Toasting to Tequila, Mexico: Exploring Agave Country

By Andrew Wong,

Oh our good friend, Señor Tequila. The signal of a wild night ahead. The key ingredient in many a ‘Sunrise or Margarita. The scapegoat to killer hangovers. Honor this centuries-old spirit with a trip to its birthplace down in Jalisco, Mexico. Read on and have your salt and citrus nearby!

The Birth of a Spirit

Agave plants

All hail the sweet Agave! Photo by Jose Nito CC BY

Going back to ancient times, the agave plant played a major role in the lives of indigenous Aztecs. Textiles were fashioned from the plant fibers while its sharp points could be purposed for both every day usage and weaponry. And the head? The centers or corazones (hearts) were thrown aside, pilling high into mountains of agave piñas.

Agave fields

In the foothills of the Tequila Valley. Photo by Thomassin Mickaël CC BY

According to local lore, on a stormy night in the Tequila Valley, a lightning bolt struck a mound of discarded agave heads giving rise to a large fire that slowly cooked away at the agave’s rich center. Flames abound, the natural sugars of the plant fermented into Mother Nature’s own caramel syrup. The next day, villagers collected the scraps of maguey (a term referring to the agave genus) which carried a honey-like texture and a liquid that would become the base of Mexico’s most celebrated liquor!

A Protected Designation of Origin

Jimadores Agave

Jimadores (agave farmers) go straight for the heart. Photo courtesy of Tequila Espíritu de México

You can place your trust in a shot of Tequila only if it bears the Denominación de Origen label, which has demarcated local spirits since 1974. The Protected Designation of Origin was the first of its kind in Mexico and recognizes only an exclusive set of municipalities in five states as authorized tequila producers. By law, only distillers in Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas may produce Tequila but there is only one place to truly learn this magical elixir’s story and to become a true experto tequilero

Tequila: the magical pueblo

Just over 35 miles from Guadalajara, Tequila is a stellar option for a day trip or overnight stay on your Mexican vacation. Cobble-stoned streets and sunny climes make Tequila a handsome pueblo to stroll about and discover its nooks and crannies.

Tequila street

Cycling on Calle Cuervo. Photo by Thomassin Mickaël CC BY

Hotels in Tequila

Connections to Tequila, Mexico are easily made by car, bus or the incredulously-named Tequila Express! There’s no getting lost en route as the Volcán de Tequila announces the entrance to this magical village, followed by the rows of striking blue agave Tequilana Weber plants that welcome you to maguey country. This natural phenomenon unique to the Rio Grande Valley has since been protected by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

All aboard the Tequila Express!

Tequila aficionados should plan their visit around the Saturday Tequila Express, only one of two tourist trains in all of Mexico. A mariachi band and refreshing cocktails, unsurprisingly made from quality Jose Cuervo, greet passengers boarding at Guadalajara’s main train station.

Jose Cuervo Express

Celebrating Mexico’s trademarks. Photo courtesy of Tequila Espíritu de México

Pair your margarita or paloma (grapefruit tequila cocktail) sampling during the two-hour trip with a few classic Mexican snacks like their specialty torta sliders!

Exploring Mundo Cuervo

Agave heads Jose Cuervo

A pile of agave piñas in front of La Rojeña. Photo courtesy of Tequila Espíritu de México

Jose Cuervo’s discovery center Mundo Cuervo is fittingly found in the dead center of town. Open year-round, start your visit with a trip to La Rojeña, the oldest distillery in all of Latin America. The guided tour will take you step by step through Tequila production which both honors age-old techniques and utilizes state-of-the-art machinery to create newer varieties. A range of educational, entertainment, gastronomic and tasting experiences are regularly slotted into the Mundo Cuervo event calendar.

Mundo Cuervo factory

Learning the tequila distillation process. Photo courtesy of Tequila Espíritu de México

The title for most exclusive tasting room on-site goes to the underground cave which houses barrels of Casa Cuervo’s finest label, the Reserva de la Familia. Get your ticket in by enrolling with a tasting workshop (and why not make it one with chocolate pairings?)

Tequila tasting

Different grades of Cuervo. Photo courtesy of Tequila Espíritu de México

Our tip is to take your complimentary margarita out to La Rojeña’s handsome outdoor patio. Live entertainment of the day may count some mariachi tunes and folk dancing.

Get schooled in Tequila History

Museo Nacional de Tequila

Getting to know Tequila as a region and as a drink. Photo by Thomassin Mickaël CC BY

The Museo Nacional del Tequila (MUNAT) takes a historical look at the celebrated mescal, including artifacts relating to the agave harvest, cooking, distillation and aging of the drink throughout time. Archaeology nuts will love having a closer look at remnants of early tequila production from the region. On the way out, take some time to snap a few pics of the city’s Plaza Principal and the gilded parish dedicated to Santiago Apóstol.

Eating in Tequila

When hunger strikes, eating options are plentiful and full-flavored. The municipal market is handy for improvising a spread of cheap and tasty antojitos (small plates) to share with friends. Takeout counters serve regional dishes like birria de chivo (spicy mutton stew) and saucy stuffed tortas using birote bread from Guadalajara.

Mercado Tequila

Try something new at the market. Photo by Thomassin Mickaël CC BY

The Fonda Cholula is always full, with a warm ambiance that keeps diners coming back. Our recommendation is to get an agave margarita as aperitivo which pairs fabulously with a mango guacamole prepared tableside. As for mains, there is no going wrong with their Tequila shrimp.

Solar de las Ánimas exterior

The Plaza Principal at dusk. Photo courtesy of Tequila Espíritu de México

When walking back through the Plaza Principal, seek out their renowned tejuinos (fermented maize drink) and pachecadas (a tejuino and beer mixed drink).

Tequila Sleeps

Hotel Boutique La Cofradía

Colonia La Cofradía

The Hotel Boutique La Cofradia opened its doors for the first time in 2008 making it the world’s first tequila ranch hotel. Each of the rooms and villas are different from the next, though they are tied together by a love for agave. The hand-painted headboards by local artists add a special touch to each room.

La Cofradía exterior

All things azul. Photo courtesy of Hotel Boutique La Cofradía

Guestrooms are set in the agave fields which means you’ll be literally immersed in the agave harvest and able to learn the secrets of what makes up a good Tequila. Property tours allow you to accompany the workers and try your hand at agave farming.

La Cofradía guestroom

Guestrooms take inspiration from the crop. Photo courtesy of Hotel Boutique La Cofradía

Their restaurant, Taberna del Cofrade, set nearly 15 feet below ground, will welcome you with a warm smile and standout plates like their Pechuga Mayahuel (named for the goddess of maguey) and their fish filet topped by mango salsa.

Taberna del Cofrade

Dining underground. Photo courtesy of Hotel Boutique La Cofradía

Stay in an Agave Field

La Cofradía’s team are experts on the region and can give plenty of recommendations for day-time activities. La Cofradía Turístico 360 reps can set you up with outings like horseback riding through the agave plantations, rappelling, Tequila bottle painting or a tour of the circular pyramids at Los Guachimontones.

Hotel Solar de las Ánimas

Plaza Principal

A storybook vacation home, the Hotel Solar de las Ánimas will take you back to the 17th century with its preserved details and lavish furnishings. Its 93 guestrooms are pure luxe and comfort with views of the town and the property’s inner courtyard. The picture-perfect stage for a romantic serenade, right?

Solar de las Ánimas guestroom

Suite Real King at the Hotel Solar de las Ánimas. Photo courtesy of Tequila Espíritu de México

Mexican-style interiors bring a relaxed atmosphere coupled with old marble fixtures and original artwork. Locally-sourced natural bath amenities and Egyptian cotton towels and sheets are all sumptuous. Common spaces around the hotel will put you in vacation mode whether out on the terraces, the outdoor pool, the sun deck, or the sauna – and fret not as there is still WiFi on hand.

The Solar de las Ánimas’ gastronomy can’t be topped owing to the morning buffet and à la carte dishes at the La Antigua Casona restaurant. Go about a change of scenery during your stay with a cocktail and appetizers on the hotel terrace with its Sky Bar that looks out to the Volcán de Tequila.

Solar de las Ánimas La Antigua Casona

Dining at a Relais & Chateaux property.  Photo courtesy of Tequila Espíritu de México

Its Bar Chucho Reyes evokes the memory of an old Mexican cantina. Paintings by Jalisciense artist Reyes Ferreira adorn the walls of the bar which bears his name.

Book this Five-Star Stay!

Journey through Tequila, Mexico to experience the region’s contagious pride for their national drink. We guarantee a first visit to discover its hidden corners, activities and hotels will not be your last! Don’t forget to snatch yourself a souvenir shotglass. ¡Salud!

Tequila jimador

Making tequila is no easy job. Photo by Thomassin Mickaël CC BY

Original text by Maria José Bricio

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