The boozy Mexican drink you can ferment at home this summer

There's so much more to Mexico's beverage scene than tequila. There's agua de jamaica, a wonderfully tart, wine-colored iced tea made from hibiscus flowers (via The Mexican Food Journal). There's the michelada, a savory cocktail made with light beer, tomato juice, and hot sauce, which you'll either love or hate (via Thrillist). There's champurrado, a spiced hot chocolate, thickened with corn flour into a pillowy, pudding-like consistency (via All Recipes).

And then there's tepache. The sneaky, mischievous cousin of fresh pineapple juice. It's the perfect hybrid of a boozy cocktail, a fruit juice, and a spiced, flavorful cider. 

While it hasn't made a splash in the United States (not yet, anyway), we promise tepache is the perfect drink to experiment with this summer. The drink, which has pre-Columbian Indigenous roots, has been enjoyed for at least 500 years, according to The Chicago Tribune. And we figure if something has withstood the test of half a millennium, then it's got to be worth trying.

The magic of fermentation

Unlike juice, tepache is made with a pineapple's rind and core, rather than its flesh. (In other words, should you choose to make tepache, you can pat yourself on the back for eliminating food waste.) The rinds are usually combined with piloncillo, a dark brown, unrefined sugar sold in stout, crystallized cones. Typically, the beverage-maker adds spices, and possibly fruits like tamarind or apple, according to The Chicago Tribune. Rebel Mariposa, a chef based in San Antonio, adds cinnamon sticks, cloves, and freshly sliced oranges (via San Antonio Current). 

After a few days of fermentation ⁠— that magical process to which we owe beer, kimchi, and sourdough bread ⁠— the tepache drink is born. Mariposa recommends a three-day fermentation process for your home brew. In Mexico, things can get extreme: Nino Leon, a seasoned tepache brewer, ferments the tepache for about two months at a time (via VICE).

The fermentation works wonders: It adds depth to the tepache's flavor. It morphs the beverage into a probiotic that will aid your digestion. And, of course, it makes the drink slightly alcoholic (via The Guardian).

When to drink tepache (the answer is always)

We should be honest with you: Unless you've never had a drink in your life, you most likely won't be stumbling around in a drunken haze after two glasses of tepache. Due to its fruity flavor, tepache is often compared to a hard cider, but its ABV level lingers around a paltry 2 percent (via Bon Appétit). So it's boozier than kombucha, but lighter than basically everything else.

But that's what makes tepache so fun: It can be sipped like a juice, paired with a shot, or strengthened by the addition of beer, all of which are fairly common (via Dallas Morning News). It's sweet enough to drink on its own, and interesting enough to add to a cocktail. Back in San Antonio, Mariposa mixes her house-made tepache with elderflower liqueur, gin, and basil leaves at her restaurant, La Botanica. 

In other words, it's time to step up our cocktail game, and luckily, we've got a new secret weapon: tepache.