Thursday, November 28, 2019

Tequila, Mexico: Toured Jose Cuervo and Slept in a Barrel

I thought it would be funny to wake up early to see a Tequila sunrise and maybe drink a tequila sunrise at the same time!

Well it turns out I'm not that thirsty at 7:11 am.

The sunrise over the town was nice though. Time to go back to bed!

I was pretty happy with the rooms at Hotel Solar de las Animas. I thought that the whole place was pretty modern and classy at the same time.

I was getting pretty antsy because we'd already been here a day but hadn't visited a single tequila distiller yet! Well we hit the big boy first: Cuervo. We arrived a little early so gave the gift shop a look to kill time.

I wanted one of these little agave Oompa Loompas.

So festive.

I bought this Coca-Cola con Café last night and was saving it for breakfast today.

It was a hit. I don't think we could/wanted to finish that tiny can even with four people.

When it was tour time we were led into a little room to watch a welcome video. The video was in Spanish, and everyone was speaking Spanish, and there was a moment where everyone got up to go to the Spanish tour and we thought we'd be abandoned.

Luckily English-speaking Alonzo arrived just in time and our tour group was back in business! This was a fun moment where it was clear that this little gem of a town had not yet been overrun by slack-jawed Americans asking for directions to the nearest Cracker Barrel. We were the only English speakers and so we got a private tour by default.

Again cuervo means raven, so there was a lot of raven imagery to be found at the La Rojeña distillery. I actually saw somewhere on the website that cuervo meant crow, and I was like "don't you dare lie to me you cactus sucking pieces of" but then I read on the raven Wikipedia page that "There is no consistent distinction between "crows" and "ravens"". I did not know that. Disaster averted.

The first real industrial thing we saw was a truck being filled with spent agave fiber. It sounds like it has similar uses to hemp: it can be made into paper, hats, clothing, rope... all kinds of things.

I was pretty excited to see this big pile of giant blue agave plants ready to be processed. When they've already had their leaves chopped off like this they are referred to as "pineapples", which I think is a solid nickname.

I asked if there was a tour where guests could chop the leaves off of the plants out in the fields, and Alonzo said that they haven't allowed that since some drunk tourist missed the plant and chopped their ankle off. I went ahead and crossed that off of my to-do list.

There was a group of Japanese people being led around and our guide said that they were from Sauza, a tequila company owned by Beam Suntory. I never did get a good explanation of why you'd let your competitors wander around your factory. Not very Willy Wonka at all.

Apparently the piñas can't be cooked whole and need to be chopped in half first. Considering these things were like wooden beach balls it seemed like a pretty tough task.

I appreciated that this sign told me not just the number of injuries this year but also the particular body parts that were injured.

An oven for baking me up some delicious agave. Cooked agave has a heavenly sweet smell. At first whiff it reminded me of sweet potatoes.

Awesomely they had a bunch of cooked agave already all chopped up and ready for us to try.

You can tell how fibery it was. It was sort of like sugarcane where you chew it and it tastes good but then you have to spit out the husk.

It tasted like if brown sugar, a pumpkin, and a baked sweet potato had a beautiful delicious baby.

Baked agaves continuing their journey to greatness.

We had a quick tasting in one of distillery rooms full of equipment.

Cuervo brings the fire. They. Do. Not. Play.

I asked our guide what this distinguished gentleman's job was and the reply was "he makes sure the building doesn't explode." For some reason I thought it would be cool to distract him from that pretty important sounding occupation.


There are four mills where the agave is torn, ground, and pressed out, in order to obtain all the sugar. The obtained juice is called 'mosto'. The separated fiber is used as fertilizer, as animal forage, and even for artizan peper[sic] manufacture."

We learned about the different grades of tequila, which are divided by how many times the tequila was distilled and how long it has aged in the barrel. Unlike in bourbon land to which I am more accustomed, which is aged for ten years without even raising an eyebrow, it sounds like tequila is usually aged for a year or less. At this point in the tour a startling discovery.

Jose Cuervo Especial, that is commonly found on American store shelves, comes in reposado and silver varieties, is only 51% agave! The rest is some crap "sugarcane spirit" which sounds to me an awful lot like rum moonshine. The hell? To make matters worse the "reposado" isn't from barrel aging it's from friggin caramel food coloring! No way, Jose. No way.

It's funny I came here to learn about tequila and in the process I learned that the Jose Cuervo product currently in my house is barely fit for human consumption. I mean, I guess if you're going to mix it into some strawberry kiwi cocktail monstrosity then who cares, but have some self respect.

If you don't hate your mouth and are out and about looking to buy a bottle of tequila, make sure it says 100% agave on the bottle. Cuervo bottles that are the real deal are labeled Tradicional.

I realized that I had been imprisoned in a life of fake halfling spirits and that Alonzo was my Tequila Moses. I was a few tastings in at this point which may have... accentuated Alonzo's charisma.

Then we headed down into the Reserva de la Familia cave.

According to their website "Reserva de la Familia® is the world’s first extra-añejo tequila. It is hand selected from the Cuervo® family’s private collection. Each bottle is made using only blue agave harvested at its peak maturity after seven to twelve years of growing in the field, and aged in French and American oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Reserva de la Familia® is best served in a snifter, allowing for full appreciation of its flavors, aroma, and velvety finish." 

It's interesting that although the tequila is not aged as long as bourbon, the agave takes forever to grow. 7-12 years!

We practiced pulling the tequila out of a barrel with a ladle thing and pouring it into a glass.

Each year they have a different design on the box that the bottle comes in. At a local liquor store in St. Louis it looks like it cost $160 a bottle, so it better have a nice box.

They had some crow/ravens in a cage for me to mock.

The distillery had its own little chapel.

At this point of the tour we went to a tasting room to really get our taste on.

I thought this was a nice touch. There were tasting props! We had crackers (as a palate cleanser), baked agave, sugar, salt, lime, coconut, dark chocolate, and coffee beans. We would take a sip of something then take a nibble.




I was ready to take a shot of this until he told me it was vanilla. Then I only took a sip. I... don't recommend drinking vanilla. Zero stars.

We crossed the street to another building.

Here we filled out our own tequila labels.

And then made our own mix of the tequilas we had just tasted.

The bottle we poured our personal mixture into was pretty cool. It had a cover made from leather and a fabric made from agave fiber.

Puttin' all my faith in JC.

Then we got to dip our corked bottles into wax to seal them! I thought that was pretty awesome and not something I've been able to do before. Maker's Mark is famous for dipping their bottles in red wax and they had a thing on their tour in Kentucky where you could dip stuff from their gift shop into it.

I stamped my fingerprint into mine so everyone would know it's an authentic Milito blend. Accept no substitutions!

They were changing signs advertising the different years/box designs of the expensive Reserva de la Familia stuff we tasted earlier.

Lunch was also part of the tour and was at la Antigua Casona, another Cuervo property. It was nice to have more time to chat with Alonzo about life and liberty and the pursuit of tequila.

More tequila was about the last thing that I needed in my life right now but here it was. Our guide said that he's had guests sleeping on the floor by the time the tour is over. This was definitely a "pace yourself" sort of day.

It was a set menu... but I think that this was octopus ceviche.

At some point the conversation must have turned to the perfect margarita recipe, because I wrote down a list of ingredients with no additional frame of reference: burnt rosemary, black salt, mint leaf, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, triple sec or orange liqueur. There you have it.

This was really really good. "Beef medallion & black 'mole'

220g beef medallion with black beans sauce & Oaxaca black mole"

Mole is like my new favorite thing.

In related news, Jenna said that this was the first steak that she had ever eaten. Like in her life. We're pretty much heroes for taking her here.

I didn't catch what dessert was but it was also excellent.

This is what a close up of a golden blueberry looks like in case you were wondering.

Zoe had some special girl vegan food.

After the tour we did a little hat shopping in the town square.

Boom. Nailed it. Don't even need the mirror, ma'am.

Danza de los Voladores. I'm going to consult the Wikipedia oracle on this one:

"is an ancient Mesoamerican ceremony/ritual still performed today, albeit in modified form, in isolated pockets in Mexico. It is believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec and Otomi peoples in central Mexico, and then spread throughout most of Mesoamerica. The ritual consists of dance and the climbing of a 30-meter pole from which four of the five participants then launch themselves tied with ropes to descend to the ground. The fifth remains on top of the pole, dancing and playing a flute and drum. According to one myth, the ritual was created to ask the gods to end a severe drought. Although the ritual did not originate with the Totonac people, today it is strongly associated with them, especially those in and around Papantla in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The ceremony was named an Intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in order to help the ritual survive and thrive in the modern world."

It may have been the tequila talking but we checked out of our hotel and were looking for a cab and I decided that I needed a little walking music. So I paid a mariachi band to play La Bamba. Some members of the band didn't seem real excited about my song choice which made me second guess my decision, but soon enough random people were literally dancing in the street. Get cool mariachi band!

Well we decided to mix it up a little on the hotel front. We loved the previous hotel but... when I saw that there was an option to sleep in a cabin shaped like a giant tequila barrel that was really the end of the conversation.

Reception was inside an even larger barrel.

I'm a barrel boy!

Around this point Lydia and I split from the rest of the crew and headed back to town for some more exploration and some dinner.

We wandered pretty far from town and stopped at a little bar on the roadside called La Estación.

We had dinner at Portales del Cielo across from the church in the town center.

We went with the "Enchiladas Agaveras - de pollo en salsa verde con un toque de licor agavero y queso fundido, acompañadas de frijoles puercos.

This shareable monster was listed as one of the restaurant's specialties so I had no choice: "molcajete doña juve - bistec pollo o camarón combinado con una salsa de tomate medio picosa, con queso gratinado, aguacate y rabanos acompanado de totopos y tortillas"

I don't know how we were still thirsty after all of what happened today but there were margaritas in attendance as well.

We had some ice cream at a little shop for dessert.

They had some amusing flavors, including agave and tequila.

I hadn't had tequila for what seemed like minutes, so we went with the tequila flavor.

At this point I'd seen and done so much I was exactly tired enough to sleep in a barrel.

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