by Thaddeus Tripp Ressler
Four of us hopped into a cab from the center of town, two Mexicans and two Americans. I knew things were about to get interesting when we turned onto a long stretch of dirt road. I live for these kinds of moments, on an adventure with three people I barely know going to do something I've never tried before on the word of the other American that swore up and down that this is the place to get pulque. When we got out of the cab several chickens across the dirt road eyed us up and down. There was no sign in front of the pulqueria, but of course I never did get a straight answer as to whether or not it was a speakeasy. Inside of the pulqueria amounted to a shack made of mismatched wood slats with a sawdust covered dirt floor. It was small inside, maybe 10'X10', with mismatched seats and benches, some of which came out of an old car. I'd be willing to bet an old Beetle considering there's more of those driving around in this town than 1940's Berlin. The bathroom, which was the first thing I asked about once inside was a cement hole in the ground with a shower curtain around it. I'm guessing there isn't a whole lot of female traffic in this place.
Trish, ever the social butterfly, goes right up to the lady behind the counter and hugs her and asks her how she is in her slowly but surely getting better Spanish. They talk for a little while me and the guys, Guido and Billy, light up cigarettes and settle in. Once Trish and the proprietor have finished their conversation she orders us up a round of pulque with just a touch of aguamiel, honey water.
I'll be honest, I didn't have a chance to do a lot of research before I came down here, I was busy finishing up one job while getting ready to move, while finding a new job. I'm kind of glad that I didn't. I was handed a clay mug filled with a frothy white liquid that kind of reminded me of how pastis or absinthe look once you've added water.
Pulque is not something that the American pallet may ever be ready for. It is the ancient alcohol from pre-Columbian times. Think wine, but made from a cousin to the aloe plant. I am in no way squeamish or one of those "texture" people, but the combination of lukewarm, slightly gelatinous, and sour is something that made me have to order myself to swallow. It especially didn't help when a single long string of goo stretched out from my lower lip to the mug a foot away from my mouth. I'd like to say that I got used to it, but through two large clay mugs of it, I didn't notice an improvement in how my mind recoiled from it. I will say that the experience was greatly improved once the effects kicked in.
We decided it was time to break out the homemade Jenga set I had bought from a little old lady walking around the taqueria we had just come from. Three young boys peeked their heads out to see what we were doing, so of course they got an invite to play. We even got the proprietor to come out from behind the counter and play a round. All while taking swigs of pulque and reminding myself to swallow. It's odd, no one seemed to have the same problem drinking it as I did. It did get me thinking about the Spanish and really thanking them for bringing distillation with them.
Aside from the vegetal flavor, there is no real correlation in flavor between pulque and what it becomes once distilled. There are so many misquotes, misinformation, and general ambiguities when it comes to Tequila and it's big brother Mezcal. Just recently John Taffer of the show Bar Rescue stated in an interview that tequila comes from mezcal and mezcal is where they get mescaline from, sorry John, not even close to being accurate. All tequila is mezcal, not all mezcal is tequila. All mezcal is made from one of the cousins of the agave, usually Agave Americana or Agave Tequilana
Tequila, much like champagne is a 'protected designation of origin' product. Tequila is a mezcal produced in Tequila, and a few other designated places, using purely blue agave. It must also be made in one of several numbered distilleries. There are a few more legal technicalities mostly having to do with the process, but you get the idea. Tequila can range from dry to off dry, vegetal or peppery, and even floral. Mezcal, on the other hand, has far fewer restrictions on it, making the range of flavors even broader and more exciting to someone like me.
Due to certain foolish legalities, the US imports very few mezcals. Most of the ones we get are of the super smoky variety akin to peaty scotches, which is fine, they're very good, but we miss out on some truly magical flavors. For example the "400 Conejos" I drank was very light and delicate, dry, and lightly floral with hay like flavors. Compare it to the "Corralejos" tequila I drank the next night and the tequila tasted brutish, robust, and sweet.
Unfortunately most people's experience with tequila has to do with a poorly made margarita for happy hour, or that one time they took shots and had a crazy night. Then of course there is Cinco de Mayo. The day the army of Puebla kicked the French forces out of town, here's the problem though, the French retook the city a few days later. Now personally I wouldn't really call that a day to remember, even Mexicans don't really celebrate it, but hey, some people in the U.S. need an excuse to drink tequila. I don't know why, but from what I've heard there are people like that, I've never had that problem.
We walked out of the pulqueria saying goodbye to the family and chickens alike, we left them the game of Jenga. I felt good, wrapped in a warm blanket of pulque, my mind at ease, and the world around me felt beautiful. While I may never get over it's oddly gelatinous quality, I would drink it again in a heartbeat. We slowly meandered up the dirt road to the main road talking about life. While we waited for a taxi to drive by we felt it was best to sit at one of the many roadside bars that dot the countryside and had a snack and a beer.
When the time came to go we hitched a ride back into town in the back of a random pickup truck, yet another thing not common to American life. I have to say life can be pretty amazing when you're open to it. We rode down the mountain into the city on dusty roads that gave way to dusty city streets to an area close to where we lived. When we hopped out, we offered to give the driver a few pesos, which was instantly turned down with a smile. Later on that night I would be stumbling my way home from a karaoke bar, but at that moment I felt glorious... And hungry.
1oz Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice, take the extra few minutes trust me it's worth it
1oz Simple Syrup
1 part hot water
1 part white sugar
Stir until all the sugar granules have dissolved, do not add more water.