No visit to Jalisco, Mexico is complete without a trip to Tequila. We found it to be a very clean, quite charming city of 35,000, and chock full of history, as one might expect.
The city was established in about 1656 and has been named a World Heritage Site. Tequila’s origin lie with the Aztec peoples of Mexico, who made a beverage from the agave plant long before the Spaniards arrived in the village that was then called Techinchan.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1530, having run out of all spirits they had brought with them from Spain, they fermented agave juice. The first tequila factory, however, would not be established for another 70 years, at the hacienda of Don Pedro Sanches de Tagle.
The first order of business for us when arriving in Tequila was to secure a room for the night. We looked for the main plaza in the city, knowing that there would be an interesting church to visit as well. We were very surprised to find such a lovely hotel bordering the plaza so we quickly booked two rooms, got settled, then headed off to explore the city.
And yet another history-laden beautiful church, right off the plaza.
Terry snapped the photo below of two beautiful little girls playing on the grounds of the church. At closer inspection, it appeared they were playing with cellulose insulation, of all things!
While Rosie and I set off to check out the market, the “boys”, awaiting lunch, planned out the activities for the afternoon, certainly excited about what lie ahead in the tasting rooms.
I had not the first idea of how tequila was distilled from the agave plant so I was excited when a local tour guide approached us and offered to take us on a tour. As an added bonus, she spoke perfect English.
Our first stop on the tour was to view the Jesus Reyes distillery, a small factory that continues to produce tequila in the ways that were done before many of the more modern technologies were developed. It has been in operation since 1840 and only distills small amounts of tequila for select stores.
The hearts of the agave, once harvested, are placed in ovens to steam for most of a day, under high temperatures. Once this process has been completed, the hearts (pina) are transferred to distillation tanks. The remaining juices are steamed under very high temperatures to produce tequila.
These copper stills, during the distillation process, create what can technically be called tequila, although at a much higher proof than is allowed by law for consumption. We were told that of approximately 1000 liters of agave juice, only 10% becomes tequila after the process is completed. It is the condensation itself that becomes the tequila. The fiber that remains behind has many uses, one of which is compost for the next planting of the agave fields.
The above bubbling mass is the contents of a fermentation vat, where the tequila is transferred after the distillation process. Since bacteria is needed for the fermentation process, these vats are left open, where small bugs drop into them. We were assured that the end product is strained many times and the alcohol content must surely kill off anything bad, right?! Actually, many decades ago the bacteria that was used for this fermentation came from the bodies of the workers in the agave fields, as the picture below depicts.
Some tequilas are aged in white oak barrels, while others go immediately to bottling.
The end result in the tasting room, where we were given a quick lesson on how to imbue our senses, both taste and smell, with the heady liquid. Good tequila is not drunk with salt and lime, as we are accustomed to NOB, but rather sipped, as any other good spirit. Given that this distillery produces few bottles and does not sell much beyond their factory walls, a bottle or two just had to find its way home with us.
From here we opted to visit a mid-size distillery, to view the differences with some modern technology thrown in. La Cofradia (a religious order) is a 20-year old factory that creates their own bottles and pottery on site as well. A lovely boutique hotel sits on the grounds, along with a duck pond, which completed the restful setting.
Off to the factory to see how the distillation process differs from that of Jesus Reyes.
Once these pinas were cooled, we were allowed to taste. We found the agave heart to be very sweet, with the heat having concentrated the sugars.
The equipment was definitely more modern but the process explained at this factory was the same.
Tequilas carry different classifications, dependent upon the amount of time aged:
Blanco: clear; unaged; bottled immediately after distilling
Reposado: aged between 2 months and one year; somewhat amber in color
Anejo: aged 1-3 years; darker amber, taking on more of the flavor of the barrel
Extra Anejo: aged greater than 3 years
A tour of the ceramics factory was next on our list. We toured several rooms displaying various stages of bottles to be fired, along with beautiful pottery pieces.
And some of the finished products:
Last stop ~ tasting room!
On the way back to the plaza, we discovered that our trolley driver loved his music, cranked up so that everyone in town, and I mean everyone, could hear us coming. He seemed to know the entire town, as people waved and spoke as we went by. There was no sneaking back into town for us!
The remainder of the day was spent wandering the city blocks around the plaza. As luck would have it, a security guard allowed us to enter the Sauza gardens, the largest of the distilleries in the city, having been established in 1873. These were some of the loveliest gardens we had seen yet in Mexico, as evidenced below.
The streets were so clean and the flags and buildings so colorful, with abundant statues and murals.
A great first day!