Where else should we go but the town of Tequila in the State of Jalisco, Mexico for tequila tasting? After all, this is the home of the tequila the world loves so much. The liquor tequila is literally named after the town (Santiago de) Tequila, where it was originally created back in the 16th century. It’s the most authentic place we could plan a trip for tequila tasting. Yes, tequila tasting in Tequila is a fun journey to the source of this magic elixir.
Tasting tequila at its source among the blue agave fields is an experience we will never forget. We learned new things, enjoyed some delicious tastes and came away with a heightened respect for the spirit itself.
Types of Tequila
Just like most bars offer at home, the tequila made in this area can be enjoyed in several varieties:
- Blanco – Tequila made from un-aged agave, clear in color and slightly sweet in flavor.
- Resposado – Aged in oak barrels for at least two months, this tequila is caramel-colored has a mellow flavor.
- Añejo – Aged in oak barrels for a year or more, añejo tequila is rich and smooth in flavor and best served straight up or on the rocks.
- Extra Añejo – Extra smooth in flavor even deeper brown in color, this tequila is aged in oak barrels for at least three years and is best when sipped neat.
- Cristalino – This tequila is made from extra añejo tequila that has been filtered many times until clear.
Only in Tequila
Tequila can only be called tequila if it is made from blue agave plants grown in just five states in Mexico. These are Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. The town of Santiago de Tequila itself is located in the state of Jalisco, where most tequila distilleries are located. This area is believed to possess the best combination of soil and climate for growing blue agave plants.
Anything else – whether it is made from blue agave or another type – cannot be legally labeled as tequila. Technically, any tequila is a mezcal, but only mezcal from the blue agave can be called tequila. But the mezcal we know is typically something different, because it is made from the maguey agave rather than the blue agave. (We thought mezcal was always a liquor with a smokey flavor, and this is not true. Mezcal comes in many varieties and forms. Some are smokey and some not.)
We set out with friends to visit the source and learn more about this most popular of spirits.
One-Hour Drive from Guadalajara
Situated a little more than 40 miles northwest of the bustling metropolis of Guadalajara sits the charming area of Tequila. The town itself is small and quaint, but the surrounding area is vast and full of growing fields and distilleries. It’s well worth the day trip to discover some of the tequila tasting rooms at distilleries scattered around the area.
My friends and I really wanted to experience tequila tasting in Tequila. We booked a private Tequila Tasting Tour through viator.com after scouring the web to uncover the numerous options available. Our tour guide spoke perfect English and was fun and knowledgeable. And the best part? He drove us in a comfortable SUV from Guadalajara in the late morning, and back again to our hotel later that evening. After tasting numerous types of tequila, having a designated driver/guide was an absolutely necessary thing.
As our SUV approached the region, we began to drive through slightly rolling hills similar to wine vineyards. Instead of grapes, the perfectly aligned fields were planted with rows of agave. Spiky and grayish-green, the agave plant is a stark contrast again the color of the rich soil. It’s a beautiful sight in and of itself.
Visiting Cava de Oro Tequila Distillery
Before reaching the town of Tequila, we pulled off the main road and meandered through the agave field into the Cava de Oro Distillery. Here we wandered through the landscaped gardens until gathering for our private tour. Our guide led us down a well-worn path towards the distillery operations where we would begin our educational tour.
Cava de Oro is a working distillery. As we began our tour workers nearby moved huge vats of liquid with forklifts.
How Tequila is Made
The process of making tequila has been passed down through the centuries, and is relatively unchanged from its origins. We were excited to witness this process firsthand at a working tequila distillery, where they showed us each stage and how it all works.
First, the blue agave plant is harvested by hand after growing 8-10 years in the fields. The leaves are removed by a skilled worker with a sharp machete, and the heart – or piña – is collected. The piña is cut into pieces and roasted in an above-ground oven. When fully baked, the pieces are ground under stone wheels to create a pulp. It smells and tastes cloyingly sweet at this stage, and the liquid produced is divided into huge vats for fermentation or taken separately to make sweet agave syrup.
The pulp is mixed with water and yeast and fermented in large vats for several days to several weeks. Afterwards, the liquid produced (“mosto”) is distilled at least twice to reach an alcohol content of approximately 40%. From there, it is siphoned off to make blanco tequila or placed in barrels to age.
Tequila Tasting in Tequila
There are many distilleries in Tequila that offer tours and tastings. We chose Cava de Oro because it is smaller, more approachable and less commercial. There is the necessary gift shop here that sells their tequilas as well as branded items. We didn’t buy any of their delicious tequila because we had all packed in carry-on luggage and could not bring it home in the plane. It was delicious though, and we would have bought a bottle of the extra añejo because it was that good.
At the tasting, we sampled six different varieties of tequila made right there at the distillery. Our guide poured them one at a time for us to sip slowly and savor. He was very clear with us that good tequila is made for sipping, not shots. The only reason people drink tequila shots is to swallow bad tasting tequila quickly. Lime and salt further mask the flavor. Good tequila does not need any masking and tastes quite good when your palate is allowed to enjoy the full flavors.
Much like wine, tequila can be swished in the glass to view its legs, droplets and sugar content. It can also be paired with foods that compliment its flavor, like cheese, pear slices, chocolate and more. By the end of our tasting at Cava de Oro, we had learned and sampled a lot. And I mean a LOT.
Tips on Planning for Tequila Tasting in Tequila
If you decide the idea of tequila tasting in Tequila, Mexico sounds fun, there are some things you should know.
- It takes all day from Guadalajara, so plan on 8-10 hours including the one-hour travel time to and from Tequila.
- Make sure you eat before you are picked up for the drive. We did not reach the restaurant for our meal until 4 pm.
- Drink lots of water before, during and after. Hydration is a good thing when it’s hot and you are drinking.
- Speaking of hot, it can get pretty warm in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico. Bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Choose your tour wisely so you can enjoy a good experience. We opted not to do a big tour with lots of people on a bus.
- If you have choice over which distillery(s) you visit, choose smaller ones where you can get up close and personal. The bigger tours may be crowded and just focused on moving people through at a quick pace.
- Do not drink and drive! It’s not worth it on so many levels.
- You can rent a car and drive yourself if you are feeling that independent. However by the time you pay for the rental and insurance, navigate your way there, pay for the tasting and pay for a meal or two, you won’t be saving much money going this route.
- On Saturdays there is a special train called the Jose Cuervo Express from Guadalajara that will take you directly to the Mundo Cuervo headquarters in downtown Tequila. Cuervo owns the train and we hear the experience is very nice, with tastings included on the way.
There are many tour companies that feature outings to tequila, all with different offerings and options. When choosing our tour, I cross-referenced reviews from TripAdvisor and Viator as well as a deep Google dive. The resulting lists were almost overwhelming.
- I ultimately chose the VIP Tequila Experience La Jima Experience for several reasons.
- They were not the cheapest but also not the most expensive. (Our cost was $109 USD per person)
- The tour groups were smaller.
- They pick up at your hotel in an SUV, not a bus or van.
- The tasting and meal were included in the price.
- They promised a guide fluent in English.
- They had a good safety rating.
This is not an endorsement, and we did not receive any compensation from them. But we liked them and I would recommend them to friend, family – and you. We booked them via Viator here.
Where to Stay
Of course there are so many options of places to stay in and around Jalisco. We opted to stay in the historic downtown of Guadalajara because there is so much to see and do in the city. Here are a couple of options to consider.
We stayed at this modern hotel in downtown Guadalajara based on its design, location and reviews. The ultra-modern design of Hotel Demetria is very beautiful, and the rooms are unbelievably spacious. The restaurant serves delicious food, and there is a rooftop pool with sundeck that was calling our names.
Our rooms here were so affordable we thought there must have been a mistake, but no. Hotel Demetria really does offer a good value, with our king suite coming in at a surprisingly low $284 per night including all fees and taxes. Our friend’s regular king size room was $214 per night all in. If that still sounds like more than your budget allows, there are some terrific looking options for under $100.
Jose Cuervo Hotel
In the town of Tequila, Jose Cuervo has developed a large compound that includes their headquarters, distillery and a luxury hotel. We did not tour these facilities, but just looking through the gates at the hotel grounds assured us this would be a very nice place to stay. At $250+ per night, rooms Hotel Solar de la Animas are not inexpensive here but it looks very zen, peaceful and relaxing.