Tequila, mezcal and pulque:
3 Mexican beverages you should try
Mexico has proven that it can do wonders with any agave plant grown in our land.
There are many Mexican alcoholic beverages, but tequila, mezcal and pulque are the most famous. All 3 are made from the agave plant, but each is unique in its own way.
Tequila is by far the most famous Mexican drink in the world and is made from the blue agave plant. It is usually light in color and its flavor, although it can vary depending on the type of tequila, is relatively mild. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made of different kinds of agave, its flavor is smoky and stronger than that of tequila. Finally, pulque is a lesser-known drink, prepared from the fermented sap of the agave and has a slightly sour taste.
These are 3 traditional drinks in Mexico that you can’t miss during your visit to Mexico City. In Barrio, we love them and want to tell you more about each of them so you can get to know them better and surprise your new traveler friends with your knowledge of traditional Mexican drinks.
Tequila is an ancestral beverage that takes its name from the place where it is produced: the Tequila region in the state of Jalisco.
It is made from the agave plant, known to have existed for approximately 12 million years. Currently, there are about 290 different species of agave, but only the blue variety “Tequilana Weber” can be used to make tequila.
This agave needs 7 to 10 years to grow to the point where it is mature enough for tequila production. At that moment, the sugars in the heart of the plant (called “piña”) are ready for the production of the beverage.
Tequila is made by distilling the fermented juices of the blue agave plant. First, the piñas are cut and slowly cooked in steam or brick ovens to transform the starch into sugar. Next, the cooked agave is crushed to extract the sweet juice, which is fermented with yeast to convert the sugar into alcohol. This fermentation is then distilled in copper stills.
Depending on the type of tequila to be produced, it can rest briefly in tanks or be aged in barrels.
The 3 main types of tequila are blanco, reposado and añejo. Blanco is the most common and is usually light in color. Reposado is aged for 2 to 12 months in oak barrels and has a golden color. The añejo is matured for at least 1 year (also in oak barrels) and has an amber to bronze color.
Tequila has a denomination of origin, and only the tequila produced in the state of Jalisco and some areas of the states of Nayarit, Michoacán, Guanajuato and Tamaulipas can be called “tequila”. This is because these regions have unique natural characteristics for its production.
Mezcal can be made from more than 30 varieties of agave, making it a very diverse and complex beverage, both in flavor and history, as it has been produced for centuries.
The types of agave most commonly used to produce mezcal are tobalá, tobaziche, tepeztate, arroqueño and espadín. The latter is the most common agave and accounts for up to 90% of mezcal. Although agave plants grow in most Mexican states, only 9 states can legally produce mezcal: Oaxaca, Guerrero, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.
Mezcal production is an actual test of patience, as agave varieties can take between 6 and 70 years to mature. Once the agave is ready, the stalks are cut, and the heart of the plant, also called “piña”, is sent to cook for several days in an underground oven.
After cooking, the piñas are crushed and mashed and then placed in a fermentation tank where they are combined with water and yeast. The ferment is then distilled 2 to 3 times. If it is artisanal, it is distilled in copper pots, but if it is an ancestral variety, it is distilled in clay pots. This produces a much smaller volume, but some prefer the earthy flavor that the clay gives to the mezcal.
As for its aging, it can be bottled and sold directly after distillation, which qualifies it as young. If aged from 2 months to 1 year, it will be labeled as reposado. Añejo is aged from 1 to 3 years, and extra añejo is aged for more than 3 years.
Difference between tequila and mezcal
“Mezcal” is the name of any alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant, so technically, tequila is a type of mezcal, in the same way that bourbon is a type of whiskey.
Although tequila and mezcal have similar flavors and combine well with the same ingredients (such as salt and citrus), mezcal has a wider range of flavors as it can be made from various agaves and tequila only from the blue variety.
Their main difference lies in the way the agave is prepared before fermentation. The mezcal agave is cooked in ovens underground, giving it a characteristic smoky flavor that tequila doesn’t have.
Pulque is an alcoholic beverage that comes from the fermented sap of the agave plant.
It has deep roots in history, as it is known as the oldest fermented beverage in North America. Pulque has a milky color, an almost frothy texture and a slightly acidic, sour taste. In Mexico, it is known as “the Aztec drink of the gods”.
It is made from mead extracted from the pulque agave and fermented in wooden barrels for several days. Like the agaves used to produce tequila and mezcal, the pulque agave needs several years to grow, mature and be ready to prepare this ancestral beverage.
This type of agave can be found in various parts of the country, but it is in the states of Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, Puebla and Estado de México where it grows best thanks to the dry and semi-dry climate of this central part of the country.
Pulque can be drunk directly from the barrel, or different ingredients such as fruits and nuts can be added. Pulque prepared in this way is known as “curado” and the most famous flavors are pineapple, walnut, pine nut and guava, although you can find all kinds of flavors such as tomato, coffee and oatmeal.
The consumption of pulque is a deep-rooted tradition in some areas of the country. The original places where this drink was served are called “pulquerías,” and in the past, only men were allowed to enter.
It is a drink that existed before the Spanish conquistadors’ arrival to America, and the Aztecs were the first natives to drink it in the rituals they performed for their gods.
In Mexico City, it has always been drunk. Here we have traditional pulquerías and more contemporary ones that are opening to enjoy a good glass of pulque in a more modern environment. Some of the best known pulquerías in the city are Las Duelistas, La Pirata, La Hija de los Apaches and La Chulada.
Are you going to try this drink of the gods?
Now that you know more about the 3 most traditional Mexican drinks, we recommend you try them on your next visit to Mexico City. Understanding their origins and how they are prepared will make you enjoy them in a different way.
Come to Hostel Barrio and we will give you the best experience to learn more about these drinks through tours, tastings, samplings and activities that will turn you into an expert connoisseur of tequila, mezcal and pulque.
See you soon!