From American Druggist, Volume 16 (May, 1887).
Pulque and mescal, which are fermented and distilled liquors with a great variety of modifications, are made from the sap and root of the maguey plant or aloe, known as the Agave americana. This plant, in some thirty varieties, grows wild throughout Mexico, and in many districts it is carefully cultivated. It enters into the domestic economy and habits of the Mexicans, and forms one of the most useful products of the republic. Its most important production is the fibre yielded by the long, narrow serrated leaves when pressed, and this fibre is said to be almost equal in quality to the best Yucatan heniquen, or jute. Ropes of great strength are made from some varieties of the plant growing in special localities, but the pressed leaves are everywhere of importance for the manufacture of paper. The list of products furnished by the maguey is very large, and besides pulque, or Mexican beer, and mescal, the chief spirit of the country—a distillation resembling a coarse quality of gin, and very intoxicating in its character—there is a fine quality of brandy, known as tequila. The daily consumption of pulque, or beer, in the city of Mexico alone appears to be about 150,000 quarts, and it appears to be the universal beverage of the country. Being in strength about equal to common cider, it is of whitish hue, and has a slightly acid taste, with an odor which makes it very disagreeable to all but the natives. A maguey plant will reach its maturity in from five to ten years, and grows most rapidly in the warm sections, though not so luxuriantly in the hot coast belts. Large quantities of mescal are produced in the State of Oaxaca and tequila, or maguey brandy, comes chiefly from the district of the same name, in the State of Jalisco. Tequila is highly valued on account of its purity and strength. The Mexican Indians are said to be inordinately fond of pulque; it is consumed in large quantities, and forms the basis of a great number of liquors, all of which are intended to make it stronger or more agreeable. Pulque is made a source of large domestic revenue by all the States; the daily tax paid on it at the gates of the city of Mexico is estimated at about £1,000. Another liquor produced direct from the maguey is known as hydromel, or honey juice, being the pure and unfermented juice or sap of the agave. Pulque de chirimoya is made from the hydromel ot the cultivated agave, cut unripe at the age of three or four years. This is put into skins which have contained the “mother,” or pulque made at the regular age, five years and upwards. When transported, the shaking gives it flavor and strength. A choicer liquor is made by heating, underground, old heads of agaves, grinding them coarsely on a stone, and then settling them to ferment in a pulque vessel, after which the contents are distilled. The maguey plant, from which the pulque is made, grows as high as ten or fifteen feet, and the miel or juice is sucked up through a siphon made of a large gourd with a cow’s horn in it, which is called acajete. Accompanying the men whose business it is to collect this juice, and who are called thachiqueros, are donkeys, which have their backs laden with sheep skins, into which the juice is poured after being sucked up by the siphons. The plant is prevented from flowering at the age when it usually yields pulque, and during its growth it throws out shoots or young plants, which are removed from the parent plant when about three feet high, that is, after two years’ growth. These are planted out at a distance of a yard apart. The thachiqueros go periodically among the plants, and mark those which are for tapping by cutting a cross on the top of the highest stalk of each plant. When the maguey is fit for tapping, the thachiqueros trust aside the spiky stalks, and cut out the meyolote or central spoke, leaving a cavity which they visit after eight days, when it is full of juice. The plants only begin to yield juice when the flower stalk is on the point of its development, and this is generally discovered by the direction of the radical leaves. When the flower stalk is on the point of formation, these leaves rise from the earth to which they are inclined, and endeavor to form a junction, so as to protect the flower. They become also of a clearer green, and there are other signs which are closely watched by cultivators. The maguey, after the expiration of eight days, is tapped regularly three times a day, and yields over a gallon a day, and bears for three months, each plant producing about one hundred and twenty gallons before it dies. The juice, when extracted, is conveyed to a large building fitted with square wooden frames, on which are stretched cowhides shaped like vats, the hair being upwards. The liquid appears to curdle during fermentation, and has an offensive odor; fresh juice is applied three times a day, and when drawn off, the liquor is placed in barrels and sold to the pulqueries, or drinking places. The city of Apam produces the finest pulque sent to the city of Mexico, and this sells readily at about fourpence a gallon. The maguey will flourish on the most arid and rocky soils, is not affected by drought, hail, or even severe frosts, and the plant is used for almost every domestic purpose, from making intoxicants to the thatching of huts.