Behind the Bar

Craft Cocktails Go Aztec with Housemade Tepache

Bartender mashing limes in a sieve
Alejandro Gailinto, who grew up in Acapulco, draws from a family recipe to create his housemade tepache. All photos courtesy of Kim Duffy.

Most craft bartenders would agree that the foundation for creating any memorable cocktail starts with replacing off-the-shelf sour mixes and juices with house-made ingredients. So, when Alejandro Galindo, a bartender at Victor Tangos in Dallas, offered to brew a batch of homemade tepache — a fermented, very lightly boozy Mexican beverage — managing partner Matt Regan was eager to try it in a cocktail.

Aztecs originally made tepache from mashed corn, but today it is typically made with pineapple rinds, although apples or pears can be substituted. Street vendors on bicycle carts sell tepache throughout Mexico, typically serving it in a plastic bag with a straw. But it is rare to find tepache in the United States outside of taquerias and Mexican groceries, and most tepache sold here is produced commercially as a non-alcoholic drink.

Galindo, who grew up near Acapulco, says his mother regularly made tepache from pineapples and his family often drank it with dinner. Gailinto embellishes his family’s recipe with tamarind, cloves, cinnamon and allspice.

“When I first tasted it, it blew my mind,” Regan says. “It’s one of the most complex beverages.” Regan was eager to create a cocktail that would showcase tepache’s earthy and aromatic flavor.

Bartender adding cinnamon to a jar of liquidAlejandro ferments his tepache for nine days, and adds tamarind, cloves, cinnamon and allspice to the formula.

“I can't think of an ingredient I've been more excited to play with in recent memory than tepache,” says Regan. “It's tropical, fun and fruity but it has a ton of depth, structure and nuance you don’t get from pineapple juice.”

Regan first tried combining the Tepache with only mezcal but, after tasting it, he and Galindo agreed the cocktail needed something else. So, Regan added tequila, lemon and agave nectar to create the Tomar de los Muertos. (Rough translation: “Drink of the Dead.”) Regan also offers a Tiki Tepache made with rum and passion fruit puree as one of his “off the menu” cocktails.

Now, Galindo makes about three to four liters of tepache a week for Victor Tangos. He typically ferments pineapple rinds for nine days – five days at room temperature and four days in the refrigerator, creating a low-alcohol beverage (about 1.5-2% ABV).

So far, the experiment has been a success. “As far as I know,” he says, “we are the only bar in Dallas using tepache. Other bartenders are coming in and asking to try it.” Regan is now exploring ways to make cocktails using a traditional Japanese beverage fermented with koji. According to him, incorporating ingredients that date back to ancient times, like tepache, might be the next step in creating unique craft cocktails.

Tomar de los Muertos

  • 1 oz Alipus San Luis Mezcal
  • 1 oz Tapatio Blanco Tequila
  • 1 ½ oz Tepache
  • ½ Lemon
  • ½ Agave syrup (1:1 agave to hot water)

Combine all ingredients, shake and strain over ice on a double rocks glass.

A cocktail with a large pineapple leaf garnish.The Tomar de los Muertos at Victor Tangos, which pairs Alejandro's tepache with mezcal, lemon and agave.

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