Travel & Outdoors | January 2008
|The Tequila Express|
Allan Wall - PVNN
Tequila is Mexico's most famous beverage, and it's most stereotypical. Tequila is associated with Mexico as vodka is with Russia and sake is with Japan. But how is Tequila produced?
On a visit to the Guadalajara area, my family and I were able to visit a real Tequila processing plant on a hacienda, where a tourist can see the entire process. It's just one of the many fascinating tourist destinations one can enjoy in Mexico.
Tequila derives from a plant called agave azul , which means blue agave. The taxonomical scientific name is Agave Tequilana Azul. Agave azul grows - and tequila is produced - in the Guadalajara region of Mexico.
Like many things in Mexico, Tequila has both Indian and Spanish roots. Reportedly a fermented drink was made from blue agave by a local Indian tribe called - I am not making this up - the Tequila tribe. When the Spaniards arrived and their brandy ran out, they discovered the blue agave drink and began distilling it. Therefore, Tequila is both fermented and distilled.
Tequila, Mariachi music, the Mexican hat dance and the Charreada (a specialized type of Mexican rodeo) are strongly associated with Guadalajara and the surrounding region. To foreigners, these things are some of the most typical aspects of Mexican culture, and they're all three from the same region.
In order to promote these regional cultural features, the Guadalajara chamber of Commerce, along with other sponsors, operates the "Tequila Express." It's a tourist train which shuttles passengers from Guadalajara to Tequila country northwest of the city. (This region includes a town named Tequila, among others.)
I personally am not a great connoisseur of drinking Tequila, or any alcoholic beverage. In fact, I hardly drink alcoholic beverages of any kind. But as a cultural observer, I find it fascinating to see how specific alcoholic beverages are so closely linked to their geographical regions of origin. The Tequila Express is a good way to see the countryside and learn how tequila is produced.
While on a visit to Guadalajara, my wife, two boys and I were able to take a ride on the Tequila Express. We almost didn't make it onto the train, having been informed that it was booked up that day. (It only runs on Saturday, and this was the only Saturday we were in Guadalajara.) But, we were told that if we hung around the train station, there might be some available space. And there was, so we took our place aboard the Tequila Express.
The Tequila Express is a total experience. The train serves drinks on demand, (Coca-Cola, beer and, of course, Tequila, all provided by co-sponsors.) Live Mariachi music is performed in the coach. The scenery is nice, and riding a train is a great way to see the scenery.
The destination of the Tequila Express is the Hacienda San Jose del Refugio, near Amatitán. The Tequila processing plant at the hacienda was founded in 1870, and produces Herradura and several other Tequilas. The hacienda's motto is "En Dios Confiamos" (In God We Trust.) That's a good motto for anybody.
The blue agave is harvested in the countryside round about the hacienda, and its quality is attributed to the rich volcanic soil. Once the agave is brought into the hacienda, it's vertical processing all the way. The entire Tequila production process takes place there, including bottling. It's an impressive operation, and it's the only Tequila processing plant that carries out the whole process at the same site.
The Tequila is taken from the blue agave's root, which resembles a pineapple, It's called the heart, and it's sweet when you chew it. First the heart is cooked in ovens. Then it is fermented in vats. This is followed by the distillation process. And finally, it is bottled, right there on the premises.
The Hacienda also has its own agronomy station, using genetic engineering to shorten the multi-year growing season of the blue agave.
After the tour of the Hacienda, there was a dinner on the premises with live entertainment. (And of course, bottles of Tequila were on sale.) When it was time to go, we boarded the Tequila Express and returned to Guadalajara. It had been quite an education.
For more information, check out the Tequila Express website, and if you ever plan to be in Guadalajara on a Saturday, take a ride on the Tequila Express!
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at AllanWall.net.
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