The Aztecs 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 native alcoholic beverages: tequila, mescal, Kahlúa, pulque, and aguardiente. Tequila and mescal, distilled from the fermented juice of the maguey, originated in Oaxaca, where the best are still made. Quality tequila (named after the Guadalajara-area distillery town) and mescal come 76 proof (38 percent alcohol) and up. A small white worm, endemic to the maguey, is customarily added to each bottle of factory mescal for authenticity.
Pulque, although also made from the sap of the maguey, is locally brewed to a lower alcohol content between that of beer and wine. The brewing houses are sacrosanct preserves, circumscribed by traditions that exclude 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 is an honor you cannot refuse.
Aguardiente, by contrast, is the notorious fiery Mexican “white lightning,” a locally distilled dirt-cheap ticket to oblivion for poor Mexican men.
While pulque comes from age-old Indian tradition, 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 Negro Modelo. Nochebuena, a hearty dark brew, becomes available only around Christmas.
Mexicans have yet to develop much of a taste for vino tinto or vino blanco (red or white table wine), although some domestic wines (such as the Baja California labels Cetto and Domecq and the “boutique” Monte Xanic) are at least good, and sometimes excellent.