Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pulque Not Beer

I met up with Mauricio at the Mezcal Botique http://labotica.com.mx/on Calle Umaran and sampled a shot or two of the wares when he handed me a can of Pulque !la Lucha! For those that don't know, pulque is naturally fermented maguey or agave juice. It's non-distilled and is 6% abv. This is a traditional drink in Mexico that dates back to the 'Classic' period in Mexican history or 150 years B.C. to 700 A.D. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulque
Bacteria, not yeast is used in fermentation. I'm not exactly sure what type of bacteria is used to ferment the juice of the maguey but, in traditional pulque, a muñeca ("doll") was used - a rag or sock filled with human feces dipped in to start the fermentation process. www.nicks.com.au/index.aspx?link_id=76.1261
On a higher note, pulque became a very important element in Mexican society such that it has elevated the maguey to mythical heights. In fact, some believe that the starburst pattern behind the Virgin of Guadalupe is the leaf pattern of the maguey. The fermented and distilled agave juice is mezcal, and if it is strictly the 'blue agave', distilled in the Tequilla region, and at government appointed distilleries, then it is considered 'Tequila'. Kinda like champagne is made in Champagne France and when produced elsewhere would be considered simply 'sparking wine'.
Pulquerias were, and still are in some small rural communities a popular 'men only' drinking establishment with quirky names like "the celebrating monkeys", and "why do I laugh". Often blended with fruit to make it more palatable, it is called 'curado' or curing.
Pulque La Lucha is made in Hidalgo, Mexico by Distrubuidora International de Pulque and imported by Boulder Imports boulder Imports Pulque is meant to be drunk very fresh and doesn't keep well beyond a few days of fermentation, and I noticed on the can of Pulque La Lucha that the product has been pasturized, no doubt this is necessary for a fresh tasting pulque. (Go here for a look at fresh Pulque for sale at the Tianguis).
I shook the can well as instructed and poured a portion into my glass. The appearance is milky and obscure with almost no carbonation and no head. It had an unusual aroma that can only be discribed as halitosis and the flavor I would describe as a blend of tooth decay and burning hair. Not pleasant.
I've heard that you can get the agave juice down at the open air market for cheap. I thought that I would try boiling some up with some centennial hops and ferment with Safale us05 yeast (instead of the questionable wild yeasts and bacteria) to see if it is possible to make this traditionally awful tasting bebida into something I'd enjoy. It's hard to say if something that tastes so bad to begin with can be salvaged simply with hops. I suspect it will take much more.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

hello, I'm from the region of mexico where pulque comes from, and just to let you know, real pulque is fermented just using agua miel, or the maquey sap,, nothing else is used, there no such thing as a doll or anything else those myths were created by beer companies around the early 1900's in order to discredit pulque for their own benifit, if you ever want to taste real pulque, the king the old mexica (aztecs) drank, go the the state of Hidalgo, around Apan or Epazuoucan.

mark said...

Thanks for the feedback. The reference to a doll with bacteria is information from wikipedia regarding supposed historical evidence.I don't expect that it is made that way today. I do believe that a combonation of bacteria and wild yeast are used to ferment the sugars, similar to the lambiks of Belgium.

Michael L. said...

With fresh pulque, more people seem put off by the phlegm-like texture than the acrid aroma and sour taste, though enough people find the latter hard enough to get by that they opt for the sweetened fruit and nut flavored pulques. I happen to like it, though I'm skeptical of a pasteurized and canned version, just as I would be of a pasteurized and canned chicha. I'd still try it if I saw it in a store, of course.

qb said...

Where can you buy this stuff in the United States? Boulder Imports doesn't seem to have a working web site anymore. I'm interested in precisely what this tastes like, and whether some variation of it may be palatable.

Beer Diary... said...

qb,
I don't know where in the U.S. it is available. I suspect you can get it in Texas but I'm not sure. Since writing about Pulque La Lucha I have not come across any other type of fermented agave. Let me know if you come across some in the future so I can share the information with other readers here.

Joanna said...

I bought some in a bottle at a grocery store in Sunnyside, WA. I didn't care for it, but my pig likes it a lot - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wx-luPpqdbw

I pondered all kinds of things to mix it with to make it palatable, but nah, I'll give it to the pig and stick to beer....

Babylon said...

I'm really interested in using aguamiel as a base fermentable in a drink. I can't find it anywhere online to purchase, but if it is available at small markets that could certainly work.

I was thinking of going with Agave Nectar at first, but that is a pasteurized and heavily altered version of aguamiel and seems like it would be the equivalent of using the malt powder that is added to milkshakes when making beer rather than a proper malt mash.

I will be living in Los Angeles starting this summer and will be exploring, hoping I can find a source of aguamiel.

Beer Diary... said...

Babylon,
It seems you should be able to get 'miel de agave' in L.A. pretty easily. What I've found when purchasing this product is that the pure agave juice will be concentrated down and comes in light and dark versions. The darker version is of course 'cooked down' or concentrated more and I prefer because it has a stronger flavor. Good luck in you search and keep us posted if you discover some in your area.

Artemio said...

Hey Beer Diary, this is Arie just writing to let you know as the other guy from mexico i certainly was born in a town where pulque is made from the maguey plant not from agave, agave is different to maguey!
And about a doll or something, it´s absolutely false!!!! Real pulque is made with aguamiel, a juice extracted from the maguey plant!
Now im planning to export this traditional mexican beverage to japan or china but i still don´t know anybody there! if u wanna know more about it let me know, my father makes it at home!

cheers!

Anonymous said...

hola quiero saber en donde puedo encontrar pulque, se que lo venden enlatado pero no se en donde encontrarlo ,contestenme por favor

Anonymous said...

hola vivo en santa cruz california. alguien me puede decir en donde puedo encontrar pulque???

Beer Diary... said...

I noticed that the link to Boulder Imports no longer connects to a website. The link now takes you to the wikibusiness that has some information on the company. I'm not sure what happened to Boulder Imports. As far as finding Pulque in the states, I've come up with nothing yet. Frankly, I'm not real impressed with pulque, fresh or otherwise but I can appreciate the interest. Good luck to all those in search of this interesting beverage and if you come across some anywhere in the States, please let the rest of us know about it.

Arie said...

well i will ask my uncles living in l.a. then i let u know where to find it!!!!
AAAnd let me tell u this i live in mex city and have a school proyect about pulque export but i need to find a business person there to distribuite it!
be back soon!

Diego said...

Hello. I'm about to publish a book about pulque and the pulque haciendas. I'm glad to find so much interest on pulque, either in Mexico and in the US as well.

If you are interested in more information, photos or in the book itself, I'll be glad to share with you.

fotodiego@aol.com
¡Salud!

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity I bought a sixer today (in the cans as in your picture) here in Oakland, CA. The first taste seemed... um, interesting, but it sort of grows on you... or me, anyway. No doubt this canned pasteurized version is a far cry from what one would find locally in Mexico, but I'm glad I tried it.

Anonymous said...

there was just an article in BYO magazine about pulque, and no doubt hundreds of homebrewers are now trying their hands at a batch- myself included. i am going to make a gallon and ferment half with US-05 and half with belgian ale yeast and lactobacillus bacteria, serving/drinking them both immediately after 3 weeks fermentation.

Beer Diary... said...

Hi Anonymous,
Did you extract the juice of the agave yourself or is this something you can buy at your location. I haven't seen any of the fresh juice here in Santa Cruz. Although I have had pulque and really don't like the taste. I think your sour version would be closer to the authentico. Let us know how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

I found a six pack of bottles in Corning California. Bottle says "Pulque La Lucha (Fermented Agave nectar. Coco-Pina flavor)".I think it is a bit old, but i like it. I would like to try some fresh. I found it in a local liquor store.

Anonymous said...

True Polque is not a beer. It is a wine in the same sense as Mead, and other fermented fruit. If you take a drink of this with beer in mind you will be sadly disappointed, but if you come at it with ancient wine in mind you will have a true reverence for this ancient Mexican drink.

Beer Diary... said...

I haven't had the 'coco-pina' flavor but I imagine it would suit my tastes a lot better than the original style. Thanks for the update on locating the product here in the states.

Anonymous said...

I love pulque and drink as much of it as possible when I am in Mexico. The stuff in the can is nothing like the real thing. The flavored "curada" is probably suited to more peoples' taste. Pineapple is delicious. Yup, it really does have to be fresh to taste good. Pulque doesn't have much shelf life.

Beer Diary... said...

Yes, it must be drunk fresh. It only takes a day or so for the fermentation to produce the proper level of flavor and alcohol. If the bulk of the pulgue is not consumed and then replenished with fresh miel, it will not be as enjoyable. I went out into the campo with my Mexican landlord this year who knew of some pulqueros and we sampled some from a couple different vendors. One, stated that theirs was too old to sell which was only by a couple of days but what happens is that the pulque becomes too alcoholic and loses the fresh flavor. Cheers!

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