The thing I love most about Guadalajara would probably be the fact that there are several little towns (called ‘pueblitos’) surrounding the city, each with their own atmosphere and traditions. I was lucky enough to have my dad come down to visit as his job means he frequently works in the States, so while he was here, I took the opportunity to make the most of his generosity (whilst living off my very tiny student loan) and join a tour of probably the best known ‘pueblito’ in the state of Jalisco; the town of Tequila. Ironically, neither of us particularly like the taste of tequila, but I felt it was a good tourist activity to showcase Jalisco, and it was actually interesting to find out how tequila is made, something I’d never much thought about .
We started the day visiting an agave field, of which there are hundreds around the town. Agave is the plant from which tequila is made, and while multiple alcohols can be made from the plant, tequila can only be made from pure Blue Agave, which is almost exclusively found in Jalisco, and in small amounts in 4 other states. Like Champagne, Tequila can only be called Tequila if it is produced in one of the 5 tequila-producing states (Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Tamaulipas and Nayarit), otherwise it is just an agave alcohol. Sugar syrups, caramel, cream and a number of sweets can also be made from the plant, and we watched the harvest process, a trade which is passed down through generations of ‘jimadores’. They cut the leaves off the plant with a machete like knife until they reach the heart, which they call the ‘piña’ as it resembles the main part of a pineapple.
When we later visited the Mundo Cuervo factory, home of the José Cuervo brand tequila, we watched how these ‘piñas’ are cooked in huge stone ovens, then crushed by machines to release the ‘aguamiel’ – a sweet juice which is then fermented and distilled to create the base for each type of tequila they create. We tasted the tequila elements at each stage of the tour – the raw agave, the aguamiel, white tequila base (some of the strongest stuff I’d ever tasted) and finally a selection of the different tequilas that Cuervo produce. Depending on the type of barrel the alcohol is stored in, and the amount of time it is left for, the tequilas all acquire a different taste, some certainly better than others. White tequila has come straight from the distillation process, Reposado is aged for up to 11 months in barrels, añejo is aged between 1 and 5 years, and extra añejo is aged over 5 years. The more it’s aged, the sweeter it tastes, and the easier it is to drink generally.
Seeing the amount of barrels stored up, just in the area we visited, we started to get an idea for the sheer amount of tequila that is processed here, and it’s a lot. The factory in which these tours take place is the smallest of 4 José Cuervo producers, and this one sends out 25,000 litres a day, all over the world. Considering there’s over 100 distilleries in Mexico, and these produce nearly 1000 brands of tequila, it’s easy to see how popular it is.
The town of Tequila itself is definitely worth a visit even without doing the whole tequila tour. It’s certainly touristy but it has a laid-back yet fun atmosphere, and is full of market stalls, bars, pretty streets and old buildings. It’s also one of the many ‘pueblos magicos’ in Jalisco, because of it’s cultural and natural beauty, and it’s not hard to see why. It would be easy to while away a few hours exploring the streets, eating quesadillas in the market or playing lotería (similar to bingo with pictures) with cantaritos in one of the bars. Since we didn’t want to drink tequila, we sat and had a beer whilst watching some strange acrobatic acts happening in the square, and Imanaged to convince dad to buy a few cantarito jars for the high price of 50p each to take home with him (so I can steal them off to uni with me when I’m back). We definitely didn’t spend enough time there, as we headed back to watch a football match at the Chivas stadium that evening, and I’ll definitely be heading back there to explore more of the old town when I get a free day soon.