I am not a big online shopper and I rarely have spare money, but there was no way I could restrain myself from ordering a book called Alcohol in Ancient Mexico. I’m sorry, but even I can’t actually come up with a title better aimed to entrap me. Cheese in Ancient Mexico comes close, but would of course have to be a fantasy, since obviously dairy products were not a part of the ancient Mexican diet. Not to, um, sound like a nerd or something.
I’m sure it’ll come in handy, I told myself as I spent 14 vital dollars of grocery money at Amazon.com. I imagine I am part of a fairly small subclass of people who believe that a manuscript originally published in 1940 as a P.h.d. dissertation on native corn beers is going to be useful.
Actually, I am currently writing an article (upcoming here on the blog) on Mexican brewing, and will be pleased to get my 14 dollars worth when I reference Mexico’s original craft brewers, the Huichol indians. In fact, Henry J. Bruman’s book is full of interesting descriptions of ancient methods of fermentation, many of which he observed firsthand when he did fieldwork in the 1930s. The author trecked across Mexico’s sierras, spending time with the Huicholes, the Totonac, the Maya, and a number of other tribes. Over the course of a year of research, he traveled as far south as Honduras.
Naturally, he was able to observe and record many practices that are extremely rare (if not extinct) these days. The picture on the dust jacket shows a smiling, mustachioed guy in a work shirt, glasses, and a felt hat. His shoulders are strung with Huichol bags, not a typical fashion statement for a gringo geographer in the 1930s. The photo reminds me of old pictures of my parents from the days when we used to travel with the Huicholes and it makes me think that Henry J. Bruman was not your average bird.
Unlike their sober counterparts to the north, the native people of Mexico were enthusiastic and creative in their brewing and fermenting endeavors. The book includes chapters on pulque, tesquino, mescal and sotol, as well as explorations of more obscure indigenous beverges such as Yucatecan balché bark mead and toad infused chicha. Fascinating appendixes called things like “checklist of intoxicating beverages” are also a pleasure to peruse. As you may gather, Alcohol in Ancient Mexico is pretty much for nerds only, but if you are a brew nerd or a serious student of Mexican history and customs, Bruman is your guy and I highly recommend the book.