“1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila… floor” is just one of the many images attributed to Mexico’s national drink. Blame Spring Break, body shots and reality TV for the bad international reputation, but for Mexican families in the Jalisco province, tequila is the product of an age old tradition that has been passed down through generations for hundreds of years. With Cinco de Mayo fast approaching, Mexicans around the world will be raising a glass, salted hand and lemon wedge in celebration of culture, heritage and national pride.
Though Cinco de Mayo is most commonly celebrated by Mexican expats in the United States and Canada, its history is rooted in the Mexican city of Puebla. On May 5th 1862, French occupation led to a battle where Mexicans victoriously took back claim of their land. Though not officially the Mexican independence day, El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla) marks a celebration of Mexican nationality with Mariachis, women dressed in brightly colored dresses, parades, dancing in the streets, tamales, guacamole and, of course… tequila!
So where does it come from?
Exclusively grown in the Jalisco province the blue agave plant starts out as a small bulb about the size of an onion that is planted by hand for nearly 12 years before it is ready to harvest. Approximately 100 million plants are in production in the area, the only district where growing them is legally permitted. Harvesting the large spikey plant hasn’t changed much in the last few hundred years. “Jimadores” work by hand cutting off the blue cactus-like leaves to reach the “heart” which can weigh up to 70 pounds. This is then cooked, shredded and juiced. The juice, called aguamiel, is a murky golden colour and has a similar taste to apple cider. Vats are used for a series of fermentation and distilling processes which increase the alcohol grade and form the clear liquid that many have to come know and love (or hate).
Tequila is a small town roughly 50km northwest of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. The landscape is sparse and dry with an overwhelming sweetness that hangs in the air from the surrounding distilleries. There’s not much in terms of places to stay so most visitors will come in for a day trip and then head back to Guadalajara.
How to get there:
- Tequila Express (http://www.tequilaexpress.com.mx/)
With departures on Saturday and Sunday from Guadalajara’s train station, this tour includes Mariachis, a tour of the Herradura distillery which still uses traditional harvesting methods, a buffet lunch and then a dance with traditional music and bottomless tequila before returning you to Guadalajara.
- Tequila Plus Bus (http://tequilaplus.com/)
Those looking to explore on their own can take a bus into town for approximately $5 each way. Departing every half hour from Guadalajara Antigua Central Camionera, the ride takes just under two hours and will drop you in the main plaza near Cuervo.
Things to do:
- La Rojeña (http://www.cuervo.com)
The largest distillery in Tequila, La Rojeña is the home of the popular José Cuervo brand of tequila. Factory tours are available hourly and include plenty of samples.
- Museo Nacionale del Tequila (http://tequilasource.com/museumoftequila.htm)
An excellent museum across from La Rojeña with photos, exhibits and information on the history of tequila and how it is produced. Tours only run in Spanish.