First we met Tequila. We came to know her and to love her and sipped her Margaritas. Then we were introduced to Mezcal. He excited our adventourous side. We ate the worm and defined smoky. Now comes Pulque, the third of the agave inebriating libages.
Actually, it hasn't quite come of age. It's still trying on the dress, choosing the chaperones, and picking the venue.
Pulque, the 2000 year old pre-Columbian beverage has seen a couple of rise and falls in its time. During the Nahuatle reign in what is now Mexico it was only drunk by the priests and elders over 60 years of age. You could break this rule once. Recurrence was punished by death in the form of a sacrifice to the ever blood thirsty gods. With the arrival of the Spaniards, consumption steadfastly grew until the introduction of beer. By 2008 only 50 Pulquerias existed in Mexico City becoming one of the 10 most likely drinks in the world to go extinct.
So how will this drink alternately described as spit, mildewed donkey, acrid, viscous, slimy or mucous ever come of age: People are searching for heritage and culture in the food experience. Sean Brock proves this at his restaurant Husk that won Bon Appetites 2011 "Best New Restaurant in America" where indigenous products, forgotten crops, heirloom and endangered seeds dictate the changing menu.
Dalmau Cudney, a 22 year old music student at UCSC, while on a recent visit to his hometown Mexico City say's of his Pulque drinking experience: "I grew up in Mexico and had never tried it before. The stuff is really good. I don't know why it had such a bad rap. Urban myth even said that the bacteria to ferment the stuff was dog feces"
Its quality is judged by consistency, aroma and color. For traditional old style Pulque this would be, milky, slimy and pungent like rotting pears. So unless you grew up with it, you probably won't like it! I will try any thing once. I revel in adventourous eating but still, drinking a glass of murky spit and then extending its stringy slime from my mouth out to arms length to check it's quality just not sexy. Another ungainly trait is that it over ferments after 48 hours thus stressing the pungent aroma into a nauseous stench. Diplomatically put by author Bob Emmons in "The book of Tequila" in 1997 "it does not bottle well so it is unlikely to be exported".
Along came visionary entrepreneur, Rodolfo del Razo. Looking to export Pulque and comply with FDA guidelines, he had been working since 1994 on ways to make it marketable. Through the use of biotechnology, adding enzymes to reduce viscosity and stopping the fermentation through pasteurization he was able to produce a beverage that was aromatic, mildly sweet with just the right consistency that still kept a nice 6% alcohol.
By 1998 the coming of age of Pulque had slowly started. Del Razo started exporting to Germany and the US, clandestine productions started popping up at farmers markets in Los Angeles. Trendy Mexico City youth started patronizing bars such as "La Risa" and the ultra hip "Expendio de Pulques Finos Insurgentes" which opened it's doors in 2010. A couple of US newspaper articles in the travel sections as well as "No Reservations" a popular TV program picked up on the phenomenon. The ball had started rolling and in June 2011 the first Pulqueria in the US was opened in the most cosmopolitan of American cities, New York. She will come of age beautifully.