From the breathtaking boutique wine region of Valle de Guadalupe, located in Baja California Sur, to the mystical microclimates of Oaxaca, Mexico is responsible for birthing a variety of plants that make great booze.
Though Mexico is mostly known for Tequila and Mezcal, other agave distillates like Sotol, Bacanora and the usually elusive Raicilla are becoming more accessible here in the US at places like La Contenta in New York and Bar Amá in Los Angeles. But setting spirits aside, Mexico offers quite a few other historically relevant, mostly traditional and devastatingly interesting beverages to consider.
... unlike Tequila and Mezcal, Tejuino doesn't require distillation and is surprisingly simple to produce.
"Pulque," also known as "Octli," for example, is a milky white, viscous alcoholic beverage made from fermented sap of the agave plant. It takes on a yeasty, semi-sour flavor and is believed to have been produced for at least the last millennia. In the pre-Columbian era, pulque was considered sacred and the drink was incorporated into religious ceremonies, usually consumed by priests.
But there's more to Mexico than agave. Meet Tejuino, an unconventional alcoholic drink made from fermented corn masa that takes on a flavor similar to Mexican tamarindo candy. Though Tejuino's precise birthplace is unclear, the drink also dates back to pre-Columbian times where it was produced by the Nahuas people, a group indigenous to Northwest and Central Mexico. Nowadays, Tejuino is commonly associated with the western Mexican state of Colima, which shares borders with the well-known states Jalisco (often considered the center of the universe for Tequila production), and Michoacán (one of the few states allowed by the regulatory classification system of Denomination of Origin to produce both Tequila and Mezcal).
But unlike Tequila and Mezcal, Tejuino doesn't require distillation and is surprisingly simple to produce. And with its low alcohol percentage, it's appealing to the casual drinker.
To make Tejuino, one boils the same kind of corn masa used to make tortillas with water and sugar. Transfer that mixture to a container, cover the top with cheesecloth so it can breathe, and after two to three days Tejuino is born.
Typically, when making Tejuino, Mexicans use an unrefined sugar called "piloncillo." This sweeter, sometimes referred to as "Panela," is made by boiling and collecting evaporated cane juice, then packing the sugar crystals into a dark brown cone. The finished product is worth seeking out for its unique flavor reminiscent of both honey and molasses.
Though popular in Colima, Tejuino is produced throughout Mexico, which probably accounts for the variations in ways the drink is presented. It's often sold from roadside stands in small plastic cups, or in large plastic bags with a protruding straw.
Some serve the fermented corn mixture over ice with a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt or even a scoop of lime sorbet. Others garnish with tamarindo candy, a sprinkle of cinnamon, or even add ground chili for a spicy kick.
But at my restaurant, Gracias Madre in Los Angeles, I offer Tejuino in a glass topped with a lemon-lime Champagne granita.