It’s time for Endless Summer. Get the most out of the season while it’s still here.
You’re no stranger to aguas frescas. The brightly colored, invitingly cold beverages first peddled by Mexican street vendors are now commonplace in the States.
Agua de jamaica and horchata are an excellent start, but have you heard of tepache? Unlike non-alcoholic aguas frescas made with fruit pulp or cereals and sugar, tepache leaps into lightly fermented territory.
Commonly prepared at home or dispensed from a street cart in Mexico in a plastic baggie with a straw, there’s no official recipe for the golden beverage. Traditionally, either a whole pineapple or the fruit’s leftover trimmings are placed in a glass container, covered with water and treated with piloncillo—an unrefined brown sugar—and spices like cinnamon and clove. Left to its own devices for four or five days, the pineapple’s natural yeast begins to ferment, creating a sweetly spiced, low-ABV brew that’s well-suited to drinking under the sun. (If you let it sit long enough, you’ll eventually end up with a mild pineapple vinegar.)
It’s possible to produce your own tepache with a few simple ingredients, and an increasing number of bars are dabbling with house-made versions to use as cocktail mixers. If you’re not ready to fiddle with fermentables at home, there are still multiple ways to get a taste of tepache without chasing down a street cart in Mexico.
Start your tour with a few brave American bottles staking their claim in tepache’s largely unexplored territory. The only non-alcoholic option in the bunch, Frumex’s Tepachito is akin to a spiced pineapple soda, made with fermented pineapple extract, barley, cinnamon and brown sugar. It’s a good starting point for experiencing the basic flavors of tepache without any buzz.
Reverend Nat West preparing his tepache.
Graduate to the next level with Portland cider maker Reverend Nat’s 22-ounce bottle that weighs in at a light 3.2 percent alcohol. As the label explains, the Reverend’s version was born last year after a “chance meeting with a peddler hawking traditional tepache out of a push-cart” in Veracruz. Made with whole pineapples sourced exclusively from a Costa Rican pineapple plantation, Rev. Nat’s ¡Tepache! uses piloncillo from Michoacán and a secret blend of spices.
The result is an ultra-drinkable bottle that leans sweet for some—enough so that the Reverend advises tempering the tepache with beer, as is common in Mexico. The optimal ratio for summer refreshment? Two-thirds tepache blended with one-third light Mexican lager or hefeweizen, though the tepache also plays nicely with hard cider, spiced rum or tequila.
Rev. Nat’s ¡Tepache! is only available during the summer months starting around Cinco de Mayo, and the elixir has proved so popular in Portland that the good Reverend is now partnering with local breweries to create bottled blends of tepache and craft brews. This year, look for limited bottlings of Mazama Brewing’s Wizard Island Wit plus ¡Tepache! and Burnside Brewing Co.’s Sweet Heat brew with Ghost Pepper ¡Tepache!
If you catch the pineapple bug and are visiting Portland this month, you’ll want to attend Rev. Nat’s Night of 1,000 Tepaches, which already has a strong response on Instagram and Twitter. A celebration of tepache’s versatility, the event will inspire drinkers to play with thirst-quenching combinations of the pineapple beverage plus all manner of beers, ciders and spirits.
Next up? A stronger spin on tepache in the form of a “sparkling pineapple wine.” Austin’s Argus Cidery bottles a 7.2 percent Tepache Especial that’s plenty drinkable on its own. Another seasonal summer release, this tepache offers light bubbles, a dominant tang and subtle spice from a house blend of French oak. Described as a “demi-sec fermentable,” Argus’ tepache utilizes entire pineapples (organic and fair-trade) as well as wild yeast and spices. This take on traditional tepache leans heavily on pineapple’s natural flavor—and displays such a puckering sour quality that the cidery advises drinking it only when well-chilled or served over ice.
Even established brands like Bittermens are sneaking onto the tepache scene. One of the latest releases is Bittermens’ Tepache Liqueur, a hefty 40 percent ABV liqueur spiced with cinnamon, clove and allspice. After a trip to Mexico, Bittermens’ founders were eager to recreate tepache in the states but stumped by its short shelf life. They tried formulating a brewed tepache a few years ago, but the first few batches resulted in an unstable, yet tasty, pineapple vinegar.
The fix? Bittermens consulted a pineapple specialist who prepared custom crushed pineapple with its rinds and a spice vendor who suggested a granulated molasses that provided the same sweetness as piloncillo. The last brainwave came from a distillery owner who formulated a genius method for suspending the pineapple in alcohol so that its flavor was slowly extracted, rather than a quick infusion like traditional tepache.
Cochon Butcher’s Tepache Mode cocktail.
Bittermens final product is an amply spiced amber elixir that’s excellent served with a splash of soda water or mixed into tequila and mezcal cocktails, or even paired with whiskey and Scotch. Want a taste of the action? NOLA’s beloved Cochon Butcher uses Bittermens’ Tepache Liqueur in its Tepache Mode cocktail, made with Dos Lunas Tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and El Guapo Tex-Mex Bitters and garnished with grated cinnamon.
Get ahead of the trend—grab a bottle of this well-tanned, spiced liquid sunshine and set up your own tepache street cart all summer long.