The Aztecs usually sacrificed anyone caught drinking alcohol without permission. The later, more lenient, Spanish attitude toward getting borracho (soused) has led to a thriving Mexican renaissance of alcoholic beverages: aguardiente, Kahlua, mescal, pulque, and tequila. Mescal, distilled from the fermented juice of the maguey (century) plant, was introduced by the Spanish colonists in Oaxaca, where the best mescales are still made. Quality tequila (mostly made near Guadalajara) and mescal both come 76 proof (38 percent alcohol) and up. A small white worm, endemic to the maguey plant, is often added to each bottle of factory mescal for authenticity.
Pulque, although also made from the sap of the maguey, is locally brewed (but not distilled), to a small alcohol content, between beer and wine. The brewing houses are sacrosanct preserves, circumscribed by traditions that exclude both women and outsiders. The brew, said to be full of nutrients, is sold to local pulquerías and drunk immediately. If you are ever invited into a pulquería, it will be an honor you cannot refuse.
Aguardiente, by contrast, is the notorious fiery Mexican “white lightning,” a locally cane-fermented and distilled, dirt-cheap ticket to oblivion for poor Mexican men.
While pulque comes from an age-old indigenous tradition, cerveza (beer) is the beverage of modern mestizo Mexico. Full-bodied and tastier than “light” U.S. counterparts, Mexican beer enjoys an enviable reputation.
Those visitors who indulge usually know their favorite among the many brands, from light to dark: Superior, Corona, Pacífico, Tecate (served with lime), Carta Blanca, Modelo, Dos Equis, Bohemia, Tres Equis, and Negra Modelo. Nochebuena, a flavorful dark brew, becomes available only around Christmas.
Mexicans have yet to develop much of a taste for vino (wine), although some domestic wines, such as the Baja California labels Monte Xanic, Domecq, and Cetto, are often quite good and sometimes excellent.