Sometimes I’m astounded at the difference between tequila in the United States and in Mexico. Tequila in the United States is most often found lost inside a ghastly, bottled sweet and sour mix, poured over ice (or, gasp, blended) and thrown unceremoniously into a glass best described by Ed Norton’s character in “Fight Club”. There may also be a sad crust of table salt on the rim. Sometimes people even upend a bottle of Corona into these concoctions and I have no idea why.
Or, for those who want to go a different route, they order a shot, go through the inane salt and lime ritual, then chug it down with that face. You know that face. Tequila face. The opposite of O face.
Then we have to consider the brands of tequila consumed in these manners. Most people just order a margarita or a shot without specifying the brand and that’s how you end up drinking Sauza or Jose Cuervo.
Or, in other words, swill.
And that’s what we found in the pueblo magico of Tequila, Mexico.
One of Will’s bucket list items on the Mexico portion of our trip was to take a ride on the tequila train. Yes, there is such a thing as the tequila train. It runs from Guadalajara through the agave fields to Tequila and you get all kinds of samples along the way to ensure you’re good and tossed when you get to Tequila for the distillery tours.
Where you get more samples. It’s like a frat house train for people who actually know a thing or two about tequila.
Unfortunately the tequila train is currently under renovation so they’re using busses in the meantime. Will was not thrilled at this idea so we decided to just drive to Tequila and take the tours on our own.
When I said that Sauza and Cuervo was what we got I meant it. These two tequila giants dominate this town and the Sauza finca is perched on a little hill, the mansion clearly visible although the family now lives in San Francisco.
Kind of like the Escobars of tequila.
The town square of Tequila is not unique; I’ve seen much prettier squares in Mexico but this was the first time I’ve seen barrel shaped busses cruising through the narrow streets and the guides who really, really want you to get on them. Unfortunately, our bus wasn’t barrel shaped but we were hustled on nonetheless and headed to the distillery.
The smell can be detected throughout the town but when you get to the distillery it really hits you. It’s not unpleasant but it’s raw and sweet, almost like the smell of a jar of jelly that’s started to ferment. The others on our tour, who happened to be a ballet troupe from Serbia of all places, covered their noses and made the tequila face throughout the whole tour.
So basically we got to see the agave pinas, the vats of fermenting agave juice, and taste the finished product, a joven which is as raw as it gets. I prefer a reposado but hey, somebody hands you a little plastic cup of tequila and you drink it, right?
The tour was interesting and there are several shops in and around the town that represent some of the smaller distilleries and you can stop in for a taste whenever you please. However, for me, the highlight of Tequila was not tequila, it was another product that Mexico is wildly famous for.
While the famous hot sauce itself is manufactured south of Tequila in the town of Chapala it’s owned by the Cuervo conglomerate and they have a restaurant in Tequila. Everything on the menu is made with Cholula and, you guessed it, deciding what to eat was damn near impossible.
But I ended up with a fried cheese molcajete, doused in a sauce brimming with onions, peppers, and so robustly Cholula that it felt like I was drinking it straight from the bottle. The cheese was so perfectly gooey that I had to twine it around my fork like pasta before I could get it onto the tortilla.
And then I added more Cholula.
When the tequila fails you there’s always delicious food to save the day.
So is a visit to Tequila worth it? Yes and no. The agave fields are stunning. Some argue that the lavender fields in Provence are the most beautiful sight on Earth but I beg to differ. If you’ve never seen a mature agave field bright with that indescribable shade of blue then you and I have some talking to do.
Otherwise, unless you’re a huge fan the Sauza, Cuervo, and Cholula products I’d say skip it. Just head for your local bar, order something decent like a Cazadores Reposado, a Don Julio or even the legendary Casa de Dragones and sip it like the gorgeous creation it is.