Colonche, the drink that outraged an entire town

Made with red prickly pear, the elaboration of colonche caused a shortage of this fruit, which was a staple food. How its sweet taste attracted children despite its 20° of alcohol.

Colonche, the drink that outraged an entire town
Cardona prickly pear from which colonche drink is made. Photo: Agricultura

Prepared with red prickly pear, the manufacturing of colonche caused a shortage of this fruit, which was a staple food; its sweet taste attracted children despite its 20° of alcohol. Its producers did not pay taxes and regardless of the punishments, it continued to be consumed clandestinely. We are talking about colonche, the drink that replaced pulque and mezcal.

It is probable that in all the peoples of the world there are intoxicating drinks since within nature itself the essential elements to elaborate any type of liquor have been found. Alcoholic beverages have been used in religious acts, therapeutic methods, festivities and even to create an identity within the towns; likewise, the bad behaviors acquired by individuals when drinking them have been highlighted and consequently they have been regulated through a strict legal order.

In New Spain, situations related to alcoholic beverages were no exception. In 1803, in the town of Santa María del Río, in the jurisdiction of San Luis Potosí, a collective petition was made by the inhabitants of the town to the authorities of the Criminal Court to remedy and punish the people who manufactured the beverage known as colonche, which was considered prohibited.

This traditional reddish-colored drink was of pre-Hispanic origin and was prepared from the fermentation of the pulp of the Cardona prickly pear. The people were scandalized because its sweet taste was very attractive to children and they had begun to consume it even though its alcohol percentage reached 20 degrees or more. Its preparation was causing a shortage of the prickly pears that were used as the main food, and the local authorities, although they were aware of the production, did not take any action regarding its regulation, payment of taxes, or prohibition.

The Court summoned the governors and the manufacturers to explain such scandalous denunciation and attended the petition of the people regarding the abuse of the nopaleras and its fruits because it harmed everyone for a few tavernkeepers who were getting rich. This situation also caused problems with the mezcal and pulque producers, who, in addition to paying taxes, were left without customers or profits.

Finally, the place where the colonche was made was closed and both the tavernkeepers and the governors were fined for the illicit acts, they were also prohibited from making and consuming the drink, and they were forced to compensate the inhabitants of the town for the damage caused to the nopal plantations. They were warned that if they did it again, they would not only pay a fine, but would also be imprisoned, but as expected, the brew continued to be manufactured clandestinely.

Colonche, a tradition on the verge of extinction

In Mexico, as is well known, drinks are a tradition. One of them is the colonche or nochol, by the way, is a very old drink, estimated to be at least two thousand years old, just like our precious pulque.

Colonche is originally from Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí, it is obtained from the fermentation of the red Cardona prickly pear cactus, it is a seasonal drink because it can only be prepared and tested in July and October, which is when the prickly pear cactus bears fruit.

The color of the colonche is red with some bluish tones. Its aroma is fresh, and light, and its consistency is somewhat viscous.

The procedure followed for its preparation has not changed for thousands of years and is carried out as follows: first, the prickly pears are harvested, peeled, and squeezed, then strained through a sieve of ixtle or straw to remove the seeds. The juice obtained is boiled and left to rest so that they ferment naturally. In Zacatecas sugar is added to the aguardiente and in San Luis Potosí ground cinnamon is added.

Currently, the colonche is in danger of disappearing, therefore, it is important to spread it so that it is known, that people look for it and try it to preserve its consumption, but above all to preserve the tradition of consuming its sweet flavor.

Source: AGN