Last year it was all about the wine tours in Argentina, Pisco tours in Chile, so it was only fitting to embark on the Tequila Trail while in Mexico, RIGHT amigos? Who could pass up visiting Tequila, the town with the same name of Mexico’s most famous firewater and result of many regrettable late night decisions, excluding us, of course!
Rolling fields of blue agave, the type of agave used to make tequila and other related products, dotted the landscape as we made our way from PV to Guadalajara. Contrary to common misconceptions, the agave plant is not a cactus. It is a succulent that is actually in the lily (amaryllis) family.
First a brief history on the origin of tequila. The village of Santiago de Tequila was founded by the Franciscan monks in 1530. This order inhabited the area bringing with them the indigenous peoples who used the fermented beverage, known as pulque, made from the agave plant for ceremonial purposes, long before European contact. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to cultivate and distill this spiked succulent, around the mid-1550’s, however tequila didn’t become popular as a drink until after the Mexican revolution when Jose Cuervo first introduced it to the market.
Heading out by bus on a day trip from Guadalajara, our first stop was at the family run distillery called Tres Mujeres (3-women), a small-scale distillery producing organic tequila. Our education started here and continued as the day progressed.
Tequila is highly regulated by a strict set of standards, i.e., where and how tequila can be produced, what is on the label, the type of tequila, and what can legally use the name tequila. Jalisco state produces most of today’s tequila followed by Michoacan, and to a lesser degree a couple of other nearby states. Any agave-based spirit produced outside of these designated areas cannot legally be called tequila, e.g., mezcal.
After lunch we saw the larger Jose Cuervo operation in the actual town of Tequila. Adobe buildings with red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets make this a pretty little tourist destination, also designated as a ‘Pueblo Magico’. Several tequila factories with familiar names, surround the area and on weekends the Tequila Express train transports the hoards of tourists from Guadalajara. We visited mid-week making the number of other tourists reasonable.
It takes quite the process to produce this product and needless to say we have a much better appreciation of this stuff. Who knew it takes 7 to 10 years for the agave plant to mature before being harvested, backbreaking work that is done all by hand, one agave at a time. A jimador slices off each spiky leaf using a coa, a very heavy and sharp tool with a rounded blade. The heart or piña (pineapple), a bare white/green ball, that actually grows underground, is exposed.
The weight of the piña can be up to 75kg and depending on the size can produce 2-5 litres of tequila. The distillation process is similar to that of other liquors; first the piña must be baked in large clay or stone ovens for 36 hours to reduce them to a fraction of their original size. They become dark brown, and once cooled look as if they have been caramelized and are very sweet with the texture and consistency of semi-dried apricots.
After the soft pulp cools it is shredded and pulverized until the liquid is extracted. Nothing goes to waste, and the fiber or bagazo left behind is often reused as compost or animal feed, but can even be burned as fuel or processed into paper. The sweet juice, or mosto, is then pumped into large stainless steel vats, mixed with yeast and water and fermented. From there it is distilled to a clear liquid of 110 proof or 55% alcohol. It must be cut with water to obtain the bottling strength, around 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. Depending on the type of tequila, it is then barrel aged, resulting in the brown colour.
Part of the tour at our first stop included tasting plain agave, a sweet liquid similar to honey, each of the five types of tequila, plus tasting a couple of tequila based liquors, all before lunch I might add. During our “education” we were entertained by mariachis and we sang, hooted, and danced, and danced 💃 some more, like no one was looking, (at least I was), and of course Bob was taking incriminating videos,(private screenings only), while continuing to sample the juice… This is definitely the fun side of the wall!!!!
Time to boogie-arriba!
What we learned, and actually remember (just kidding), of our samplings-
1. White: aged no more than 60 days – ewwwww such a raw gasoline taste, definitely firewater.
2. Gold: uned, coloured and flavored with caramel, oak extract, glycerin, syrup, and other additives. Still a bit of gut-rot happening here!
3. Reposao: also known as rested and aged in wood casks for a minimum of 2 months with many aged from 3-9 months. The barrels mellow the and give a soft oak flavor to the agave as well as giving the tequila its light straw color. Things are starting to look up, margaritas anyone?
4. Anejo: aged often int white, French oak, or used bourbon barrels for a minimum of 1 year and up to 3 years. Now this stuff is starting to taste a bit smoother.
5. Extra-Anejo: aged over 4 years in barrels and a little bit of the alright! Of course it is the most expensive and costs mucho pesos!
So for all those tequila affectionatos out there, the bottom line is 100% blue agave tequila is the absolute best type to buy but depends on whether you want to mix it or drink it straight up. For my taste, a good margarita fits the bill any day, straight up not so much. Bob will drink it anyway he can get it, for medicinal purposes of course!
Below are some street scenes of Tequila.
Herradura tequila distillery store