Most times, our plans for a beach vacation in Puerto Vallarta include enjoying some downtime with no schedule to follow, relaxing under a palapa, digging into a book you haven’t touched in months, a pitcher full of margaritas on a side table, and later, a romantic dinner in Old Town. But lately, I’ve been looking at interesting details about the countries and cities I’m fortunate enough to visit and I’m starting to realize I’m missing out on a whole lot of stuff. Specifically, thinking about that pitcher of margaritas – how did tequila become such an important part of Mexico’s culture, and is there a cool way to learn more about this venerable beverage when visiting Vallarta.
While Puerto Vallarta is the very well known beach resort nestled along Banderas Bay, on the Pacific coast of Jalisco, Mexico, the practically unknown UNESCO honored Magical Town of Tequila – yes you read that correctly – Tequila, is also located in the same central Mexican state. And yes, Tequila is indeed the home of the world-renown beverage.
Tequila is a by-product of the agave plant native to central Mexico. More specifically, Blue Agave, which is required to label the alcoholic beverage true tequila, grows abundantly in the rich and sandy soil located in the higher altitudes (above 5,000 ft.) in the lands surrounding the dormant Tequila Volcano. The plant is notable for its long spiky, fleshy leaves, which can reach over 7 feet. Even more impressive, the heart or ‘Pina’ (Spanish for ‘pineapple’) of the plant when mature, can weigh anywhere between 80 – 200 lbs. This ‘pineapple’ retains huge amounts of liquid with a high sugar content that provides the basic juice needed to begin the fairly fascinating process of producing tequila.
The ancient Aztecs were rumored to use the plant by fermenting the sap to create a drink known as pulque. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, their fermentation experimentation gave way to mescal and further refinement eventually led to the first versions of tequila. The first agave distillery was created by the Marquis of Altamira in a little town, named of course – Tequila.
Did you know there are more than 1,000 brand names of tequila? Incredibly true – and more join the list each year. According to Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council, as of 2013, there are 1,377 registered domestically bottled brands. There are over 100 distilleries producing tequila, some dating back hundreds of years. One of the oldest, most famous is the Hacienda Jose Cuervo la Rojeña Distillery – Yep, that Jose Cuervo! In 1795, Jose María Guadalupe de Cuervo began selling the very first ‘Vino Mezcal de Tequila de Jose Cuervo’ after receiving permission from the King of Spain to produce tequila commercially. The family and its descendants have been producing tequila at La Rojeña, the oldest active distillery in Latin America, ever since.
So… since we’ve got a town called Tequila, a Hacienda named Jose Cuervo and the oldest functioning tequila distillery in the same state as Puerto Vallarta, the question begs – How does someone vacationing in Puerto Vallarta experience an interesting day of tequila traditions? Amstar’s Tequila Valley Signature Experience at Hacienda Jose Cuervo is the answer!
Your Tequila Adventure will begin with your private, air-conditioned transportation waiting for you at your resort’s motor lobby in the early morning. You’ll meet your guide, get settled in the vehicle – and off you go!
Sit back and relax as you pass through the Jalisco countryside as your guide shares bits and pieces of tequila folklore that all come into focus as you get closer and closer to the town of Tequila, cradle of the centuries-old spirit. Once in Tequila, your guide will take you out to the agave fields and where you can take in the beauty of the surrounding vistas, acres and acres of blue-green agave stretching out to the mountains on the distant horizon. Then a Jimador – a specialized tequila field worker, will skillfully demonstrate how the agave ‘pineapple’ is harvested and prepared for the next step in the old process of producing tequila. You’ll marvel at the skill with which the jimador dispatches this arduous work with his coa – a long heavy pole with sharp paring blade .
As you pass through the entrance to the hacienda, you’ll feel as if you are stepping back in time, walking in the footsteps of characters in a Zorro flick, shadowing deep historical roots that parallel the stormy evolution of Mexico’s history. Your hacienda host will take you through the entire production process, from the furnaces that cook the agave, to the distillation room, and the thousands of barrels stacked in aging rooms. You’ll explore the hacienda’s cool underground cellars full of oak casks that date back to the 19th century, soaking up the heady aroma of the tequila that is born here. As you meander through this historical hacienda, admiring its beautiful architecture, you’ll sense the history Hacienda Jose Cuervo exudes and the role it plays, even today, in the production of one Mexico’s most recognized cultural heirlooms.
Later, this Signature Experience at Hacienda Jose Cuervo excursion will take you to the specially designated ‘Reserva de la Familia’ cellar for a tequila tasting lead by a local expert where you’ll experience the diversity of flavors this beverage captures. Much like wine, tequila has many blends and grades, each having their own unique flavor and fragrance profiles. You’ll learn about the different tastes and aromas from a Maestro Tequilero – Tequila Master, as you savor your preferences among Resposado, Blanco, and Anejo tequilas, or enjoy a suggestion by the hacienda tequila master.
Although it will probably be difficult to tear yourself away from the tequila, you’ll have free time to enjoy a savory Mexican lunch at one of the recommended local restaurants in town, before heading back to Vallarta, most assuredly with a bottle of tequila you purchased that will produce many fond memories of your visit to Hacienda Jose Cuervo – in the Mexican town of Tequila!!