There are many rituals and traditions that surround the imbibing of the life blood of the agave (1) and there is a deep poetry in the language used to describe its consumption.
- Aguamiel, pulque, mezcal, tequila, bacanora, raicilla etc. etc.
In some rituals of agricultural abundance pulque was poured onto the ground whilst planting the corn to increase the fertility of the earth and encourage the corn to grow. When drinking pulque the returning of a little of the pulque to the ground is a gesture that “closes the life cycle of the maguey and strengthens a pact with the mythical drink”.
The last sip of pulque is returned to the earth (to the Gods). This is done by throwing it down with some force to create a trail of pulque. If the pulque is of good quality then it will create the “image” of a scorpion.
This is done after taking your first drink of pulque (and before purchasing your second) as a test of the quality of the pulque. For it to be a good pulque it must have the following qualities. The liquid must not be too transparent, nor too white; It must have a suitable baba (1) or viscosity, not so liquid, or too thick. Another way to test the quality of the pulque is to pour in some fresh aguamiel. The two should remain separated like oil and water in the glass.
- slimy body – think thin egg whites (not a great comparison but it evokes an appropriate image). The baba is what many first time drinkers find confronting about pulque. The term baba is also used to describe the slime produced when cooking nopal or okra.
The scorpion is associated with Xiuhtecuhtli the God of fire because the scorpion stings and its venom burns. There is however some debate as to whether or not Xiuhtecuhtli is a pulque god (or even if some of the statues identified as Xiuhtecuhtli are even him) but I will leave that to the archaeologists, historians and the Nahua who still know of these matters. Xiuhtecuhtli was worshipped as the constellation called Citlalcolotl (Scorpius) (1).
- also called Colotlixaya
In some traditions (1) the first sip of mezcal (2) was poured onto the earth as an offering to the Gods and to acknowledge the elements, the Sun, and the Earth for their role in the giving and sustaining of life and to cement the consciousness in this time and place, this holy moment with this Blessed Sacrament.
- This one involves the Zapotec of Oaxaca Valley
- Also mescal or mexcal (from mexcalli – “baked maguey leaves”) – based on metl (“maguey, agave”) + ixca (“to bake”).
Pulque Popular Sayings
There are numerous popular sayings around the drinking of pulque, as there are with many alcohol beverages. Some of them, like “sólo le falta un grado para ser carne” – “it is only a bit shy of being meat” refer to the purportedly high nutritional value of the drink (1) whilst others have a more whimsical or humorous bent. Below I have listed a selection of a few of those that have tickled my funny bone. My Spanish translations may be a little off though.
- See Posts Pulque and Medicinal Qualities of Pulque
“El Pulque Es Tradicion Y Cultura No Una Moda”
Pulque Is Tradition and Culture Not A Fashion
“Pulque bendito, dulce tormento ¿Qué haces afuera? ¡Vamos pa’ dentro!”
“Blessed pulque, sweet torment. What are you doing outside? Let’s go inside! “
“Blessed pulque, sweetest agony, what are you doing out there? Get inside me!”
“Bendita agua de la verdes matas, ni me quemas ni me matas, nomás me haces andar a gatas”
“Blessed water from the green bushes, you neither burn me nor kill me, you just make me crawl”
“¡Ay! pulque, no seas ingrato. ¡Ay! por Dios, no me abandones, que cuando me siento triste, tú la alegría me repones.”
“Oh! Pulque, do not be ungrateful. Oh! by God, do not abandon me, when I feel sad, you rejoice me. “
“Agua de las verdes matas tu me tumbas tu me matas tu me haces andar a gatas con la cola entre las patas.”
“Water from green plants, you knock me, you kill me, you make me walk with the tail between my legs” (1)
- The expression “with the tail between my legs” means ashamed
“Soy hijo de buenos padres y me crie entre los magueyes, yo tomo buen pulque y no agua como los bueyes.”
“I am the son of good parents and I grew up among the magueyes, I drink good pulque and not water like oxen.”
“Hay que correr, tomar pulque, bailar, gritar, disfrutar y reír. No te tomes la vida tan en serio, si al final nadie saldrá vivo de ella.”
“You have to run, drink pulque, dance, scream, enjoy and laugh. Do not take life so seriously, in the end nobody will make it out alive.”
This one in particular made me chuckle….
Sign attached to the doors of the mayor’s office of a town in Texcoco (where the actors put on their costumes to represent the Battle of May 5)
“Se suplica a los contendientes no tomar pulque antes de la batalla, porque el año pasado ganaron los franceses “.
“The contestants are begged not to take pulque before the battle, because last year the French won.” (1)
- Cinco de Mayo. A popular Mexican celebration (more popular outside of Mejico than within) celebrating the battle of Puebla where an outmanned and outgunned rag-tag army of Mexicanos defeated the superiorly armed and trained French armed forces. Cinco de Mayo IS NOT Mexican Independence Day (that is on September 16th)
Baptism is the Christian spiritual rite of sprinkling water on to a person’s forehead (or of totally immersing them in water); this act symbolises purification or renewal and admission in to the Christian Church. Baptism is a symbol of your commitment to God.
When I speak of baptism and pulque I am not speaking of using it (instead of water) as the baptismal liquid nor is it about a pulque virgin having been baptised by taking their first drink of pulque but rather it is the practise of watering down the pulque before sale.
Manuel García Córdova (who has dedicated more than 40 years to the pulque industry en los Llanos de Apan – the plains of Apan)(1) notes that you can tell pulque has been baptised according to its opacity (2). Pulque should be an opaque (2), off-white liquid. Manuel says “Never take a translucent pulque because it tells you about added water – popularly they call it baptized.”
- The Valle de Apan or Llanos de Apan , also known as the Tableland Pulquera (la Altiplanicie Pulquera) is a region of the Valley of Mexico, which mainly comprises municipalities in the south of the State of Hidalgo , part of the plateau of the same and includes even some municipalities of the state of Puebla , Tlaxcala and State of Mexico . It stood out for being a prominent Teotihuacan area, later Toltec and Mexica, where pulque was especially cultivated. It is located 60 kilometres north of Mexico City. To get to the Llanos de Apan, follow the highway that leads from Mexico City to Teotihuacán, following the detour to Ciudad Sahagún.
- the quality or state of a body that makes it impervious to the rays of light. Glass, for example, is transparent to all visible light. Translucent objects allow some light to travel through them. … Therefore, we cannot see clearly through them and objects on the other side of a translucent object appear fuzzy and unclear. Opaque objects block light from traveling through them.
Pulques more serious cousin. Mezcal.
Although pulque is related to mezcal (in that both are produced from agaves) that is their only relation. Neither is made the same way or from the same plants (1).
- although technically aguamiel can be sourced from any agave, in one form or another, and theoretically any aguamiel can be fermented to produce pulque, mezcal is sourced from certain agaves (unlike tequila which is sourced from only one variety) so there is a limited cross-over between pulque and mezcal (and even less between pulque and tequila).
The bubbles that form on the surface of mezcal can indicate the quality of the drink. These bubbles, also known suggestively as perlas or pearls, are a point of pride for mezcaleros and can demonstrate the authenticity of the drink and even the unique nature of the particular variety of maguey used to produce a mezcal. They are also a visual representation used by the mezcalero to judge the quality and strength of the alcohol being produced in the distillate. While bubbles are created whenever you shake most liquids the size, number, and duration of the bubbles tell mezcal makers how much alcohol is in a mezcal. How fat and sparse are they? How small or foamy are they? How quickly do they pop and dissipate?
Larger bubbles that dissipate slowly generally mean that your mezcal is a of a higher ABV (1), in the 45-55% range. Smaller bubbles generally mean that your mezcal is under 45%, usually in the 38-42% range. It has been noted that if the perla does not appear, the liquor is called tequila cortado, or cut tequila, most likely a mixto (2). Research (Rage etal) has shown something that mezcaleros have long understood that the alcohol content of the mezcal determines the duration of las perlas. “If the bubbles, or “pearls,” last about 30 seconds, the mezcal is ready. If they don’t, the mezcal needs more distillation to reach the ideal alcohol content”. Mezcal retains many of the natural oils from the wood and plants involved in its production which determine the viscosity of the liquid and it is this viscosity which is a key marker of bubble duration. These pearls can also be an “identity marker” of the mezcals origin if you know what to look for; the desired pearl pattern varies in each region, or even in each family or town. In Jalisco, producers look for tiny bubbles that gather on the edges of the container (a perfect “bead necklace”), while in Morelia, producers look for big, long-lasting bubbles that gather together in the shape of a honeycomb“(Rubiano 2021). These factors may also play into the phenomenon known as the “tears of the agave”.
- Alcohol By Volume. ABV is a standard measure of how much alcohol (ethanol) is contained in a given volume of an alcoholic beverage (expressed as a volume percent). It is defined as the number of millilitres (mL) of pure ethanol present in 100 mL (3.4 fl. oz) of solution at 20 °C (68 °F).
- Mixto tequilas are not made using 100% agave. Mixto Tequila contains a minimum of 51% Blue Agave, and the remaining 49% from other sugars (typically cane sugars). The additional products allowed in Mixto Tequilas are caramel color, oak extract flavoring, glycerin, and sugar based syrup. Mixto Tequila can now be bottled outside of the Tequila territory, including other countries, which started January 6, 2006.
“Lagrimas de la agave”, the tears of the agave.
What does it mean when a wine is said to have “legs”? Wine legs are the droplets that form in a ring on the glass above the surface of a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage. The drops continuously form and fall in rivulets back into the liquid. You can see the effect in this glass of tequila anejo.
Cause of Wine Legs
While some people think wine legs are related to the quality, sweetness or viscosity of wine, they are really indicative of the alcoholic content of the wine and are caused by the interplay between adhesion, evaporation and surface tension of water and alcohol.
In mezcal these “legs” are called lagrimas or “tears”. As well as the factors noted above these demonstrate the presence of essential oils in the mezcal (or tequila, which it technically a type of mezcal, just a very specific type) and are indicative of a good tequila (or mezcal). The mezcal softly weeps as you contemplate it’s beauty. As you too might weep if you drink enough of this lifeblood of the agaves soul while you ponder the vicissitudes of life in the depths of your glass.
Ye iuhqui itoch. “Such is his rabbit”
Nahuatl Words of Jade. (1)
- See Post Mayahuel and the Centzon Totochin
The sexy sexy maguey
Mechichihual in Nahuatl are ′′ the thorns of maguey “, literally means maguey’s ubres (or chichis)(1) and I have to admit that there is something oddly erotic about maguey thorns when viewed from this angle.
- ubres = udders and chichis = breasts (or more colloquially “boobs”)
- Rage, G.; Atasi, O.; Wilhelmus, M. M. Hernández Sánchez, J. F.; Haut, B.; Scheid, B.; Legendre, D.; Zenit, R. (2020). Bubbles determine the amount of alcohol in Mezcal. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 11014–. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-67286-x
- Rodolfo Ramírez Rodríguez. Breve historia de la “planta de las maravillas” y la “primera bebida nacional” (Brief history of the “plant of wonders” and the “first national drink”) La Jornada del Campo #92, 2015, May 16
- Rubiano, M.P. (2021) How a ‘Bubble Expert’ Decoded the Physics of Making Mezcal : https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/science-of-mezcal?fbclid=IwAR1sqP4dY5a3Hgwp4iSKM5cL0LaJSqt6sGmbySODQh6jSAAa5wjrunF-k1c (last accessed 27.05.21)
- Torres, I., Blancas, J., León, A. et al. TEK, local perceptions of risk, and diversity of management practices of Agave inaequidens in Michoacán, Mexico. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 11, 61 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-015-0043-1