Holiday in Tequila

A s a margarita enthusiast traveling in Mexico just after the millennium New Year, I had no choice but to make a pilgrimage to the town of Tequila. I'd kept my alcoholic fervor at bay for several months, but once in Guadalajara, my waiting was at an end. Bryan and I hopped on a bus with the header TEQUILA and were on our way.

We knew we were nearing our destination as fragrant agave fields appeared, stretching toward distant hills. As we rolled by a flowered hacienda with the moniker "Herradura," I was ready to prematurely disembark, but Bryan urged patience. As the bus entered the village of Tequila, I was glad he had.

Tequila itself is a lovely town. We passed an old cathedral to reach a brightly painted plaza housing trees replete with orange, yellow and pink blossoms. In any other town, I'd have paused to enjoy the shade with a book or an ice cream, but this was Tequila; I was on a mission. When we stumbled across Calle Jose Cuervo (Jose Cuervo Street), my mission was accomplished.

We followed Jose Cuervo Street to the distillery, where we each paid $2 U.S. for a ticket, the proceeds of which support community programs in Tequila. With the inevitable "taste test" neatly rationalized, even justified, we joined the 2 p.m. English tour.

Our sweet guide, Anita, donned a pink hard hat and led our group through the distillery and the various stages of tequila production. We saw the heart of the agave, or "pi`F1a" (agave looks like the top of an enlarged pineapple), drained of its potentially potent liquid. We sweated by the fermentation vats, and marveled at the huge oak barrels storing the precious elixir. Anita explained that the longer the aging, the smoother (and more expensive) the tequila. Then she led us across the street to a small table reminiscent of Lucy's "The Doctor is In" booth and politely asked us which Cuervo product we'd like to sample first. Collectively, the group smiled.

I started at the top, with 1800. Not only does this liquid gold spend two years aging, but it contains 100 percent agave, the other major indicator of quality. (By law, tequila has to contain at least 51 percent agave; tequilas with the minimum amount are diluted with distilled sugar cane juice.) I sipped my cup happily and was extracted from my reverie by the sound of laughter.

The group was making introductions and laughing at anything and everything. The fact that "Jose Cuervo" translates into "Joe Crow" seemed hilarious, for some reason, and as we continued to sample the local wares, the bougainvillea started to shimmer. Everything was so pleasant that we decided to head with an American foursome to the Sauza distillery.

To our chagrin, Sauza tours had been cancelled for the day to film a commercial. As consolation, it was suggested we go to the Sauza tasting room and drink for free. We were instantly consoled. The tasting area was no mere booth but a garden with wandering minstrels softly strumming Mexican tunes.

As we soaked up the atmosphere and a number of Commemorativo and sodas with our new friends, we learned they, too, had been on a pilgrimage they'd driven a van all the way from Utah to Tequila. And like us, not one of them was disappointed.

Jen Reeder



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