Making Pulque: A restful ambience
There's Juanito with another hat!!
Pulque: Tequila’s Milder Cousin
“Oh, know ye that Pulque is liquor divine;
The angels in heaven prefer it to wine.”
Drunkenness may have been described as “A pair of spectacles to see the Devil,” but drinking is done in every society where religion doesn’t rule with a firm hand.
While tequila has gone from strength-to-strength in gaining acceptance as the “blotto booster” all over the world, especially among the college fraternity, its two siblings, mezcal and pulque, have continued sedately along, little known outside Mexico, especially the much milder pulque.
Pulque might best be describes as a milky-looking liquid, which is fermented rather than distilled from the “agua miel” (honey water) extracted from the agave plant. Its harvesting and production differs completely from the stronger tequilas (“Tokillyas,” as they say). Pulque has little shelf-life; it is served straight from the barrel in the villages, where its arrival is eagerly anticipated, or in the little specialist bars, called “pulquerias” where pulque, perhaps beer, and soft drinks are served.
Pulque has even been provided as part of a peon’s salary in the large sugar haciendas. (Note: Peon is not a pejorative term in Mexico). The government in attempting to put a stop to this practice were confounded by doctors who told them pulque in modest amounts was actually good for the workers as it contained a lot of useful vitamins and enzymes.
Indeed, children and grannies are given pulque. But there are no free lunches, as they say, and, for some, no doubt with dependent personalities, pulque has become as addictive as marijuana. These poor souls remain drunk on pulque all day, every day, and are largely ignored by Mexican society where “fools and drunks have God’s protection.” Maybe: to the extent they don’t feel the pain as they die in some ditch, or get run over!
The pulque bars are not places for the casual Gringo tourist, except for the larger, well known ones, such as the colourful pulqueria in Amecameca’s market, (at the foot of Popocatepetl, Mexico’s testy volcano). Or those at Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City (Be extra careful an night here). They are OK for male tourists, except for the emboldened and offensive bar-flies who insist on buying you a glass…then it’s your turn, and so on and so on…you get the scenario.. Mexican women stay well away, except when part of a family group. Up until a few years ago, women were banned from pulquerias; any found there were likely to be whores or nut cases (or both).
This ban on the fairer sex, curiously, still applies in the “tinacal” where the pulque is fermented. It is said that their smell affects the brew! (I merely report these happenings). Men who inadvertently enter with their hats on are also treated in a cavalier manner. They are required to fill their hat with pulque and chug-a-lug the contents to bring back the luck they dispersed by entering illegally behatted. Good opportunities for enterprising drunks with a supply of old hats here. (“Chinge! Where’s my sombrero gone? It’s that cabron, Juanito, again, he’s on the pulque!!”).
Agave plants take eight to ten years to reach maturity. The man who harvests the aguamiel juice of the Maguey agave is called a tlachiquero. He will be leading a donkey with a small wooden barrel for the juice on each side of its pack saddle. His equipment contains a long necked gourd for siphoning the juice; he will have a steel tool for digging a cavity in the magueys and scraping it. When the plant reaches maturity and is about to flower, he stabs the top of the plant with a knife many times where the flowering stalk would grow. This is called castrating the plant as it scars the bud and prevents flowering. The plant is then allowed to rest for a month or more which causes it to produce even more aguamiel. Then the scarred part is carved out to form a cavity which fills with juice and each day the tlachiquero siphons out the aguamiel. The plant will produce aguamiel for as long as a month, whereupon the aguamiel is then fermented in large barrels.
Pulque is also sold flavoured with a variety of fruits, as is tequila. Coconut and pineapple are common. A glass is often accompanied by finger-food, such as the Oaxacan red grasshoppers. (like eating a mouthful of salty, scratchy legs). The libation is quite ancient and was known as Octli before the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century. Despite trying to ban it, pulque survived (the name “pulque was actually imported from Cuba by the Conquistadores). The Mexican Indian is a stubborn creature who often goes along with what those in power have to say only while they are present. Much of what the Spanish brought, including their religion and, in many cases, their language, was rejected by the autochthonous population after Mexico became independent. Perhaps their mulish behaviour was helped by a few glasses of pulque.