In the beginning, there was Pulque
Hurricane winds whipped against our thin window panes, making them rattle in their frames, threatening to shatter. It was the night before our departure on our two-month mezcal research trip. I tossed and turned in the bed, certain that our flight would be delayed, and wondering if the hurricane and high winds were a positive or negative sign. Miraculously, our flight was on time, and five days into our trip, we've had only good signs.
Our first stop was Guadalajara to hunt for bottles. Guadalajara, Jalisco lies less than an hour from Tequila, and perhaps for this reason, is the cheapest place to buy bottles of all shapes and sizes. Noel had done some research in the months prior to our departure and had the name and address of a factory, so in fact, bottle hunting was ridiculously fast and easy. Within half an hour we had a few style ideas and prices, and were on our way.
While in Guadalajara, our friend, Javier, invited us to a pulquería. Perhaps it's my romantic sensibilities, but for me this was the highlight of our days in the city. Pulque is the grandmother of mezcal and tequila. It's a milky colored, slightly viscous liquid that is produced within the agave plant. It can ferment naturally within the plant, but generally, the liquid is extracted and fermented in barrels.
Unlike mezcal and tequila, it is not distilled, and has a much lower alcohol content (about that of beer - 3%-%). It has been consumed by native Mexicans for at least 1,000 years as a ritual beverage, but today is drunk more for nutrition. It's said that pulque is only one degree shy of being meat, for it's protein content. It also contains vitamins C, D and E, B-complex, amino acids, phosphorous, iron, and carbohydrates. The fermentation is natural and continuous. for this reason, pulque must be consumed within 5 - 7 days.
We arrived at nine o'clock on a Saturday night. A hole appeared in the concrete walls of a city block; the name La Chukirukki Pulquería painted in bright yellow directly on the rough wooden door frame was all that marked the location. It was the proverbial hole-in-the-wall.
Inside everything glowed yellow. Abstract art decorated the walls, along with a monstrous old map of the city. The walls, tables, chairs, and bar had been constructed out of recycled crates. Two bartenders manned the pulquería, which was nearing maximum capacity - its patrons happily swigging from traditional jarros (clay cups). A chalkboard menu hung above the bar offering pulque natural, blended with fruits, or blended with fruits and ice ("frapulque").
I was awe-struck. Ok, so it wasn't a traditional pulqueria, which would have been filled with old, drunk men, none of the hip art, and likely none of the atmosphere. But for me, it was an agave wonderland, and I an Alice, ready to be convinced of whatever hallucinations it might present.
Naturally, we began with the pulque au natural, as one must. It was milky, slightly sour, and tasted remarkably like Kombucha. It didn't strike me as delicious, but (also like Kombucha) struck me as something that could quickly become addictive - essential even, to one's diet.
We quickly moved on to the curados and "Chukirrukis" (fruit-blended pulques). There were six in our group, and we sampled three-quarters of the menu: pineapple, oatmeal, prune, guava, strawberry, mint, cactus pear, and my favorite, mamay (a type of orange-colored sapote). As I mentioned, the alcohol content is fairly low, and this pulque was especially the case, so even after each consuming 2 liters each, we were fairly sober. Fairly.
Pulque, Noel informed me, is known to be responsible for a large percentage of the Mexican population. So should you have the grand opportunity to partake of this beverage...keep your legs crossed.
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