Tequila: Agaves, Agriculture & Tourism
national drink is produced in Tequila, a small town that lies in the
shadow of a volcano in the state of Jalisco. Fields of orderly rows of
agave tequilana surround the remote town, an hour north of Guadalajara.
The prickly blue agave plant dominates the valleys, although you'll see
a cow or two sharing the fields or climbing the volcano.
The drink tequila
is a relatively new invention. While pre-Columbian Indians consumed various
drinks made from agave plants, most notably pulque, the process did not
include distillation. When the Spanish arrived they distilled the agave
juice, naming the product mezcal. The mezcal produced in the town of Tequila
enjoyed wide popularity, it assumed the special name of "tequila" by the
end of the 19th century.
drink has to be manufactured in one of two municipalities, Tequilaor Arandas,
both northeast of Guadalajara to qualify as genuine tequila, Mexico's tequila
industry produces 19 million gallons of the liquor each year. More than
a third of the production is exported to the United States.
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are astounding. The area surrounding the town boasts an estimated 100 million
agave tequilana plants, cultivated on approximately 40,000 hectares (98,800
acres) that produce no less than 50 million liters of tequila each year,
40 percent of which is exported.
there are many qualities and distinct flavors of tequila; the best is not
meant to be pounded down with lime and salt, but rather sipped likea cognac.
A quick aside
- because margaritas are made from tequila and lime juice, Mexican farmers
protested the "wine-cooler" margaritas popularized in California.
True margaritas are made from tequila - not wine. Otherwise, this was trademark
infringement! In fact, tequila producers went to court, and the judgement
came down solely in favor of tequila-based margaritas.
If you want
to do more than taste, there are plenty of tours in the town of Tequila
that will teach you the process of distillation from start to finish. The
Sauza and Cuervo distilleries offer public tours. And, if you want to rise
above it all, itís only a short drive from the centerof the town
to the top of the volcano, aptly named Volcan Tequila.
Hidalgo Street south out of town. You'll cross the railroad tracks and
get to the top in a half hour. The top of the Volcan Tequila is capped
by a series of microwave towers. Locals call this area El Cerro de los
Enanos (the Hill of the Dwarfs) because the trees at this altitude don't
grow very large. An added attraction is that the area is recommended for
bird watchers - more than 60 avine species have been spotted here.
only an hour's drive from Guadalajara along Highway 15, the main throroughfare
to Tepic and the U.S. Mexico border. If you're staying in Guadalajara,
itís easy to arrange a bus trip, just ask your hotel clerk for directions
or you can hire a taxi for about $20 one-way.
City Tequila Connection
to the state of Jalisco, tequila has found its way to the hearts of chilangos
in the heart of Mexico.
numerous stores that specialize in tequila as well as tequila bars that
often serve great food as well. Check out the following locations in
La Casa de
las Sirenas, Republica de Guatemala 32, Centro, 704-3273. This classy tequila
bar behind the cathedral provides a choice spot on the roof for people
watching and observing the Aztec dances that take place outside of the
16 de Septiembre 50 (at the corner of Motolinia), Centro, 512-1024 and
518-3820. You'll find a great selection and display of the countryís
tequilas at this store, located on a quiet pedestrian mall and across from
one of the cityís oldest vegetarian restaurants.
Tacuba 15-B, Centro, (5) 512-7130. The managers have stocked a good selection
of tequilas and other liquors.
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very knowledgeable and helpful.
Continental North America
Want to know
more about agaves? Check out Howard Scott Gentry's classic book, Agaves
of Continental North America, University of Arizona Press, 1998,
670 pages, $110).
Based on 25
years of travel and research that led the author from the United States
to Panama, this is the ultimate guide to agaves and a timely second printing
of a classic. Each of the 136 species native to continental North America
is examined in a separate essay covering taxonomic description, distinguishing
features, distribution and habitat. The text is supplemented with pictures,
line drawings and maps.
How to explain
the popularity of agaves? These plants are among the easiest to plant and
grow. "All that is needed is to dig up or pull up a young offset and bury
its base in moist or dry soil," the author writes. "If it does not strike
root and grow in the first season, the chances are good that it will the
next." Consequently, the ease of cultivation led to its use for at least
9,000 years. The flowers can be boiled and scrambled with eggs. In northeastern
Mexico, agave leaves are fed to livestock. Perhaps the most notable products
of agaves are beverages. Fermented, agave is used to produce pulque. Or
it can be fermented and distilled - a process unknown in precolumbian
Mexico - to produce tequila.
is the author of the new guidebook, Mexico: Adventures in Nature
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Index ~ Mexico