As Bordeaux is to France and Porto is to Portugal, Tequila is to Mexico; a region, a spirit, a tradition and an essential part of its history.
Tequila sales have doubled in the last decade in countries like the United States, Canada, France, Japan or even China, becoming one of the world’s most popular liqueurs.
The wellspring of tequila production is in the west-central state of Jalisco, home to one of the largest cities in Mexico, Guadalajara, as well as the nearby town that goes by the name of Tequila.
Tequila is in fact a mezcal, but only a mezcal made from the Weber blue agave (Agave tequilana) can be called tequila.
In the state of Jalisco you can find all kinds of products that have to do with tequila, such as: borrachitos (milk candies flavored with tequila) in the San Juan de Dios market; hand-blown Dama Juana glass bottles designed to transport tequila; small sponges made from agave fiber in the Tonalá “mercado”; and even a “tahona” resting against a wall in the Guadalajara “Palacio de Gobierno”; the “Tahona” is a 2-ton volcanic stone wheel used to crush the cooked agave to release the juices, and these were later replaced by modern mechanical rollers.
La Ruta del Tequila
The Tequila Route is a circuit that reveals the authentic tequila culture, the ancient tradition of crafts, colonial people, opal mines, archeological sites and tourist spots that lead you through the symbols of the Mexican spirit like cars, mariachis, railroad and Tequila itself.
This tour can be undertaken by bus, train and even motorcycle, though the most intense moments will be lived in the walking sections of the trail.
The journey includes traditional tequila distilleries, haciendas dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, some of which have become wonderful boutique hotels; a ceremonial center of a mysterious pre-Hispanic culture (discovered barely a few decades ago) or even sky-diving over the crater of a volcano that has been dormant for 300,000 years (if that is what you fancy).
The now famous “José Cuervo Express” leaves from the train station of Guadalajara towards Amatitan, where the San Jose del Refugio hacienda and the Herradura Tequila House are located.
The train goes through an agave landscape declared a World Heritage site since 2006 together with ancient distillers where the purest Mexican tequila was produced and bottled in beautiful bottles whose labels proudly showed that the liqueur was 100 percent agave and in some cases read: Original Process (16th century).
The trip is livened up by live Mariachi music, snacks, corn tortillas, open bar in carpeted and air-conditioned cars offering shots of straight tequila and cocktails. After a 45-minute ride across the immense field of blue agave that spans against a background of mountains of the Mexican high plateau and the Tequila volcano (2,900 meters high), visitors arrive in the Hacienda, a bucolic environment that is hardly seen at present.
There, they can taste a local traditional meal, listen to folkloric music, enjoy a rodeo demonstration, visit the old factory (1870-1973) and finally the museum.
This is the right time to learn or ask about white, rested and aged tequilas; “jima” (agave harvesting) and “jimadores” (agave growers), “cabeza del agave” (first portion of the distillation), fermentation and distillation; tahonas, alambiques, oak barrels and even about the so-called cuernitos, which preceded today’s traditional glasses to drink tequila straight.
The tale is simple, a crop that was first grown some 2,000 years ago to produce fermented beverages and fabrics, and which –after the introduction of the distillation by the Spaniards– became an industry and means of living for several thousands of locals as of the 17th century.
As the reach of global trade has extended and Tequila is now consumed around the world, Mexico has vigorously sought protection for its cherished spirit in international trade agreements.
In bilateral and multilateral negotiations, including those leading to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican trade officials have demanded Tequila be protected as a “geographically indicated product” under intellectual property rights law. They have argued that Tequila is a unique cultural product that can only be called by that name if fermented from the blue agave plant indigenous to this specific climactic region of Mexico.
So, next time you have a shot of tequila, forget about the salt and lime, go for it straight and keep in mind you are zipping a piece of Mexican history and tradition…