The Origin of Pulque

Pulque: The Sacred Drink of Ancient Mesoamerica

A cup of traditional drink Pulque also known as octli.

 Ari Beser / Getty Images

Pulque is a viscous, milk-colored, alcoholic beverage produced by fermenting the sap obtained by the maguey plant. Until the 19th and 20th centuries, it was probably the most widespread alcoholic beverage in Mexico.

In ancient Mesoamerica, pulque was a beverage restricted to certain groups of people and to certain occasions. The consumption of pulque was linked to feasting and ritual ceremonies, and many Mesoamerican cultures produced a rich iconography illustrating the production and consumption of this beverage. The Aztec called this beverage ixtac octli which means white liquor. The name pulque is probably a corruption of the term octli poliuhqui or over-fermented or spoiled liquor.

Pulque Production

The juicy sap, or aguamiel, is extracted from the plant. An agave plant is productive for up to a year and, usually, the sap is collected twice a day. Neither fermented pulque nor the straight aguamiel can be stored for a long time; the liquor needs to be consumed quickly and even the processing place needs to be close to the field.

The fermentation starts in the plant itself since the microorganisms occurring naturally in the maguey plant start the process of transforming the sugar into alcohol. The fermented sap was traditionally collected using dried bottle gourds, and it was then poured into large ceramic jars where the seeds of the plant were added to accelerate the fermentation process.

Among the Aztecs/Mexica, pulque was a highly desired item, obtained through tribute. Many codices refer to the importance of this drink for nobility and priests, and its role in the Aztec economy.

Pulque Consumption

In ancient Mesoamerica, pulque was consumed during feasting or ritual ceremonies and was also offered to the gods. Its consumption was strictly regulated. Ritual drunkenness was allowed only by priests and warriors, and commoners were permitted to drink it only during certain occasions. The elderly and occasionally pregnant women were allowed to drink it. In the Quetzalcoatl myth, the god is tricked into drinking pulque and his drunkenness caused him to be banished and exiled from his land.

According to indigenous and colonial sources, different types of pulque existed, often flavored with other ingredients such as chili peppers.

Pulque Imagery

Pulque is depicted in Mesoamerican iconography as white foam emerging from small, rounded pots and vessels. A small stick, similar to a straw, is often depicted within the drinking pot, probably representing a stirring instrument used to produce the foam.

Images of pulque-making are recorded in many codices, murals and even rock carvings, such as the ball court at El Tajin. One of the most famous representations of the pulque drinking ceremony is at the pyramid of Cholula, in Central Mexico.

The Mural of the Drinkers

In 1969, a 180 feet long mural was discovered by accident in the pyramid of Cholula. The collapse of a wall exposed part of the mural buried at a depth of almost 25 feet. The mural, dubbed the Mural of the Drinkers, portrays a feasting scene with figures wearing elaborate turbans and masks drinking pulque and performing other ritual activities. It has been suggested that the scene portrays pulque deities.

The origin of pulque is narrated in many myths, most of them linked to the goddess of maguey, Mayahuel. Other deities directly related to pulque were the got Mixcoatl and the Centzon Totochtin (the 400 rabbits), sons of Mayahuel associated with the pulque’s effects.


  • Bye, Robert A., and Edelmina Linares, 2001, Pulque, in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, vol. 1, edited by David Carrasco, Oxford University Press.pp: 38-40
  • Taube, Karl, 1996, Las Origines del Pulque, Arqueología Mexicana, 4 (20): 71
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Maestri, Nicoletta. "The Origin of Pulque." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Maestri, Nicoletta. (2020, August 28). The Origin of Pulque. Retrieved from Maestri, Nicoletta. "The Origin of Pulque." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).