Frothy, fizzy, and sometimes slimy, pulque—the fermented sap of the maguey plant—is one of Mexico’s oldest (and most divisive) spirits. The Aztecs considered it the drink of the gods, but the 20th century saw the viscous beverage maligned as working-class booze. Now, mixologists across Mexico are using it to shake up the cocktail scene.
“We introduced pulque to give it a better image,” says Juan Carlos García Flores, the bartender at Mexico City’s Corazón de Maguey. He mixes it with white wine and mezcal and adds an agave worm salt rim to make the Curadito Mayahuel. The drink, which García Flores describes as “neither very strong nor very sweet,” is aimed at brunch diners who may still be feeling crudo from the night before.
At Oaxaca’s La Mezcalerita, owner Coca Zárate starts her Pinotepa cocktail with a bubbly pulque that she describes as “very light, very sweet, and slime-free,” and finishes it with mezcal and a touch of citrus. “A tourist once told me it was like Mexican Champagne,” Zárate says of the drink’s base spirit.
For a more accessible take, some bartenders make curados—pulque blended with fruits or nuts—to use in their cocktails. “Pulque is tricky to work with,” says José Luis León, a bartender at Mexico City’s Licorería Limantour, which is ranked No. 11 on the 2018 World’s 50 Best Bars list. “Curados are more straightforward.” The piña colada–like Extraviado (pictured) combines guava curado with coconut cream, lemon, bitters, and Charanda Uruapan, a rum-like spirit from Michoacán.
Finally, in the heart of tequila country, at Guadalajara’s De La O, head bartender Braden LaGrone uses banana curado in his tiki-inspired HavanaNana, which also includes house-spiced rum, pineapple syrup, and Angostura bitters. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” LaGrone says. “We’re just using very fresh regional things and [serving them] in a way that people haven’t before.”