06 May Tequila
We entered Jalisco, the state of Mexico where the town of Tequila hides alongside the posh metropolis Guadalajara, and spied a tiny cowboy on a full size horse. The bluish hue of the textured landscape wasn’t the reflection of the heavy grey clouds hanging over me nor a denim-clad army of hard-working jimadores. It was the first of many Blue Agave Tequiliana Weber fields, the bewitched plant responsible for an intoxicating beverage that causes unsuspecting drinkers to break things that they have little to no consciousness they were ever in contact with.
Tequila, Jalisco is a unique place. Like the Champagne region of France, tequila must come from the Tequila region of Jalisco. Los Altos, the highlands, of the Mexican state of Jalisco are home to the world’s tequila production and are we ever thankful for that! Aside from the bounty of delicious blue agave juice distilled in the area, it’s also a UNESCO designated world heritage site and pueblo magico.
Driving out of Guadalajara and into tequila, the contrast of the red volcanic soil peppered with obsidian and the grey-blue mountains filled with rows of blue agave is quite the sight. Clear blue skies, intense heat and plenty to sip on are the rewards for the weary traveler upon arrival.
Cruising along La Ruta de Tequila, little Oak trees covered the purple mountains in the distance: forested land filled with cattle and haciendas, avocado farms followed by Bougainvillea vines, terraced hills of Agave enclosed in foot-high loose stone walls and separated by delicate green grass. Mexican men rode by on horseback and Tequila barrels lined each street. I passed an above ground cemetery in pastel colors (where Herradura distills their tequila) framed by dormant green volcanoes in the distance. I kept thinking that the name of the town comes from the indigenous Nahuatl meaning a place of tribute, and that it is. Drunken tribute.
More than 300 million blue agaves are harvested from this land every year, worked by Jimadores who often have generations of experience. Using a coa, a cutting instrument with a rounded blade and a long shaft, they cut away the “leaves” of the blue agave to leave the core, called the piña. Next, the piñas are roasted, fermented and distilled. At the end of it all, we behold the greatest alcoholic beverage in existence …and drink it.
While tequila is similar to mescal, strict governmental regulation about process and ingredients set them apart. Modern tequila uses only blue agave plants, which grow differently depending on the region. Blue agaves grown in the highlands are larger and sweeter while agaves harvested in the lowlands are smaller and more herbaceous.
In four-wheel drive, the distiller and I zoomed through the town of Tequila, through winding mountain trails till we reached the cloud line, overlooking a vine-laden gorge and reservoir below. Though I’d passed Agave fields being harvested by tractors, the Jimadores hauling agaves for Blue Iguana Tequila used mules with manual release baskets. As I jumped down from the truck, I was greeted by the supervisor. Assuming that I was less bilingual than I am, he shouted to his men in fast slang, “Look good, assholes. You’re being filmed.” They paused to look at me. One Jimador yelled back, “But I’m ugly. What do I do?” I exploded in laughter and after that, they were careful what they said when I was in earshot.
The town of Tequila was hopping, which was the exact opposite of what I had heard about the “Pueblo Magico.” I sat at a bar drinking Coronas and writing. Not my favorite beer, but tolerable. The enormous church emptied, filling the zocalo with people eating roasted corn with mayonnaise. Tequila tour buses shaped like giant liquor bottles or barrels whizzed around the same four main corners like a merry-go-round. Once they made me dizzy, I dropped into one of the Tequila museums which showed a grizzlier side of the fermentation process than I had been aware of. Rather than use a cultivated (and we would like to imagine clean) yeast, they stuffed a dirty guy in the tequila “beer.” By bathing in it, he added the needed bacteria to make booze. All I can say is thank the Tequila gods for modern technology.
Freelance work takes Sean and me to many beautiful places. For this particular job, Sean was shooting a new harvest and production catalog for Blue Iguana Tequila alongside Film Speicher Studios, Janosh Chassan, who was taking video footage. Being out in nature, capturing traditional processes from such a fascinating cultural history is exactly what we love to do. It was really fun to work on this project and sample some of the goods once the sun set.
Have you been to Tequila? Do you like to drink it? Tell us all about it in the comments below!