Pulque is an alcoholic drink which was first drunk by the Maya, Aztecs, Huastecs and other cultures in ancient Mesoamerica. Similar to beer, it is made from the fermented juice or sap of the maguey plant (Agave americana). In the Aztec language Nahuatl it was known as octli and to the Maya it was chih. Only mildly alcoholic, the potency of pulque was often increased with the addition of certain roots and herbs.
The Indigenous Mexicans were well aware of the effect and power of Pulque, it was a drink reserved for Religious occasions and for Warriors, Priests and Leaders. There were various Gods associated with Pulque and serious consequences for public drunkeness. There are several Origin Stories to explain the source of pulque; The great god Quetzalcoatl noticed that humans were not particularly happy after a long day of hard work and created a drink that would increase their happiness. The Aztecs had 400 Pulque Gods who took the form of a Rabbit, as they believed a rabbit had first discovered the juice of the maguey by nibbling on a leaf. As pulque had a milk-like appearance it was associated with mother's milk and this is evidenced in such artifacts as the Aztec Bilimek Pulque Vessel on which is a scene showing the drink pouring from the breast of an earth goddess.
After the Spanish Conquest, pulque lost its sacred character, and both natives and Spanish people began to drink it. The Spanish initially made no laws regarding its use. It became a lucrative source of tax revenue, but by 1672, public drunkenness had become enough of a problem that the viceregal government created regulations to curtail its consumption. A maximum of 36 "pulquerias" were permitted for Mexico City, which had to be located in open areas, be without doors and close at sundown. Food, music, dancing and the co-mingling of the sexes were prohibited. However, pulque continued to play a major role in the socioeconomic history of Mexico during colonial times and in the early years of Independence. Through this period, it was the fourth largest source of tax revenue. ] At the end of the 17th century, the Jesuits began large-scale production of the drink to finance their educational institutions. In this way, the making of pulque passed from being a home brew to one commercially produced.
Production of pulque exploded after Independence from Spain, when the regulation of pulque producers ended, and Mexican nationalism increased. From then until the 1860s, pulque haciendas multiplied, especially in Hidalgo and Tlaxcala states. In 1866, the first railway between Veracruz and Mexico City began operations, crossing through Hidalgo. This line was soon known as the "Pulque Train", because it brought supplies of the drink daily to the capital. This production and easy shipment of the drink made Hidalgo rich, and gave rise to a "pulque aristocracy" made up of some of the most powerful families of this time: Torres Adalid, Pimenta y Fagoaga, Macedo and others. At its peak, there were about 300 pulque haciendas. Some still remain in the plains of Apan and Zempoala, in Hidalgo. Pulque hit its peak of popularity during the late 19th century, when it was enjoyed by rich and poor alike.
Depictions of tlaquicheros, pulquerías, and pulque haciendas were the subject of photographers in the late Porfiriato, including photographers C. B. Waite, Hugo Brehme, and Sergei Eisenstein. The tlaquichero "was perhaps the most widely known and successful of the images of Mexican types."
Lupita Dolls Celebrate Pulque for its place in History of Mexico, its religious and economic importance.