Tequila Country

Where cowboys and agaves rule

By: Patricia Alisau

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 kings.

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 alcohol.

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 aphrodisiac.

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 families.

“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 air.

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 features.

“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 meals.

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