Adventures in Exotic Booze: Berwyn's La Pulqueria

Pale white, frothy beverage, slightly sour, enhanced with flavorings

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By David Hammond

Driving along Cermak a few weeks ago, I was intrigued by signage for La Pulqueria (6543 W. Cermak, Berwyn), in the same building where there was once La Espanola Tapas Bar. In Mexico, a pulqueria is a place where they serve, and sometimes even make, pulque.

In Henry Bruman's wonderful "Alcohol in Ancient Mexico" (University of Utah Press, 2000), pulque gets its own chapter. The author explains that the pulque-making process involves:

"waiting until the maguey is ready to sprout a flower shoot, cutting out the heart of the plant, which leaves a large hole, and then removing or fermenting the juices that collect in the cavity."

The maguey, or agave, is also the plant used to make tequila and mezcal; the former uses only blue agave, the latter uses a number of wild varieties. For both tequila and mezcal, the pithy root of the plant is cooked, smashed, mixed with water, fermented and distilled. With pulque, the creation of the beverage takes place almost "naturally": the agua miel (honey water, basically the sap of the agave) that collects in the hollowed out pit of the plant ferments rather quickly to produce an alcoholic beverage.

To the best of my knowledge, pulque has never been produced this far north (agave is a warm weather plant and grows best south of the border). So I was surprised to see that a pulqueria had sprouted up along Cermak.

At Berwyn's Pulqueria, this ancient Mexican beverage is not, of course, produced on site. It is, however, served in big frosty mugs, flavored with a variety of sometimes surprising juices and other condiments. There's pineapple and cocoanut, but also cherry, pecan, celery, coffee, red wine, pico de gallo (a kind of dry salsa that contains tomato, onion, peppers, coriander and lime juice), about two dozen different flavorings in all. With the addition of these other flavors, pulque becomes a sweet and/or savory drink.The food at La Pulqueria was kind of meh: I had steak chilaquiles, and the meat had a rather off-note; Carolyn had a few tacos; we didn't finish either of our dinners. But we weren't really there for the food:  we were there for the pulque.

In its unadorned state, pulque is a pale white, kind of frothy beverage with a slightly sour note. This beverage is enhanced with flavorings of various sorts, and I liked my pulque flavored with pineapple; Carolyn though her cocoanut-flavored pulque was a little too rich, which I guess it was. The pineapple, however, had the right mix of sweet and sour, and I thought it was a very appropriate accompaniment to Mexican food.

I'd had pulque before, from a can, and it was…okay. I much prefer it flavored as they do at La Pulqueria, which is a friendly place, with live entertainment on some evenings, and outdoor seating on scenic Cermak.

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