The Roma Norte Cocktail: Highlighting Pulque in the Heart of Mexico City
There’s a humility about San Diego barman Stephen Kurpinsky’s mission to discover pulque, once Mexico’s national drink, and elevate it to an ingredient in world-class cocktails. “I’ve lived my entire life — save for a short stint in Italy — in former Mexican territory. Pulque is [Mexicans’] drink, their heritage, their culture, and they can do whatever they want with it. It’s something that isn’t globally accepted as an ingredient, yet so inherently part of their culture,” he says, as we walk from corner to corner in Mexico City in search of limes after the mercados have closed. (Ultimately, 7-11 came to the rescue.)
“I do wonder why it’s been lost. I guess just because it’s not sexy — we’re here in a metropolitan city, and it’s meant to be out in the sticks somewhere. But it’s something that’s been around as long as beer’s been around.” Indeed it has, with varying levels of popularity over its millennia-long history.
We come to find that our experiment is actually taking place at just the right time — at the crossroads of pulque’s status as a backwoods hooch of the working class, and a living pre-Columbian treasure deserving of its turn on the world cocktailing stage. In trying to secure a bar to host a night of pulque cocktail-making, our small group found varied levels of enthusiasm from Mexico City’s cocktail scene. Ultimately, the talented, like-minded crew at Licoreria Limantour jumped on board. As it turns out, the team behind Latin America’s best bar (2016) is already ahead of us, and planning on including pulque in its lineup of world-class drinks. “Our next menu is about Mexico, so we’ll have a lot of cocktails with Mexican syrups, pulque, hibiscus cordials, corn infusions and charanda — another type of spirit that’s really Mexican,” says Itzel Alvarez de la Vega Millan of Limantour.
As for Stephen’s pulque-centered creation, we turned to the Mercado San Juan for the rest of the R&D ingredients. A vendor saw his smoky, savory dried habaneros light up our faces, and realizing that there were very few things we wouldn’t drink in a cocktail, kept the samples coming — spicy peanut sauce, serrano-bacon jam, fig preserves, cardamom honey. A couple aisles over, cherimoyas and baby mangoes stole the show. If we’d only remembered limes.
Thus was born the Roma Norte cocktail, a tribute to the vibrant Mexico City neighborhood that is its namesake. As intended, it’s as Mexican as it gets: Mezcal for smoke, cherimoya for tropical sweetness evened out by dry tannins and dried habanero for a savory, roasted nose and lingering heat. The whole thing gets lengthened out with pulque, giving the drink a thick texture, a beautiful opaqueness, and most importantly, the funky, unmistakable presence of fermented cactus sap.
As usual, it seems like the best of culture knows how to dig deep and look back while simultaneously forging a way forward. That is exactly what is happening in Mexico City’s cocktail scene, so find a bar stool in Roma Norte soon.
To make a Roma Norte:
For brightness and acidity, the Roma Norte calls for 3/4 ounce of lime juice.
Add 3/4 ounce of cane syrup for sweetness and balance.
Add two ounces of mezcal — Kurpinsky reaches for Alipus San Juan, a craft distillery in Oaxaca.
Pulque is the star of this cocktail. Add two ounces of the freshest pulque natural you can find.
Add ice to your shaker.
Fine strain the cocktail into a highball glass with fresh ice. Garnish with dried habaneros and a dehydrated lime wheel.
The Roma Norte is authentically Mexican, with smoky Mezcal for smoke, tropical cherimoya, savory habanero and of course, funky, fermented pulque.
- 2 ounces Mezcal Alipus San Juan
- 3/4 ounces lime
- 3/4 ounces cane syrup
- 1 dried, roasted habanero
- 25 grams of cherimoya
- 2 ounces pulque natural (the fresher the better)
Add ingredients to shaker. Muddle cherimoya and habanero. Shake and fine strain the cocktail into a highball glass with fresh ice. Garnish with dried habaneros and a dehydrated lime wheel.