El Brindis: Four Beverages of Mexico
El Brindis was conceived in Mexico by curator Elia del Carmen Ramírez Bocardo, with reproduction work done by Yves G. Bire Márquez and Angela Arziniaga. The 90 high-quality black and white photo reproductions were made from the original negatives, provided with the approval of the original artists or their descendants or archival foundations. The exhibition was on display in Paris for the 2000 New Year’s celebration and was a great success in the French capital. In the spring of 2003, El Brindis was shown in the United States for the first time at Museo de las Americas, and in the fall of 2014 curator Maruca Salazar modified and updated the exhibit for an encore appearance as El Brindis Remixed, featuring selected photographs along with other items from Museo’s collection.
El Brindis documents the history of the beverage industry in Mexico through the lenses of some of the best photographers of the 20th century. Sometimes poignant, often humorous, always fascinating this collection of 90 historical and contemporary photographs from 1890 to 1992 examines the evolution and influence of this strong cultural tradition, from the proud, painstaking labor of the maguey fields, distilleries and breweries to the joyous revelry of pulquerias, cantinas and gatherings of friends. The exhibition explores the origins, manufacture and enjoyment of four elixirs that have played an important part in the history and character of Mexico: pulque, mezcal, tequila and cerveza.
Three of Mexico’s traditional beverages are made from the maguey plant, also known as the agave. The maguey has been cultivated for thousands of years, and Pre-Columbian societies used the plant for food, tools, clothing and ritual. Pulque, the oldest of the agave beverages, dates back to at least two thousand years ago, and is made from the juice of the plant, agua miel (honey water). The fermented agave juice, pulque, is a milky drink low in alcohol content (4-8%, comparable with beer) and high in vitamins and nutrients. It was considered a sacred drink by many Central American people, particularly the Aztecs, who strictly restricted its consumption to festivals, royalty, and captured soldiers about to be sacrificed. After the Spanish conquest, colonizers seized and expanded the maguey fields, greatly increasing production during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today pulque is out of fashion and seen as a beverage of the lower class, though it is still popular in some regions and among traditionalists, accounting for ten percent of the alcohol consumed in Mexico. Because of its rapid fermentation process (pulque lasts only a couple of days before becoming too sour to drink), attempts to bottle the beverage have failed, and pulque can be difficult to find outside of the communities where it is produced.
Featured pulque photographers: Augustin Victor Casasola, Marco Antonio Cruz, Julio Galindo, Hector Garcia, Nacho López, Everardo Rivera, Juan Rulfo, Angeles Torrejón, Mariana Yampolsky.
Another product of the agave, mezcal was invented by the Spanish in the early 16th century, inspired by pulque but desiring a stronger, sweeter drink more reminiscent of European brandy. As with pulque, the maguey is allowed to reach maturity, and its central stalk is cut before it can flower. The center of the plant swells with juice, after which it is cut from its roots and shorn of its long, sharp leaves. The remaining heart of the plant is known as a piña, as the cut bulb with its cross-hatched surface resembles an enormous pineapple. The piña is cut into quarters and roasted over wood charcoal in an underground oven (this gives mezcal a distinctive, smoky flavor), then crushed and pressed to extract the juice. The agua miel, once fermented and distilled, forms an intense liquor which is then bottled, or aged in barrels to add color and flavor. The famous worm often ascribed to bottles of tequila is actually only found in mezcal, and is the larva of a variety of moth that lives on the maguey plant. The reasons for adding a worm are uncertain, with theories ranging from a marketing ploy to a method of proving the quality of the alcohol (with the idea that the liquor must be high proof if the worm remains preserved), but as high-end mezcal becomes more common, most premiums brands omit the worm.
Tequila is a specific variety of mezcal made from only one of the 136 species of maguey, the blue agave. By Mexican law tequila must be made only from the blue agave and only in specific geographic regions of Mexico, primarily in the state of Jalisco. Rather than being roasted in an underground oven, the piña is baked in a steam oven or autoclave before being crushed and juiced. After the agua miel is allowed to ferment, Tequila is distilled twice rather than once like most mezcals. Tequila dates back to 1656 and was invented in the town of the same name. Eventually the famed “mezcal wine from Tequila” was shortened to just “Tequila”. Following the turbulent decades after Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, the Tequila industry became solidly established, and export of the liquor to the United States and Europe began in 1873. Tequila is now more popular and widely known than the mezcal it evolved from, though increasing demand for unique and high-end liquors have resulted in an upscaling of mezcal, which is gradually becoming known outside of Mexico as a noteworthy liquor in its own right.
Featured mezcal/tequila photographers: Augustin Victor Casasola, Gabriel Figueroa Flores, Graciela Iturbide, Jorge Lépez, Nacho López, Manuel Ramos and Mariana Yampolsky.
Beer was introduced to Mexico by immigrant brewers from Switzerland, Germany and the United States. Until the 1890s, beer was produced in limited quantities by local artisan brewers- it wasn’t until the proliferation of technologies such as refrigeration, railroads and industrial brewing machinery that Mexican beer companies began to flourish. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the rise of many brewing facilities, the first of which was Cervecería Cuauhtémoc in Monterrey. Still in business today, this brewery produces many famous brands of Mexican beer including Sol, Tecate, Dos Equis and Bohemia. In the early 1900s beer was vigorously promoted as being hygienic, stylish and modern in comparison to traditional drinks such as pulque, which had remained popular up to that point. These advertising campaigns were extremely successful, and the fashionable, state-of-the-art effervescence of cerveza soon reigned supreme, making beer production a powerful national industry.
Featured cerveza photographers: Lorenzo Armendáriz, Lorenzo Becerril, José Bustamente, Augustin Victor Casasola, Enrique Díaz, Maya Goded, Pedro Guerra, Gerardo R. Hellion, Graciela Iturbide, Aristeo Jiménez, Jorge Lépez, Raúl Ortega, Rubén Pax and Manuel Ramos.
*Pending successful completion and review of facility report
Photo credit (from left to right): ©Nacho López 1950, ©Mariana Yampolsky, ©Fondo Casasola 1950, ©Marco Antonio Cruz 1987, ©Rubén Pax 1990, ©Graciela Iturbide 1980, ©Fondo Casasola 1925, ©Fondo José Bustamante 1930