Pulque, or octli, is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of the maguey, and is a traditional native beverage of Mesoamerica.

A Six pack of Agave Pulque.The maguey plant is not a cactus (as has sometimes been mistakenly suggested) but an agave, elsewhere called the “century plant”. The plant was one of the most sacred plants in Mexico and had a prominent place in mythology, religious rituals, and Meso-American industry.

Pulque is depicted in Native American stone carvings from as early as 200 AD. The origin of pulque is unknown, but because it has a major position in religion, many folk tales explain its origins. According to pre-Columbian history, during the reign of Tecpancaltzin, a Toltec noble named Papantzin found out how to extract aguamiel from the maguey plant. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Aztecs consumed it at religious ceremonies.

Pulque is made in the following fashion: When the plant’s flower stem shoots up, it is hollowed in the centre, normally 8 to 10 years are required for the plant to mature to the point where this can be done. The juice, aguamiel, that should have supplied the flowers is taken from it daily, for a period of about two months. The aguamiel is then fermented, (usually in large barrels inside in a building known as a tinacal which is specially reserved for pulque fermentation) after which it is immediately fit for drinking. Pulque is usually sold directly in bulk from the tinacal or by the serving a version of a cantina known as a pulqueria. Traditionally in pulquerias, pulque is served a glass known as a tornillo (screw, for its shape) or a bowl known as a jicara.

Pulque is still made and drunk in limited quantities in parts of Mexico today. However, because it cannot easily be stored or preserved (its character and flavor change over a short period of storage time, as little as a day), it is not well known outside the country. A process for preserving and canning pulque has been developed, and now canned pulque is being exported to the US in limited quantities (see photo), the alcohol content of the canned product is 5%. Aficionados of pulque usually consider canned inferior to the fresh product.

Often pulque is mixed with fruit juices such as mango and pineapple to render it palatable to those who do not appreciate its unusual flavor.

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