Like France’s cognac region or Kentucky’s bourbon route, Mexico also has its own ‘spirited’ area to discover the heritage, heart, and hard work behind the art of tequila-making.
La Ruta del Tequila (translated as the tequila trail in Spanish)— a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006—is a scenic region in the state of Jalisco that connects tequila-producing towns. Here’s where to head to celebrate in the birthplace of tequila.
One of the most streamlined ways to get a taste of the route is aboard the Tequila Express. The train ride begins in town of Guadalajara and ends in the town of Amatitán—the home of the Herradura distillery. Lunch is served at Casa Herradura—including a tour and tequila tasting. Views of the blue weber agave dotted countryside (the only varietal, of roughly 200 agave species, from which tequila can be made) are spectacular. Weekends only, 8 1/2 – 9 hours, $90 per person.
If you’d like to visit the town of Tequila, one of Mexico’s designated historical towns or ‘pueblos magicos’, hop on the Jose Cuervo Express. Similar to the Tequila Express, although a bit more upscale, this all-day excursion includes margaritas or tequila shots and nibbles such as tacos and empanadas throughout the journey with a visit to Cuervo’s distillery – La Rojeña. The Cuervo experience includes time to explore the town of Tequila, a tasting, a traditional Mexican dance show, and distillery tour. In addition to the weekend day trips, the Jose Cuervo Express operates on Friday nights. 9 hours, $100-$130 per person.
When in Tequila
Legally, only five of the thirty-one states in Mexico can produce tequila. The majority is produced in the Valley of Tequila in Jalisco. Hence, if a DIY tequila trail adventure is more your style, best to focus here. Flanked by mountains on both sides and the dormant Tequila volcano in the center, most of the distilleries are in or near the valley towns of El Arenal, Tequila, and Amatitán. The town of Tequila is the most popular stop on the trail. Here are some recommendations for distillery tours.
Tres Agaves Tequila, El Llano Distillery
El Llano, owned by the Orendain family, is a fifth generation distillery in operation since 1900. Best to contact Tres Agaves ahead of time for a tour and tasting. If you’re lucky, master distiller Eduardo Orendain will be on hand to offer insights into his family’s craft of longtime artisanal tequila making. Orendian specializes in 100% agave tequila via small batches of the estate bottled Arette and Tres Agaves Tequilas (a Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo) at El Llano.
In the tequila business for more than 50 years, La Cofradia (which includes the prestigious brand Casa Noble), offers a unique ‘sip and stay’ experience. A quaint four-room boutique hotel (each room individually themed) lies adjacent to the distillery and agave fields. Take the “Tour of the Senses” night tour, which includes dinner, peruse the museum, or just simply relax in the outdoor pool or onsite spa. Hot tip: the only way to book a room is by calling or sending a request through the contact form on their website.
As the first to export tequila to the U.S., a visit to Sauza to pay tribute to the U.S. tequila godfather is in order. There are three tour options; the most elaborate is the three-hour La Constancia, which includes assisting a jimador (agave farmer) in the harvest process, a distillery tour with an overview of the five-step process of making tequila and finally, barrel tastings and cocktails. Hornitos and Tres Generations are also made here. Tours operate from Monday-Saturday; $8-$15.
Want more maguey (agave) mojo? For a collection of photos, drawings, and memorabilia hailing the almighty agave, head to the National Museum of Tequila. Open Tuesday – Sunday; 10 am – 5 pm.
Launching in 2009, La Ruta del Tequila is still in its infancy and getting access to small-production, boutique distilleries can be challenging. The founders of Spirit of Jalisco, a U.S.-based tour company specializing in tequila vacations, have been bringing tequila lovers and bartenders to Jalisco for ‘real deal’ tequila immersions for over two decades.
Led by Clayton Szczech, the only non-Mexican to earn the prestigious double-T certification from the Tequila Regulatory Council for excellence in tequila tourism and education, the four-day excursions focus on 100% agave makers.
Their most popular tour, Valley of Tequila, offers insider experiences that include a visit to the closed-to-the-public Fortaleza distillery and cave, a tasting at La Cofradia with Casa Noble’s master blender, and exclusive access to Herradura’s room filled with French cognac barrels that are aging collector-worthy tequila.
Since Spirit of Jalisco has developed solid relationships with the maestra tequileros, jimadors, and old-timer tavern owners of the area, they’re able to open doors, literally, to deliver a genuine education of the terroir and culture represented by each brand.
“It’s all about immersing our guests in a real, authentic, Mexican village that is the heart of the rich culture of tequila making,” says Szczech.
As enthusiasts like to say, you’re not just drinking liquor, you’re drinking history.
From many major U.S. cities, American Airlines, US Airways, Delta, and AeroMexico offer direct flights to Guadalajara (GDL). If you’re renting a car and reserving it online, don’t buy car rental insurance ahead of time. It doesn’t apply in Mexico and you’ll have to repurchase it.