TEQUILA, Mexico Folk wisdom has it that tequila was the drink of
the gods. And years before the conquest of Mexico, the nectar
extracted from the agave cactus enjoyed favor with high priests and
Today, tequila has a following much larger than the elite of old
and its Mecca is in Mexico’s western state of Jalisco. It’s here
that the juice of the famous blue agave with its sword-like leaves
is turned into the fierce, native liquor.
The best place for getting into the soul if not the taste of
tequila is, believe it or not, a town called Tequila. It’s an easy
40-mile drive from Guadalajara and located in what’s known as the
Valley of Tequila, or flatlands, which produces more tequila per
acre than any other region in the country.
Quaint cobblestone streets with horse-drawn carriages and a
gazebo in the main square define the colonial character of the
town, while two tequila museums tell visitors everything they want
or need to know about the drink that put the place on the map.
The Sauza Museum, named after founder of the Tequila Sauza
dynasty, Javier Sauza, contains his personal collections of old
coins, prehispanic pottery, posters from the 1940s featuring
tequila-drinking cowboys called charros with their smiling
senoritas, plus photos of Don Javier with Mexican presidents and
movie stars. A letter on display from actor John Wayne says “thanks
for ‘bending an elbow’ with me.”
Just around the corner, the Tequila Museum explores the history
of the town. Mayagel, the ancient goddess of maguey, the agave
plant which produces mescal, the forerunner of tequila, is
prominently displayed along with an old-fashioned grinding stone
pulled by horses a hundred years ago to extract the juices for the
It’s also during that era that the term “tequila” came into use
after former president Porfirio Diaz used it for the first time
during an official visit to San Antonio, Tex. Before this, tequila
was called “mescal wine,” I discovered, although it had nothing to
do with wine. The wine was also popular in folk medicine as an
No visit to Tequila would be complete without a tour of a
distillery. Tequila giant Cuervo launched Mundo Cuervo a year ago,
the nicest tourist attraction in town.
A tour starts with a visit to a blue agave field, where a worker
demonstrates the technique for slashing the spiny plant down to its
root or pina, its pineapple-shaped core, which will be cooked,
fermented and distilled.
Visitors board a comfortable air-conditioned van and are driven
back to the Mundo Cuervo complex, which is ensconced in a pleasant,
200-year-old hacienda, a large portion of which has been converted
into an elegant new handicrafts shop. The shop features artfully
arranged designer ceramics from Chihuahua, woven shawls from San
Luis Potosi, hand-painted animal figures from Oaxaca, beadwork from
the Huichol Indians, tinware from San Miguel de Allende and silver
from Taxco. And there’s time for browsing.
The tour moves into the distillery wing where sweat-drenched
workers hand-carry mounds of pinas to a conveyor belt. It continues
past cavernous rooms filled with huge copper cooking and
fermentation tanks, finally ending up in a cool, dark cellar where
hundreds of barrels of tequila are aged in French oak.
Along the way, we learn that tequila comes in three different
forms the white, reposado (rested) and anejo (aged) and that the
reposado is the biggest seller in the U.S.
The tour ends with tequila shots. I sample Cuervo’s premium, but
limited, edition Reserva de la Familia. It’s heavenly smooth. Some
of the tequilas available for tasting have been aged 14 years. The
tequilas are for sale at the Tequila Museum.
While this tour is available weekdays, another new tour offered
by Cuervo leaves Saturdays from the Camino Real hotel in
Guadalajara, and, in addition, includes lunch and entertainment by
charros and mariachis.
Sonia Espinola de la Llave, operations manager for Mundo Cuervo,
explained that the tours were really the brainchild of the
president of the company, Don Juan Beckman, who wanted to “offer
tourists something special,” she said.
Future plans for Mundo Cuervo call for three new country inns,
with from 20 to 50 rooms each, along with a specialty restaurant
serving regional cuisine. The restaurant opens in December and will
feature programs with visiting chefs who showcase dishes made with
tequila. A branch of the interactive Papalote Children’s Museum
from Mexico City will also be established to appeal to
“We want visitors to have another option to Tonala, Guadalajara
and Tlaquepaque,” she said. “Tequila is a magic town.”
|Hacienda el Carmen|
An alternative to a Guadalajara hotel is a stay at a country
estate located halfway between Guadalajara and Tequila. The
Hacienda El Carmen, which opened as a hotel 2½ years ago, has been
a working hacienda since the 1700s and still produces blue agave,
sugarcane and corn.
The sprawling main house sits amid a lovely rise of mountain
peeks, and flocks of ducks and peacocks strut imperiously through
the gardens, while magnolia and sweet lime trees perfume the
The hotel’s 16 spacious suites meander around quiet colonnaded
courtyards and patios filled with exquisite birdsong each morning.
Each high-ceilinged suite has an enormous tiled bathroom filled
with the hotel’s own brand of amenities.
A spa offers deep-tissue massages and yoga classes. Horseback
riding, mountain biking and excursions to nearby geysers and small
ruins are included in the price of a room. A billiards/games room,
bar with cable TV, jogging path and a cricket court are among other
“We have everything you need in a beautiful countryside
setting,” owner Monica Baeza, said.
Rates are $269 per night per couple per room and include all
The hotel pays a 10 percent travel agent commission.
Both tequila and mariachis are deeply ingrained in the psyche of
the state of Jalisco, and every year Guadalajara hosts a week-long
International Mariachi Festival. This year, 55 Mariachi bands,
hailing from Texas to Tokyo, stepped smartly and played lively
tunes in a colorful parade capped by evening performances with the
Guadalajara Philharmonic Orchestra.
Mexico Tourism Board