For hundreds of years, indigenous communities from Mexico’s Chiapas highlands have been sipping a corn-based distilled alcohol that they believe bridges the terrestrial and spiritual worlds. It’s called pox (pronounced “posh”), and is used to mark momentous occasions, from births to funerals. Healers use it to cure the sick. In the Tzotzil Maya language, “pox” means “medicine.” “Pox is one of the many riches my country has to offer,” says Julio de la Cruz, pox producer and owner of Poshería, a quaint bar he maintains in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, with another outpost in Mérida, Yucatán.
In 2010, while traveling in Chiapas, de la Cruz, then a jewelry maker from Mexico City, met some Tzotzil Maya people who invited him to a ceremony in honor of their pueblo, Tenejapa, in the home of their mayordomo (something like a high priest). That ceremony changed de la Cruz’s life. Standing among the people in their colorful clothing, as traditional music played and copal smoke filled the air, he had his first taste of pox and fell in love with the sweet corn and caramel flavor, the way it warmed his body from the inside, and the rich history and culture tied to the sacred drink.
Back then, pox was distributed only in Chiapas, but in the last decade, de la Cruz has ushered it out of obscurity. His recipe contains three ingredients: corn, wheat and sugarcane. The production process is organic and, in keeping with the Maya cosmology, timed to the lunar phases. “According to the Maya, all nature is integrated, ordered and related,” he explains. “We start production with the new moon because it indicates a new cycle, and the process culminates with the full moon.”
Throughout Mexico, pox continues to gain popularity, popping up on bar menus and in private collections, delighting foodies, hipsters, mixologists and lovers of Mesoamerican history. At Poshería, customers can drink pox straight or sample a curado—pox infused with flavors such as coconut or coffee. Since 2018, pox has been making its way to other countries, too, including the United States. In Dallas, Las Almas Rotas serves a pox cocktail. “I like to expose people to the variety of distillates produced in Mexico,” says co-owner Shad Kvetko, “beyond the familiar tequila and mezcal.” In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mexicocina Agaveria serves four pox cocktails, including the Chiapas Breeze (pox, rum, pineapple and lime).
Though pox is still up and coming, de la Cruz’s aspirations for it are limitless. “I want pox to reach the level of tequila and mezcal,” he says, “to be considered a signature drink of Mexico. Once pox holds the place it deserves on the world stage, I will have fulfilled my purpose.”