For oenophiles who really want to immerse themselves in their liquid love, there is no better trip than to decamp to wine country. Be it Bordeaux or Napa, it’s the best way to experience firsthand what goes in to making wine, from vineyard to cellar.
For those of us who lust after a different elixir – say, the aromatic perfume of distilled agave nectar – the trip of a lifetime is to the Tequila Trail in Mexico. Here are five must-visit stops 5 stops along the trail.
1. I Latina
For those hitting the Tequila Trail, home base is usually the state capital, Guadalajara. It’s a large city of more than 1.5 million and a vibrant center filled with looming gothic architecture. It’s also one of the few cities where government buildings are painted by a subversive modern artist (check out the wild, colorful José Clemente Orozco mural in the Government Palace that, in summary, is basically an eff-you to the government).
For a meal, head to I Latina, where you’re sure to find the greatest concentration of homegrown hipsters outside of Mexico City. Expect creative takes on local staples like deep-fried shrimp tacos in thinly-sliced jicama tortillas or tamales served as dipping sticks with a mole “fondue.” Cocktails here are some of the best and most imaginative in town. Think margaritas made with tamarind or maracuya (that’s passion fruit to you, gringo). Inglaterra 3128 Col. Vallarta, Guadalajara 44220 Mexico ilatinarest.com
2. Destilería Río de Plata
You don’t have to leave Guadalajara for the tequila distillery experience. This facility located right in the city is known for its Tequilas del Señor, which can translate as “tequilas of the Lord.” It’s a mid-size fourth-generation family-owned company producing award-winning tequilas in a super-modern way.
Because the distillery is an urban one, you won’t get to see much in the way of agave fields here, but it’s still a great introduction to the process, taking you from agave processing to distillation and ending with a visit to the cavernous cellar. The cellar houses a sweet little bar for intimate tastings, full of atmosphere and the smell of aging tequila. The distillery also sells products that aren’t available for purchase in the Unites States, but you might want to wait until the latter part of the trail to start loading up on bottles. Río Tuito 1193 Colonia Atlas Guadalajara, Jalisco CP. 44870 Mexico tequilasdelsenor.com
One of the first names in Tequila Trail tourism is Herradura, the brand produced at Hacienda San José del Refugio and the final (and only) stop on the much-touted Tequila Express. The train ride starts in Guadalajara and ends in Amatitán, a short bus ride from Herradura headquarters, with plenty of tequila and mariachi along the way.
Herradura is special, as far as distilleries go, because it’s still a working hacienda, which means that employees whose families have been with the company for a long time get to live rent-free on the property in a pretty little commune of sorts. The train ticket includes a tour of the facilities: the old production area that now acts as a museum and the new distillery, with its big, shiny steel tanks. On your tour, you’ll see a jimador (the proud farmers who have grown and harvested agave for generations) as he chops up agave, and even get to meet the company mascot, Cuco, a tequila-bearing burro. Camino a la Barranca del Tecuane #10 Amatitan, Jalisco C.P 45380 Mexico herradura.com
4. José Cuervo
Like Champagne and Cognac, tequila gets its name from a place. Specifically, the town of Tequila. And it’s a must-visit on any Tequila Trail visit. The two biggest distilleries here won’t be new to anyone who has ever knocked back a shot with salt and a lime wedge: José Cuervo and Sauza. Both facilities, which happen to be back-to-back to one another, comprise of beautifully manicured sprawling grounds dotted with palm trees.
Both offer tours to the fields and of the distillery, but for the full Disney-for-grownups experience, Mundo Cuervo wins hands-down. It has an onsite restaurant (Sauza can host special groups for dinner), charro horse-roping show, and several different rate levels that range from the “Classico” tour capped with an icy margarita for $10 to a $30 package that includes a visit to the private hacienda and a taste of La Reserva de Familia, an extra-añejo made with tequila at least 30 years old. Calle José Cuervo 73, Tequila, 46400 Mexico cuervo.com
5. Siete Leguas
For an experience that is completely on the opposite spectrum of Cuervo, go east: to the highlands. This small family distillery, located in the town of Atotonilco, offers free tours with an appointment. Siete Leguas also happens to be where Patrón was originally made. Here you’ll get to see how tequila was produced 100 years ago, complete with hornos, the traditional adobe oven used to cook the agave; and tahona, the large stone mill used to press it (both these tools have largely been abandoned in favor of more automated machinery). There are also live burros here that are still used to pull the tahona. After your visit, you can stroll the charming streets of town and stock up on tequila at cost. Independencia 360 Atotonilco El Alto Centro, Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, 47750 Mexico tequilasieteleguas.com.mx