The Difference Between Mescal And Pulque

I have a special interest in the plant genus Agave, and couldn’t help but notice a mistake–albeit a common one–in one of the articles in the Newsletter. The article [November 19881 quotes a person named Bates, who refers to, ‘… mescal, the potent drink that the Mexicans distill from the fermented pulque.”

Whoops! Mescal is not distilled from pulque. It’s made by an altogether different process. Pulque is indeed a fermented product. It is made by allowing aquamiel to ferment Aquamiel is the sap collected from an agave plant which has had its emergent flowering stalk cut. The cut surface is cupped, and the sap is collected daily from the basin thus formed.

Both aquamiel and pulque are highly nutritious drinks. They might be even more nutritious if the insects which are attracted to and trapped in the aquamiel were not filtered out, as they generally are.

Mescal, and its cousin tequila, are made by the following process: Agave plants which are about to flower (the terminal event in the life of the plant) are cut off at the roots, their leaves removed, leaving a globular stem called a ‘cabeza’ (Span., head). The cabeza is then baked, to convert the starches and polysaccharides (which build up in the stem in anticipation of flowering) into sugars. The cabeza is shredded, and the liquid extracted. This liquid is fermented and then distilled into mescal. Commercial mescal and tequila are generally distilled twice, to 110 proof, then watered back down to 80 proof.

The difference between mescal and tequila is the place in which it is made. Much like the wines of Bordeaux, tequila comes from the Tequila region of the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Only one cultivar, the “azul” (Span., blue) variety of Agave tequilana, called blue maguey, is cultivated there.

The distilled product from any other species of Agave, or from outside the Tequila region, is generally called mescal. Some are known by local names. A good deal of it is bootlegged.

The larvae which are put in the bottles are natural parasites on the rich stem and root tissues of Agave plants. Why is this misnamed “worm” added? It is an indication of the proof of the liquor. If the larva is in good shape, it means that the percentage of alcohol is high enough to keep it preserved. If the booze has been watered down, the larva goes bad, and only the most determined entomophile would drink it. It makes you wonder about those brands with the little plastic larvae, doesn’t it?