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6 Non-Margarita Drinks to Enjoy on Cinco de Mayo

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Tired of celebrating Cinco de Mayo with yet another margarita? Try these popular Mexican drinks, which go beyond lime and tequila.

1. LA PALOMA

If you don’t want to veer too far way away from the margarita, la paloma (which means "dove") is the drink for you: The refreshing beverage, which consists of tequila, grapefruit soda, and lime, even calls for salt on the rim. According to one theory, the drink is named after a popular folk song from the 1860s; another says it was named after "Cucurrucucu Paloma," a 1950s song written by Tomás Méndez and originally performed by Pedro Infante. No matter how it got its name, la paloma remains one of the most popular cocktails in Mexico. You can find a recipe here.

2. TEPACHE

Next time you eat a pineapple, save the rind, which you can use to make tepache. To make this traditional Mexican drink, throw the rind in a pot with piloncillo (unrefined sugar), some spices, and water; bring to a boil, then simmer; add ripe pineapple chunks; and let the whole concoction ferment for a few days. For a more alcoholic version, you then add a beer, wait a little longer, and enjoy. Tepache has its roots in the nahuatl word tapiatl, which means “drink made from corn”—the original base for this drink. You can find a recipe here.

3. MICHELADA

Sometimes referred to as the Mexican Bloody Mary, this drink is traditionally made with beer, lime, and various spices, and nowadays frequently features tomato juice as well. Depending on where you’re drinking it, it may also contain clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce, or Maggi seasoning. The Michelada may be named after Michel Esper, who created it at a bar, or Augusto Michel, a general in the Mexican Revolution who put hot sauce in his troops' beer. (In 2005, however, the owner of a michelada mix manufacturer claimed that he made up the Augusto Michel story to “add mystique to our product.”) But the most popular explanation is that Michelada is a combination of mi (my), chela (beer), and helada (iced): "my cold beer." You can find a recipe here.

4. TEJUINO

The precise origin of this fermented corn drink is unknown, but it dates back to pre-Columbian times and is usually associated with the state of Colima. And yes, it is fermented from the same corn dough (Masa) used to make tortillas. By boiling the dough with water and piloncillo until it's a thick liquid, vendors create a drink with either low or nonexistent alcohol content. It is frequently served on the streets of Colima combined with lime juice in a plastic cup or simply a bag with a straw in it.

5. PULQUE

This ancient yeasty beverage, made from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave plant), was popular in Mexico until the Spanish brought another yeasty drink over from Europe. Pulque was used in many ceremonies and the sap from the plant was believed to be the blood of the goddess Mayahuel. (One of the key differences between pulque and the other two famous agave drinks, tequila and mezcal, is that pulque is never distilled, and is instead left to ferment in fermentation houses known as tinacales.) Sour and yeast-like, pulque declined in popularity after beer came onto the scene, but it's recently enjoyed something of a comeback. You can find out how to make it yourself here.

6. COLONCHE

This bright red drink has been made in Mexico for thousands of years using the fermented prickly pear found on the cacti of the Opuntia genus mixed with sugar. It's made wherever nopal (the Mexican Spanish term for the plant) is abundant.

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Big Questions
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?
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by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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