A mysterious black liquid floated like an oil spill on top of a yellow sea of mezcal and mango juice. No amount of stirring could blend the dubious ingredient in with the rest of the cocktail. It was insoluble – the least dense ingredient, and therefore the first to touch my mouth. Right away, my lips and tongue went cold, then followed a tingling, swelling sensation, as if my entire mouth was reacting to a bee sting. By the time I put the glass down after my first sip everything the black liquid touched went completely numb. I wasn't even able to taste the cocktail. But you don't order the Aragog cocktail at Luciferina Bar in Mexico City for the flavor – you order it to experience what it’s like to drink tarantula venom.
Like many extreme culinary creations, the Aragog cocktail –named after the giant spider that appears in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – was born from a challenge. In 2015, Luciferina head bartender Romeo Palomares was tasked by his boss to create a new cocktail for the upcoming Día de Muertos celebration. To get into the spirit of the holiday, Palomares decided to go to the Mercado de Sonora, known locally as the witchcraft market. If there were any spooky and unusual cocktail ingredients to be found, he knew the Sonora witchcraft market would have them.
Amongst the tarot readers, the shamans and the packaged spells to attract money and love, he felt drawn to a woman with an array of mysterious looking tonics and potions. The potion-peddling woman dared Palomares to try a dose of tarantula venom. Without hesitation, he did what any curious mixologist would do and put a drop on his tongue, which he says tasted salty, “like an oyster.” It didn't take long for the taste to disappear, replaced by a tingling feeling he describes as similar to the sensation from getting a shot of Novocaine. He knew immediately he found his star ingredient.
Photo courtesy of A jar of tarantula venom sits on the bar at Luciferina
As a mixologist, Palomares has a lot of room to play and be creative. When conceptualizing a new cocktail, it usually takes two hours for him to get the drink just right. But when creating the Aragog, he spent five days perfecting it – though he did take a few hours off when too much venom sent him to the hospital with a completely numb throat.
His hard work paid off, and eventually he decided on a cocktail that's made with mezcal, pisco, cachaça, mango juice, a touch of lemon and 0.05% tarantula venom per 500 ml of the cocktail. Palomares no longer relies on the Sonora witchcraft market to supply his tarantula venom – rather he sources the venom from a laboratory, which guarantees consistency.
The Aragog plays well the vibe of the bar, which is decorated with skull candelabras and has name that pays homage to the fallen angel Lucifer.
Tarantula venom is not as scary as you think. It’s less potent than a bee sting and its numbing effects only last about 10 minutes. Some who have tried the cocktail claim that to have gotten minor throats cramps, while others say they experienced heavy eyelids and a sudden bout of the munchies a few hours after drinking.
It's up for debate just what makes the Aragog so potent – whether it's actually the venom or the fact that this cocktail packs a punch with three types of spirits. Regardless, Luciferina Bar sells about 200 Aragogs in a night, bringing new meaning to “pick your poison”.