

The Pulque Revival in Mexico City

Pulque bars or pulquerías have popped up all over Mexico City, drawing young crowds seeking a cultural connection to the past. Don’t be surprised if the environs are less than fancy – many pulquerías are bare bones establishments – but look out for colourful murals on the walls and distinctive glassware in the form of a pockmarked cacariza, the standard container for pulque. Many, like Pulquería Las Duelistas and Pulquería Hermosa Hortensia, are located in and around the Centro Histórico – perfect for a pulque crawl.