United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce.

Consular reports, Issues 188-191 online

. (page 53 of 102)
Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 53 of 102)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

jected to the same law, or to any oiher special law which the Executive may enact, or which
may seem to him the most convenient.

Art. 4. In the sessional period immediately following the promulgation of the decree or
decrees relative to this law, the Executive will give an account to Congress of the use which
he shall have made of the faculties empowered upon him by the present law.


The special drinks of Mexico are pulque, mescal, and tequila. Properly
speaking, pulque is the national drink. In order to supply information as
to their character and manufacture, I send an article on mescal and tequila,
taken from the Deutsche Zeitung von Mexico, the leading German paper of
this city, whose editor. Prof. Adam E. Schulte, is a citizen of the United
States, formerly a teacher in one of the public schools of New York City.
It presents the salient points about mescal and tequila, to which I supplement
my own report on pulque.


Professor Schulte*s article* is as follows:

The mescal plant, a near relative of the maguey, whose juice furnishes the celebrated
pulque, differs in form from the latter in so far that ils thick leaves possess a bluish tint and
grow almost perpendicularly, while those of the pulque plant bend their leaves from above

Hoth plants yield a revenue for the happy possessors thereof which can be called princely.
And both grow in poor, dry soil exposed to the rays of the sun, and extract from the soil,
the first the uncommonly high alcoholic contents contained in the flesh of the heart of it,
similar to the saccharine matter of the sugar cane, and the latter a direct sweetish-sour juice
which collects in the heart of the plant and is extracted from it by means of a very simple
sucking apparatus, operated by the mouth of the peon ; but not in such a manner that the sap

♦ Portions of the article arc omitted by the Department as nonessential.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


enters the lips of the same, as is believed by so many, who object to drinking it on that ac-
count; from those siphons it is emptied into skins and brought to the hacienda and subjected
to a certain process of fermentation lasting from two to three hours. Then the juice, now
called pulque, is transported as quickly as possible to the places of consumption, for its drink-
ability does not last longer than a day, and it becomes then unsalable. As tastes diflfer, it is
necessary that pulque be actually imbibed in order to be able to judge as to its flavor.
* * * The best pulque resembles in looks thick green-fodder milk, and as it contains
much sediment, it necessitates the shaking of the bottle before drinking it, that not too much
of the former be swallowed at one gulp. For indigestion, weakness of stomach, aye, even
for consumption, it is said that pulque acts very beneficially, and the numerous credible persons
who have given their testimony in proof of this cause the fact to hardly admit of any doubt.
Still less can its nutritive qualities be doubted when beholding the thousands and thousands
who subsist almost entirely on pulque, tortillas, frijoles, and chile, who are robust and quite
strong. Unfortunately, the excessive drinking of it, owing to its cheapnes.s — a tumblerful
costing but I cent — causes much drunkenness. Thus the sight of drunkards is one of most fre-
quent occurrence ; this the more so as pulquerias are disseminated as thickly as beer saloons in
many foreign cities, and the quarrels resulting in consequence often cause in one day more
than a hundred arrests, with most of these prisoners wounded. * * *

Before the pulque plant offers its juice to humanity, it must have attained an age of from
eight to eleven years, after which time its productiveness lasts uniil it yields from 125 to 160
gallons, sold at the hacienda itself at 8 cents per gallon, certainly a fine revenue for every
plant. As the distance between them is 2^ meters on the average, we obtain from every
hectare 100 meters square (2|^ acres) 1,600 plants, which leave in twelve years a net profit
of at least ^15,000, an average of ^$1,250 per year, ;?5oo per acre, and its cultivation offers r.o
difficulties whatsoever. Young plants shoot up at all times, thus furnishing the plants neces-
sary for future planting. And during the first years of its growth other crops can be raised
between the diagonal lines in which they are planted, such as corn or beans. * * *

While making calculations, we may as well make such with regard to the genuine roesccl
plant, or perhaps more fitly called whisky plant, which, being planted nearer together, allows
at least 2,500 to the hectare. This plant needs at least ten years before it can be cut. This
is done by cutting the whole plant just below the heart; then the leaves are cut away from the
latter about 2 inches from the core, they containing up to that distance the alcoholic sap ; the
heart b then split into two or more pieces, according to its size, and transported to the distillery
on the backs of mules or donkeys. As a rule, three hearts give a carga of 300 pounds weight,
and 4j^ cargas yield I barrel of whisky of 48 gallons. The price of such is at present
at the factory, $17. If we reckon $14 as the net cost price, we see that the 2,500 plants per
hectare, divided by 13^, will produce 185 barrels, which, at I14, yield $2,900, an average of
I260 per hectare, a little more than $100 per acre; and this plant thrives on the poorest soil,
where no cereals would grow.

The separating of the fiber from the outer skin of the- leaves has assumed great propor-
tions and is destined to reach much greater ones in the near future. This fiber yields the
so-called ixtle of commerce. It serves to make the common cords, also for textile fabrics. It
is likewise known under the name of liennequen, and sold, according to quality, from $)4
cents a pound. Ixtle of an inferior quality, but of great strength, is also made of the pulque
plant, but the produce of the mescal is much finer and will in course of time be made to
yield a thread similar to linen, aye, approaching silk in texture.

If we now inform the reader that there have been mescal plants found whose hearts weighed
1,200 pounds, and where one plant produced I barrel of whisky, he may perhaps shake his
head, never having seen such a plant. We can, however, assure him that we have tried in
vain to lift the half of one but I foot from the ground, for the same weighed more than 300
pounds. Certainly such of the former weight are very, very rare, but those of above 300 pounds
are nothing extra. Thohe plants are split into proportionate pieces, as a mule carries only 300
pounds and a donkey but 150 pounds, and this weight must be well adjusted, and proi^er pack

Digitized by VjOOQIC


saddles are of much importance to enable the loaded animals to walk safely over the horrible
and steep roads they have to traverse; yet it often happens ihat a poor peon sees one of the
two donkeys, forming his whole earthly possessions, slip on some [perpendicular path and roll
down the deep ravine, never more to rise. These accidents are generally the consequence of
poor pack saddles.

Those who may think that the above calculations are too far fetched, need but be told that
the other products of those estates, such as corn, beans, bananas, etc., are generally more than
sufficient to pay the scanty wages of the laborers of the haciendas, this all the more, the lat
ter being the best customers for a quick and most lucrative sale thereof. We approach nearest
to truth when considering the above prices as net profit. * * *

We will now proceed and describe the most primitive way of manufacturing the spirit con-
tained in the hearts of the mescal plants. We have already described the manner of cutting
the plants and their conveyance to the distillery ; we will now inform the reader how the lat-
ter looks. The first thing we see on entering the yard of the same, is a basin-like hole in the
ground, about 4 feet deep, and having a diameter of from 10 to 15 feet. Upon the bottom, big
piles of wood are laid, and upon these large, flat stones ; then the wood is kindled, and when
the stones arc thoroughly heated, the agave hearts are placed upon them and remain there for
about fourteen hours, for so long will the fire last. The hearts are covered with mats, sacks,
and loose earth, and before this covering is removed, at least ten hours must elapse to give the
plants sufficient time to become thoroughly steamed. Naturally, the time may be slightly af-
fected by the smaller or greater size of the plants; thus, the superintendent m charge must
possess sufficient experience, as otherwise the yield might show results far different from the
ones expected. After the mass has cooled off, it is transferred to another basin, similarly con-
structed, but having in the middle, firmly imbedded, a massive stanchion, to which a revolv-
ing pole is attached, moving a heavy, round stone, while to the projecting end two oxen are
yoked to set the whole in motion, to assist which a boy sits on the inner end of the pole, pro-
vided with a long staff having a sharp prong at the end, to encourage the oxen, should these
animals come to a sudden halt when the iX)nderous stone bangs against a big pile of the
mescals that have become stowed in front of it. By this process, the hearts are reduced to a
pulp. A peon walks backward in front of the revolving pole with a rake, in order to spread
the mass as evenly as can be. The stone is so adjuste<l that it may be shifted at will, either
nearer to the center or the rim of it. That this basin is well cemented need hardly be men-
tioned. The meat of the mescal, after having undergone its vapor bath, is very sweet, with
a strong alcoholic taste. Before eating much of it, one has enough.

It takes a few hours before the mass yields sap enough to remove the fluid into receptacles
serving as fermentation store tanks. The reducing process is then continued with the remain-
ing plants until the whole has become fit for use. After the juice has undergone the necessary
fermentation (to assist which a naked peon jumps up and down in the vat and this likewise
helps to extract all the better the separation of the still remaining fibres from the sap) the sap
then percolates through the perforated bottom of the vat and is fit for the distilling apparatus.
After all the juice that can be obtained by the above process has been obtained, the refuse is
carried into other basins, covered with abundant water, and left to undergo another fermenta-
tion ; this over, the fibrous mass is put under a press and the last drop of the spiritual fluid
extracted. This press is of the most primitive construction, and the last fermentation lasts
about one day. The fiber thus pressed is then dried and serves as fuel. When the reader is
told that in such distilleries from 10 to 15 barrels are made daily, he can easily understand
what profits may be gained ; and to produce this quantity from six to nine persons are sufficient,
whose daily wages amount to hardly $4 to ^6 per day, whereas the production amounts to
from $140 or $200 for the same time. Thus, it can easily be seen how well this manufactur-
ing pays. Certainly a great quantity of wood is consumed in this oi)eration, but the latter
grows on the premises, and costs only wages for cutting and transportation to the factory, and
the peons, who do this work, purchase all their necessities in the tienda (store) of the estate,
with the exception of clothing.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


The distilling apparatus is of the most primitive kind and akin to it are all the buildings
on the premises, yet the spirit made in this style is preferred to that manufactured in factories
having all the modem appliances, on account of its more agreeable taste. In the vernacular,
this product is called vino (wine) ; the word mescal is rarely added to it ; this latter name is,
however, given it in commerce. In many places of the Republic it is called tequila, in
honor of the town of that name, where most of it is made, say from 800 to i ,000 barrels }>er
week. Tequila is situated about 18 leagues northwest of Guadalajara, the capital of the
State of Jalisco. In former times, there were found in this latter place and its immediate
vicinity dozens of such small factories, in which the vino was made as above described, but
little byJittle one after the other began introducing modern machinery, until at the present
time there are but four large factories in operation there ; all the smaller ones had to suc-
cumb to modern improvements. In these factories, the mescals are placed in large drying
ovens and heated therein. One of these ovens holds from 125 to 200 cargas (300 pounds)
of the hearts. These remain therein from fourteen to twenty- four hours, according to the
size, after which they are thoroughly steamed, and are then allowed to cool gradually after
the steam has been turned off. The heating is done by means of steam pipes. The mescals
are put m a cutting machine and cut into narrow strips. These are then subjected to the
pressure of a powerful hydraulic press, whence the juice flows into reservoirs and is then
ready for the distilling apparatus. The refuse is then treated as described a1x)ve. The dif-
ferent boilers used in these factories are from 50 to 80 horsepower, and the appliances are of
the most approved kind.

* * * As the different kinds of woods growing on these haciendas are of great heat-
ing power and extremely heavy, 20 cargas are sufficient for the use of one day; still, this
amounts to 3 tons. In a factory of this kind, capable of producing from 25 to 30 barrels of
spirit daily, about the same number of men are occupied, and their wages amount to hardly
|I2 01 ^15 daily, for most of these are laborers of the most common kind. The work they
have to perform is not easy, and most of the lime is incessant, for man has to hustle if wish-
ing to keep up his pace with steam. In the vaults of these distilleries there are found some
twenty or more large vats, some of gigantic size. * * *

The duties which these factories had to pay the Federal Government formerly were sup-
posed to be in accordance with their product, but of late years the Government raises a lump
sum from this source and distributes the same among different States, basing the contribution
of each upon the results of former years, and leaving it to the individual States to collect
their respective contribution from the separate distilleries. The sum raised by the Federal
Government from this source is J^5cx>,ooo annually. The largest factories of Tequila pay
about ^500 per month.

The country round about Tequila enjoys a beautiful climate. The town lies in a hollow,
at the foot of the Cerro de Tequila, a high peak alx)ut 14,000 feet high and visible from
Guadalajara and equal distances. On the remaining sides it is surrounded by high hills, with
the exception of a narrow strip, where the Rio Grande de Santiago or the Lerma has cut its
course through the steep mountains, showing banks of from 1,000 to 1,500 feet high. The
country is rich in water, draining all the different mountains; thus the distilleries are never
short of this element, so necessary for them. At the cheap price at which the vino is sold
there — 1 cent per glass — it is astonishing how little drunkenness one meets with, less than in
other Mexican towns where this beverage is sold at prices more than three times as high,
while in the factories themselves one never meets with a single case.

Perhaps many a reader may think, how comes it that in parts of the country where the
mescal thrives, they pay no attention to the pulque plant, which would surely succeed there as
well, and produce better pecuniary results. Such a reader has forgotten that the pulque must
be consumed quickly, hence requires large cities in its immediate neighborhood, while our vino
improves with time, and, owing to the low price of lands, still yields most satisfactory results.

As far as the alcoholic strength of the tetjuila is concerned, the same is about equal to
that of common whisky, and likewise in its effects, if taken iounoderately; however, in

Digitized by VjOOQIC


cases of p>oor appetite, a few thimblefuls act as an excellent tonic, and a small dose taken
before going to bed has a (|uieiing effect. Thus far, one can trust this brew ; but we do not
advise one to take more of it, and, in closing our recipes, we will add that he who takes no
tequila at all may do as well.


As the foregoing article deals more specifically with mescal and tequila,
I will give the current ideas on pulque, which holds a higher position with
the masses of this country than those more refined drinks. It is impossible
to separate in thought the average Mexican and pulque. They must stand
or fall together. No drink has a stronger hold on any nation than this on
the Mexicans. By Mexicans, I mean all classes in Mexico, ** native and to
the manner born," other than the full-blooded Spaniards. Pulque is not the
drink of the Spaniard or those of Spanish descent. They use chamj^agne,
claret, sherry, and other imported wines. Among the peons, men, women,
and children drink it with the same freedom that water is used in the
United States. Pulque and jealousy cause more wounds, bruises, and deaths
in Mexico than all the wars had on its soil.

The pulque plant is indigenous to this part of Mexico, often growing
wild on the uplands where for months and years at times no rain falls, and
it is also largely cultivated in the most careful manner on the "llanos de
Apam," a large area of plains lying in this State and the adjoining State of
Hidalgo, about 60 miles from the City of Mexico.

In Spain, a plant is found, called "pita," somewhat akin to the pulque
plant, or Mexican maguey, yet differing so much in its general features that
it may be termed a distinct genus. The juices of the pita are unused in
Spain, which fact plainly separates it from the family of plants in Mexico,
whose flow has been used for centuries, almost supplanting the use of water
in that part of the Republic where the plant is found.

The plants are transplanted when 2 or 3 years of age with much care, then
cultivated in fields esi)ecially prepared for the purpose, in number, per acre,
from 360 to 680 plants — when 8 by 8 feet, 680 plants to the acre ; when 12
by 12 feet, 360. The number per acre is governed largely by the topog-
raphy of the land and the judgment of the proprietor.

I forward with this article the chemical analysis of pulque as established
by the board of health of Mexico. This analysis is made when taken from
the plants, before the avarice of the retailer has made a change in the con-
stituent elements of the juice for his own purpose and gain.

Nature reciuires the plant to be "milked," when the liquid is ready to
flow, for the use of man, else the superfluity of juices will cause the growth
of a large stem from the center of the plant, shooting up some 15 or 20 feet,
putting out branches at the top, which blossom in a cluster of yellowish
flowers. These branches are symmetrical, and the effect is like a lofty
branched candlestick.

When the pulque is first extracted, before the process of fermentation
sets in, it is sweet and scentless, and in this state is preferred by the new

Digitized by VjOOQIC


beginners of the drink. The old topers scorn the drink of that age, calling
it **the baby's drink." The fernnentation takes place in tubs built for the
purpose, and to aid or expedite the process a little 'Mnadre pulque," or
pulque mother, is added, which hastens the chemical change. At times its
fermentation is retarded by a cold spell at the vats, which prevents its car-
riage into this city for a day or so. This city has a population of 350,000,
it is said. At least 250,000 use pulque in i)reference to water or any other
drink. It is said by some who have given thought to the matter, that 75,000
gallons of it are daily consumed in this city.

I inclose the following statement in regard to pulque recently furnished
me by Hon. Sebastian Camacho, president of the ayuntimiento (ex-officio
mayor) of this city :

There is a daily introduction into the city of 700 barrels of pulque, each weighing 540
kilograms, making a total of 378,000 kilograms, a kilogram being 2J pounds, making in the
aggregate 83 1 ,600 pounds of pulque, which pay a duty on introduaion at the rate of $2.gg,
amounting, daily, to $2,093, making a total of $763,945 a year.

There are 789 " pulquerias," or pulque shops, in the City of Mexico, which pay, according
to their locality, by squares, in the following manner : Thirty-four in the first square pay each,
per month, $30; 147 in the second square pay each, per month, $16; 608 in the third square
pay each, per month, Sio.

In the year 1895, the product of the municipal revenue from thi^ drink amounted to $ii I,-

The stock must be renewed daily, else it becomes dead and insipid,
though it is said a certain powder has been discovered whic will prolong
its life through the second day. The liquid ferments rapidly and strongly,
and the casks are left uncorked and the pigs' noses unmuzzled to prevent

The plant grows eight years before maturity and the liquid is extracted.
In the growth of the plant, a central bulb is formed for its coming juices.
This is scooped out, leaving a cavity or hole big enough to hold a few
quarts. This cavity is made in the bottom and middle of the plant. The
juice exudes into this cavity, and it is taken out daily by being sucked into
a long-necked gourd, on the siphon principle, by the Indian laborers, and
then poured into the tubs (taken to the fields) and then removed to the vats.

The outlay on each plant up to maturity is calculated generally at about
$2f and the return is from $7 to J 10, according to the size of the plant.
Its producing life is about five months, and each plant is supposed to yield
from 125 to 160 gallons of liquid within that time.

The immense fields within a radius of 75 miles of this city are planted
and cultivated with great care and precision, as there is nothing grown in
Mexico that pays better than pulque. Fields of it present an attractive ap-
pearance, laid off in almost geometrical regularity, extending almost beyond
the vision, until the rows seem to concentrate in one plant and into one
point at the extreme end. The plants are wholly independent of rain and
storm, and are of a beautiful deep-green color. It is worth a trip to Mexico
to see a pulque plantation, the preparation of the outflow for market, and its
No. 190 3.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


daily introduction into this city by special train loads in "barricas/* or large
tierces, and by "cuercos de pulque,*' or pigskins filled with the liquid.

It is said |i,ooo a day is paid for freight on the special trains for trans-
porting this liquid into this city. The tax on pulque is collected at the
"garritas,** or gates, before its admission to the city, and then the liquid is
distributed in the barricas and pigskins on special carts held in readiness for
that purpose. Nothing presents a more ridiculous appearance than one of
those pig or hog skins containing about 20 gallons when being taken round
and through the city, the legs sticking out full, to the toes, of the liquid, and
even the tail presents its wonted curve when filled. This is a convenient
mode of handling the pulque, as by simply removing a string from one of
the feet the contents are soon drawn.

The culture of the maguey in the Republic of Mexico is unquestionably
increasing very largely. It would be a mistake to draw the conclusion that
arable land is therefore withdrawn from the cultivation of cereals and vege-
tables. Careful observation will convince everyone that the haciendado only
plants the maguey in large areas where nothing else will grow. Nothing is
more common than fringes of magueys like hedges around fields of wheat
and corn, but where the whole expanse of land visible from the windows of
a railroad coacli is covered with magueys, it is because the soil is too jjoor
to produce anything else; where the soil is good, but where the droughts
occur regularly almost every year, the haciendado will sometimes, as if in
despair, plant the maguey, which fears no frost and requires no water, but

Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 188-191 → online text (page 53 of 102)