Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Oct 29 - Tequila Road Trip!

So I realize that it’s been over a week since my last post. Hopefully friends and family are still reading along even though the consistency of my posting leaves a lot to be desired and with any luck those interested in the racquetball portion of things are hoping for a post on the closing ceremonies. Don’t worry I will totally be doing one! Just not yet... This post concerns our day trip to Tequila, Mexico. For those curious Tequila is the birthplace of the alcoholic spirit made from the blue agave plant in the area hence the name tequila! Like champagne, only agave spirits made in this specific region of Mexico can be called “tequila” all others (of which there really aren’t that many) are called mezcal. But enough with the history lesson and onto the libation liberation! We did a tour of the Herradura Tequila Hacienda as they had a booth in the international zone of the Pan American Village and were doing a promotion for those participating in the games (and their friends of course!) whereby the normal tour, done from a train called the Tequila Express, would be performed by bus instead and cost half the price. Kaitlyn had never done it and this was my first time in the region so I was definitely in. Alana and Isaac also decided to join since we had mentioned our interest in the experience and they couldn’t say no. 
On the bus!

Because of the location of the booth I had to purchase the tickets in advance and we picked up the 3 banditos (Kaitlyn, Alana and Isaac) at the security checkpoint located on the perimeter of the village grounds. They were easy to spot, mostly because no one else was there except for federal police, but also because they were performing their best Mexican jumping bean imitations as we pulled up. Clearly they were not excited at all about this trip ;)
At the Hacienda!

Once they got on the bus we exchanged pleasantries, sat down and things got chill. We hadn’t been served any booze yet and they ride to Tequila would take about an hour. While this wasn’t the greatest way to begin an exciting day of spirit-based discovery (the alcohol, not the ethereal essence) we were all pretty excited about how the day would unfold so we remained optimistic.

The banditos ready to rock!
Upon our arrival at the Hacienda we unboarded the bus and were greeted by our tour guide whose name I forget now (that serves me right for leaving this post so long... oh well). He was standing beside a table rife with premixed tequila beverages! Now the real fun would begin J Everyone grabbed a beverage, a paloma for myself and a vampire for Kaitlyn. Palomas are a blend of tequila and grapefruit soda while the vampiros were tequila with tomato juice and chamoy. The vampiro was a new flavour and a very interesting one. It's a blend of tequila, clamato juice and chamoy. Think of a Caesar but sweet instead of spicy. Anyway after we grabbed our beverages we headed off to the agave fields to check in with a real Jimador.  

Me in the agave field!
The Jimador prepping the Agave!
Jimadors, for those whose knowledge of Mexican spirit preparation is lacking, are those brave souls who harvest and prepare the agave plant. They use what is essentially a small shovel that’s been flattened and sharpened to cut the agave leaves off the pina (or pineapple in English) until they are left with the core of the plant, which looks like a large, white pineapple. Each agave plant would take approximately 30 years to fertilize and grow on its own but they have developed processes to expedite the process. Under the supervision of these experts the agave plant reaches full growth in 7 years.

After checking out the agave fields, we moved over to the ovens where they cook they thousands of raw agave hearts. Cooking the hearts caramelizes and thickens the sugars within the agave and the result is a sweetness that was remarkably similar to a sweet potato. Before we reached the ovens though we were greeted by another Mexican stereotype with a tequila bearing burro (Spanish for donkey)! The donkey carried small wooden kegs of tequila which we all had a sample of before seeing the massive piles of agave hearts ready for the ovens. 

Once the agave is cooked, it is shredded and squeezed to separate the juice from the fibrous portion. Apparently the fibrous part of the agave can be used to create things like string, cloth and other materials used in the construction of clothing, furniture, etc. The bottom line is that nothing is wasted, which I thought was pretty cool. The agave juice is sent to a mixing tank where sugar levels are monitored as they need to be very specific in order to ferment and distil properly. There was also a poster that broke the whole process down very simply!

Sampling the demon juice!
We then proceeded to the distillation area where they distil the tequila not once but twice! The tour guide showed us the difference between the raw mixture that comes from the fermentation tanks and the tequila after it’s been distilled both once and twice. The tequila that comes out of the distillation process is much stronger than what ends up in the bottle (approximately 70%) and we got to sample this product. I’ve heard people say that absinth backs a punch or Bacardi 151 but frankly neither has the unique flavour tequila does and coupled with its freshly distilled strength, it definitely kicks the hardest of anything I’ve ever tasted (except everclear, but that’s basically straight ethanol so it doesn’t count). Anyway after this demon juice comes out of the distillation tanks, it is watered down to 40% and bottled! You’ll notice that the tequila that comes out of the distillation process is clear. To get reposado or anejo tequilas the clear tequila is aged in oak barrels which gives these   respective spirits their goldish colour and distinctive flavour.

After finishing up in the new factory we walked down a street lined with tequila souvenir vendors. Everything from mugs and shot glasses to jewellery was accounted for and the prices actually weren’t that felonious (mostly) so we looked around a bit. I bought Kaitlyn a couple of flower-shaped bracelets made from a local plant (I’m not sure what) and a gun-shaped alcohol serving unit for myself. It came with its own stand and cost about $8. It might be the purchase of the trip!   

The tequila crusher!
Anyway after the souvenir strip we headed to the old factory which is where they created tequila until the 1960s when they converted to the new factory and methods. They showed us the ovens, which were all stone-constructed and wood burning, the mill where they would squeeze out the juice using a 2-tonne mill stone pulled by a donkey, the fermentation tanks which were literally holes in the ground where the juice flowed in, and the old-style fermentation tanks made out of copper. It was all very cool but you almost wondered if all this work was worth it, then you remembered they were manufacturing booze and it all made sense again...

After leaving the old factory we walked by the bottling plant (which we didn’t tour) and took a few photos. It was neat to see the finished product being force fed into their subsequent homes and ready for consumption! We walked to a field nearby where tables were set up for a veritable feast which we were more than ready for. We hadn’t really eaten all day and the tequila was taking its toll, but not to worry along with the tortilla laden food frenzy before us there was also an abundance of Herradura tequila which waiters would mix however you liked. Put simply it was tequila paradise :)

We feasted, we drank, we laughed, and then we got back on the bus to head home. We got the bus driver to drop us off at the turnoff for the village so that we could walk back to Kaitlyn’s host family’s house to retire for the night. It was a great day and a tour I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Guadalajara! Tomorrow are the closing ceremonies though which serve as the official end to the Pan Am Games and judging by the quality of the opening ceremonies should be nothing less than spectacular. The post is coming soon so stay tuned!


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