So you think Mexico, and the first thing that comes to mind? TEQUILA. It is probably the number one cause of forgotten Mexico experiences and ask anyone you know who has travelled to Mexico, what they did, the most common answer is “drank too much tequila!”. Some even shiver when they comment!
Tequila in Mexico is like Wine in Napa, California. It is not in truth, intended to be the fastest path to inebriation, in fact it is a cultural and social staple.
When I worked for Univision Television in Advertising and Commercial development, I was a minority. Being a Caucasian woman, I fit two molds, for the syndication, but I had the distinction of growing up in a Latin American culture. I communicate in Spanish with fluency, and I had all the skills to bring to the table for success in the position, except business diplomacy, and boy was I in for a surprise. My sales manager at the time took me to my first account, a nightclub. It was noon. I was told that I would keep up, drink whatever was put in front of me, remember I was a lady, and never lose self control, and I would walk out the door with every detail of the conversation securely embedded in my memory, or I was fired. I didn’t see the problem with this; after all, I am a very detailed person with an incredible memory. What I didn’t realize was that tequila was to be the drink in front of me, and I was in a room of men, with experience. In the end, I got to keep the job. The details of the conversations that took place are a bit hazy to me now, but then, we are 12 years later, and I attribute this to age not libation.
So, what do you need to know about Tequila?
Like wine, tequila can be the quality of a box of wine (you know the kind, with the magic plastic dispenser tab) which will produce a near instant headache and leave you sick and shivering as you gulp down shot after shot, chased with salt and lime, and praying someone will hand you a beer to wash it down with. This shot cost you undoubtedly $2.50 and your bar tab was driven by the beer you bought to chase the bad taste down.
A man tried to impress me once. I nearly wet my pants laughing, as he sauntered up to the bar with his bowlegged walk and fancy silver tipped cowboy boots and ordered what he thought was “the best top shelf tequila shot”. He ordered two. The bartender handed him two elixir filled snifter glasses, and the cowboy asked for the lime and salt (missing the bartender shaking his head). When the charge slip was issued to the cowboy with the big ego to sign, I saw his back bristle, and could have sworn his whole body clenched tight. The bill was just shy of $100.00. The cowboy slammed the shot in one gulp and licked his salt and sucked his lime, and wondered what my problem was because I sipped the snifter, and nursed the drink. He lost interest and walked away. I smiled to myself at the incredible score of a great tequila.
Like Cigars, or good wine, there are tequila aficionados’, and it is from them we draw our information and learn the art of the tequila making and the many flavors and types of tequila available. Traditionally, good tequila, similar to the one the cowboy purchased, is nursed, with a tangy red (tomato base),clamato and chili’s concoction or an excellent dark beer. It is not chased, nor rushed, but savored, and to do so, alternating the second drink with the tequila is an excellent way to enjoy the drink as it was intended. Mexican’s can be heard boasting that Tequila is the oldest libation in North America and they are proud of this and eager to share at every opportunity!
So, what do you need to know about Tequila? The drink is made from the blue agave plant, which is grown in 5 of the 31 states of Mexico. Take a drive across the state of Jalisco, and you will see the Agave plants growing in rows on farms over the hillsides, similar in fashion to the grapes that grow over the rolling green hills of Northern California. The Blue Agave takes between 8 and 12 years to mature, and to produce the core known as the “piña”. In the process of the tequila a “Jimadores” (mescal-harvester) determines the timing of the use of the “piña”, and when ready, is cut from within the Agave and pressure cooked. It is this method that produces the liquid which is then fermented in large vats.
As I am sure you have noticed, perusing the bar and eyeing the bottles, tequilas come in a variation of colors. They can be clear or clouded and in some cases a beautiful rich amber color. It is the plant from which it comes and the talents of the Jimadores that infuses the flavors. Blanco is pure by most assessments.
On the other hand, the “Reposado” is aged similar to that of a Scotch Malt or Whiskey. Done in barrels or “cask” constructed of Oak, they are aged for months, and in the case of “Añejo” tequila, aged for over a year. If it’s the platinum collection of tequila you seek, the “cat’s (or gato!) meow” so to speak, Extra Añejo sees three years in the barrel to age. Whoa Jack! Get out your pocketbook; it is this here tequila, per my cowboy, that commands upwards of $50 per shot or snifter!!
You can take a tequila “tour” just about anywhere. In some cases, the “tour” never takes you off the barstool and leaves you wondering how you got back to your hotel room, these are not true tours. Make sure that when you embark on the tour, you get to take a real tour. See the “agri” where they are growing the Blue Agave’s, and take a tour of the distillery. Meet the Jimadores, the authority on the plant condition and when it’s truly ready to harvest. Some of the oldest distilleries can be found in operation 30 miles or so northwest of Guadalajara. For a complete experience, you can check out the “Tequila Express”. Taking you from Guadalajara to the San Jose Refugio Distillery, you will experience not only some of the most commonly branded names in Tequila, such as Jose Cuervo, Don Julio or Cazadores, but you will find yourself sampling and discovering some of the lesser known options, which you might find just as good, if not preferable. After all, it is like a fine wine, and the options, years, and infusion of flavors are as abundant and beautiful as the country of Mexico herself. Rich, vibrant and full of color, from flavor to flask, liquid to decanter, and no two are alike.
If you are a local, the “PALOMA” is the drink of choice. When I was in Cabo a couple of years ago, a taxi driver recommended it to a travel companion of mine. Now in my ego and pride, I considered myself the “Tequila Maven” and could not imagine gagging down the Fresca and Tequila combination. In truth, I simply thought my east coast hailing friend was rudely following the advice of an unthinkable taxi driver and neither knew better. The drink didn’t even have a name then I am sure. Imagine my horror when she turned up on the Villa doorstep schlepping the liters of Fresca and variations of tequila she had stopped with the taxi driver to get on the way in! I stand corrected. “Don’t knock it until you try it” is the lesson here. Like a great Mojito (a favorite for this blogger), the perfect blend of a good tequila and the Fresca makes for a refreshing poolside cocktail! WHO KNEW?!
I like to think back to those first days of my tequila tasting, the events and lessons along the way, and the diplomacy and social business skills I acquired. The lessons I fell in to unwittingly, helped to shape the International business person I am today.
While I learn about wine, so too do I learn about Tequila. In both, the lessons and understanding will continue to come with tastings and queries, but the experiences and memories of the lessons will last a lifetime and always bring a smile to my face.
For more information on the destinations and the country of the Tequila adventure go to www.allaboutmexico.com, and plan your tequila tasting today.
(A jimador is a type of Mexican farmer who harvests agave plants, which are harvested primarily for the production of mezcal, sotol and tequila. This task requires the skill of identifying ripe agave, which ripens in between 8 and 12 years. Unripe agave can have a bitter or overly sweet taste, ruining the distilled spirits made from them. The primary tool of a jimador is the coa de jima or simply coa. This is a flat-bladed knife at the end of a long pole that resembles a hoe. The coa is used to first remove the flower from the agave, which causes the central pineapple (or piña) to swell. Later, the piña is harvested, using the same tool to cut off all of the external leaves of the plant, leaving only the pulpy center which is then chopped and cooked in preparation for the mezcal or tequila production –wikipedia)