Monday, August 3, 2015

An Afternoon With An Old Friend......Jose Cuervo In Mexico

According to an old Mayan legend, a woman named Mayahuetl saw lightning strike an agave plant which caused it to burn. As the plant burned it smelled sweet and created a honey like substance.  She brought it to the attention of her husband who fermented the honey like liquid.  Much to his delight it created a intoxicating drink that made the villagers happy.

Our Journey Began Here......The Bus Station

Tequila Express Bus

Fields Of Blue Agave

Drink Anyone


At the beginning of the 19th century tequila production began in the countryside nearby Guadalajara, Mexico in the state of Jalisco. Still today this is where the blue agave plant thrives, surrounded by a dozen distilleries who all produce the famous liquid.  Named after the Tiquila Indians the process starts by hacking off the spiky leaves to expose the core, a large, pineapple like fruit. The pineapple is cooked and crushed to create juice, which is fermented and distilled to make tequila. The clear liquid produced from this process is diluted with water to bring the alcohol content down to around 40%. 

Town Square, Tequila, Mexico

Statues Of Tequila And Agave Plants

Even The Pharmacist Dances Here

We're Here

Since we were so close in nearby Guadalajara a side trip to the town of Tequila was something on my agenda.  Our adventure began with a two hour bus ride from the city center to the dusty, touristy town that was surrounded by fields of blue agave. While buses in Mexico are cheap, many are not air conditioned and crowded.  At every stop some vendors would jump onto the bus trying to sell a variety of items like: chips with salt, lime and chili spices; sandwiches: drinks; and more.  Even beggers came aboard looking for money, one women even crying with her sob story which did seem to get her some change from other passengers.  Clyde chatted with a Mexican passenger about where we should get off the bus.  When we finally stopped in Tequila the man turned to us and indicated that this was our stop, and we thanked him kindly.

Tequila Barrels Give Tours To Tourists

Paying More Homage To Tequila

Everything Is Decorated With Agave Leaves

Once off the bus I expected we'd see a touristy kiosk with information about the distillery tours.  After all this whole town thrives on the tequila industry so I thought it would be easy to spot, but it wasn't.  We headed down the dusty, dry main street that was lined with bars, restaurants, tourist shops, museums and such ALL based around tequila.  Finally we noticed a crowd lined up in front of a restaurant so we went inside to inquire.  A young, English speaking girl came out from behind the counter and asked if she could help us?  She explained that the two largest distilleries Sauza and Cuervo offer tours.  "I suggest you go to Jose Cuervo," she said.  "Even though it's a bit more expensive it's really pretty there and done well."  So we took her suggestion and directions to find the Cuervo factory.

Paintings Inside Distillery

Both clerks at the reception desk spoke English and explained our tour options.  We choose the regular tour that included tastings of three different tequilas and would last about an hour. The cost was around $12 each much cheaper than what the tour operators offered for over $100 each.

Since the tour didn't begin for another hour we had time to eat lunch. We spotted a tiny restaurant that offered "birria" so we stepped inside.  Birria is a recipe common to this area of Mexico and is a special way of preparing meat. Most times it's done with goat being marinated in spices and cooked for many hours until tender.  The birria we found was done with "carne" or beef, was shredded and tasty. It was served on tacos with a side dish of red sauce flavored with spices and chili and accompanied with a variety of raw veggies for toppers.  The little place was run by a mom and her son who acted as our waiter. The poor boy looked confused like he didn't know how to speak to us, assuming that we didn't speak his language.  As we were eating I asked the lad in Spanish IF he was learning English in school?  He said, "yes," but seemed reluctant to use any with us.  I told him how important it was to speak a second language especially living in the touristy town of Tequila that saw gringos pass through frequently.

We Had Lunch Here Earlier

Birria Tacos With Beans....Salsa In The Cup

Back at the distillery we began our tour with a short movie and then followed our bilingual guide into the plant.  Looking spiffy with white hairnets our small group of maybe 12 people looked on eagerly as the guide explained the process.  A blue agave plant takes 10-12 years to mature before the fruit called a pineapple can be harvested making 100% agave tequila rather costly.  To make it more affordable for the rest of us shmucks sugar is added to dilute the mixture to 51% agave.

Our Bilingual Tour Guide

Sexy Looking Hairnets

Here's Where They Steam The Pineapple Fruit

Silver tequila is naturally clear after fermentation and distillation and sold as white tequilas.  Gold tequilas are aged in large, oak fermentation barrels that give it the golden hue.  "Reposados" spend about 2-12 months in the barrels and have a light, amber color. "Anejos" which means aged stay in the barrels for 1-3 years and pick up more flavors and color from the barrels.  Extra anejo is aged over 3 years, is darker and more flavorful and 100% blue agave. The well known golden tequila is the MOST popular tequila in the WORLD and the type that they produce the most of.

After Steaming A Full Sized Pineapple

Employee Pushes Pineapples Out Of Steamer Onto Conveyer Belt

Since golden tequila is NOT 100% agave it is made to be mixed with other liquids and enjoyed in that manner. When consumed straight it has been known to cause hangovers.  The ONLY tequila that should be taken straight without mixers is the 100% agave type.  We learned the PROPER way to drink tequila also.  We were instructed to inhale through our nose, then sip the tequila and swallow. After swallowing we were told to blow our all of our air through our mouths to enjoy the flavor of the tequila.  In this fashion one does not feel the burn of the alcohol on the throat making for a more pleasurable experience. The addition of salt and lime helps to alleviate the burn on the throat while chugging down the stuff also.

Barrels Used For Aging

Recycled Fiber Used To Make Stuff

These Huge Barrels Are For Cuervo Gold.....
The Worlds Best Selling Tequila

Jose Antonio Cuervo founded the distillery in 1758 but it wasn't until 37 years later that his son was granted permission by the King of Spain to produce the "wine of the earth." Jose Curevo worked as a butler and his name literally translates into English as Joseph Raven. The distillery we visited is the oldest continually running distillery in the world.  The factory runs three shifts of workers that live and breath tequila daily.  The guide joked that instead of adding milk to their cereal in the break room for breakfast workers there are given tequila. 

A Large Pet Raven In Honor Of Jose Cuervo.....Means Raven In Spanish


Tools Still Used To Harvest Agave

During our tour we sampled three of the clear varieties of tequila.  We were also given some of the pineapple fruit fiber to chew on but were instructed not to swallow the fiber. While I would have been happy to tour any of the distilleries I was even happier to sneak a peek behind the walls of the most famous one.

Oh Jose Cuervo it was nice to visit with your legacy my old friend, as we enjoyed a few shots and learned a few new things.  But if you only take one thing with you from this blog it certainly should be this.  That we have a women to thank for the discovery of tequila, a golden nectar that has made the world a happier place.  So let's raise a glass to Jose as we down a few shots, sip a few margaritas and see what kind of trouble we can get into on our next adventures.....along the gringo trail.

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