Touring Tequila Like a Jefe!
We love tequila, I mean really love it. Iain, as a good Scottish person, loves a single malt and in the summer we love a gin + tonic but for me, tequila is always my liquor of choice. We are not into the cliched shots with salt and lime. My favorite way to drink it is to sip a blanco, sometimes with a sangrita on the side. I also like a margarita - made properly of course - friends don't let friends use margarita mix, ever! So when Iain and I were deciding on our next destination after San Miguel de Allende the proximity of the Tequila region swung our decision to spend a week in Guadalajara.
It's a hour or two to Tequila from GDL so we looked at taking a bus but the need to then get taxis to the distilleries we wanted to visit once we were there put us off. There is a fabulous looking tour to Herradura by train that was very tempting but we found a group tour from Micky Marentes that would allow us to visit smaller producers. That was what we really wanted; the chance to try some tequila with which we were unfamiliar. Tours are not our normal mode of travel but we splurged on this as we really wanted to make the most of our visit.
On the day, we were the only ones taking the tour so it ended up being a private tour. Our guide Fernando was really knowledgeable about tequila and was a real connoisseur. He too loved blancos so we knew we had found the perfect host. After leaving the city of Guadalajara behind us we started to enter tequila country. Suddenly the fields were filled with the beautiful and distinctive hue of blue agave. I think it is such a beautiful crop, not just because of the wonderful spirit it produces, but the smoky bluish green, the uniform rows and the symmetry of the plants make for stunning vistas across the fields.
Fernando told us that the plants have to reach maturity before they can be harvested. That's at least seven years of growing. The worldwide demand for tequila has exploded and this coupled with long growth cycle has made the crop extremely valuable. The crop is harvested and the leaves are left to rot and fertilize the field; all the goodness is contained in the core called a piña, because it looks like a pineapple. All around the area you see trucks transporting thousands of piñas ready to be baked in gigantic ovens.
Our first stop was at Casa Marengo, a small independent distiller that make a few different brands of Tequila. We toured their facility - first there is the yard where the agave piñas are received, then they have two ovens that are used to bake the piñas that are locked in there for 72 hours. After that they are put through a press to squeeze all the agave juice out. After the juices are extracted they are left to ferment and then distilled - twice. Some premium tequilas are triple-distilled. The resulting tequila blanco can be stored for a period of time in stainless steel before being bottled, but the reposados and anejos are aged in barrels. The barrels we saw at Casa Marengo were old bourbon barrels. Reusing barrels imparts interesting flavors to the tequila as it rests.
After giving us some history we were done with chatting and it was time to start tasting. We tasted several of their tequila ranges, trying blancos, reposados and anejos from their Marengo, and Casa Verde brands - but our absolute favorite was their line called Adictivo. Triple distilled and delicious. We still had too much traveling to do to buy a bottle and take it with us, but have found a specialist tequila store in San Diego that sells it. If you see the Adictivo blanco in the store grab it. It's well worth your hard earned pennies I promise. After our tasting we had that warm and lovely feeling that always comes with tequila drinking and we headed off to our next stop.
Tres Mujeres is a bigger, but still independent distillery. Surrounded by stunning agave fields, we got to head into the field and see a Jimador at work. Agave piñas are still harvested manually, even by the mass-producers, no machines can outpace these skilled workers. After the Jimador demonstrated his skills, Iain and I tried and demonstrated quite convincingly our lack of skill. Time to head inside and taste some tequila.
Tres Mujeres has some impressive underground caves, where the reposado and anejos, rest and age in barrels. One private label owner was using one of the caves to age his personal collection. To be sure the tequila would age in the best possible way the barrels were played Beethoven around the clock! Some Beethoven-aged tequila may be what I ask Santa for next year. For our tasting experience at Tres Mujeres we paired with some flavors that complimented the tequila; chocolate, citrus, cinnamon, chilli and lime. Our samples were all delicious, and Fernando taught us how to taste like a pro which, as a side benefit, also left my teeth feeling tingly and clean. I may need to add some blanco to my nightly oral hygeine routine.
All this tasting necessitated some eating so we headed to the town of Tequila and had lunch in the old town market. We ate some tasty local dishes from Jalisco. Fernando asked us what we wanted to do with the rest of our afternoon in Tequila. Our choices visit the Jose Cuervo store, visit some of the other tasting rooms in town or head to a bar that specializes in independent tequilas. We chose the third option. La Cata is a great stop in the town of Tequila that truly cares about what they serve. First we had delicious cocktails, I went sweet, Iain went spicy. We then tried a few other tequilas that we were curious about and generally quizzed the manager of the bar what we should drink when not in Jalisco and don't have as much choice. Spoiler alert - it's not Sauza, Jose Cuervo or Patron!!
After our final taste we headed to the car to start our journey back to Guadalajara. Iain and I both tolerate tequila pretty well so no drunkenness but a glowing sense of well-being accompanied us all the way home. In my mind something that has origins in a beautiful plant and that makes you feel like that has to be a good thing.