The way the lamestream media (yeah, I said it) and the U.S. State Department tells it, Mexico is a dangerous country to visit. But having recently returned from a weeklong junket south of the border, I’m here to tell you that those hand-wringing worrywarts have it all wrong. Traveling to Mexico is not a dangerous proposition. It’s an incredibly dangerous proposition. The place is teeming with bandits, rapists and cutthroats…and those are just the people selling condo timeshares in Cabo or Puerto Vallarta.
On top of that you have to worry about the ruthless drug cartels, corrupt cops, pickpockets, wild dogs and young men in tattered Levi's jeans toting automatic weapons, young men who are supposedly there for our peace of mind. Like TSA agents, only scruffier. Then of course there’s the deep cruelty with which Mexicans treat their animals. If you ever find yourself down there, I pray that you never have to witness anything this barbarous and truly heartbreaking…
Of course, no list of Mexican hazards is complete without a nod to the bacterial treat commonly referred to as Montezuma’s Revenge. And believe me, friends, it’s a real pain in the bathing suit area. I have visited the tequila-producing regions of Jalisco on seven separate occasions, and while each trip to Mexico has varied, one thing has remained reliably constant: within 24 hours of arrival, my bowels have gone loco, disgorging watery cataracts of such alarming proportions that not even Russell Crowe and an army of Jennifer Connellys on an ark could navigate it. They’re what I like to call my Mexican shitstorms, and my trips south of the border just wouldn’t be the same without them.
But fecal fiascos aside, I love visiting Mexico. Because it turns out I love tequila even more than I hate getting the shits. And Cortés Country is filthy with the stuff. You can’t swing a dead cat down there without hitting a bottle of that delicious agave-based spirit. And with dead cats selling so cheap on the streets in Guadalajara, I’d have been foolish not to verify that for myself.
Last week I went to Mexico to tour the Olmeca Altos tequila distillery in the highlands of Jalisco. I stayed for five days. Again, that’s one distillery visited, nearly a week in the country. I guess you could say I’m one of the more thorough members of the specialized sect of media professionals that cover adult beverages. You could also say I’m a no-good goddamned lush who’s just in it for the third-world hookers, but you should know that my now-ex-girlfriend just beat you to it.
What did I learn spending all that time down there? Well, first off, I learned that Olmeca Altos — which was created by internationally renowned UK bartenders Henry Besant and Dre Masso, along with Olmeca's master distiller Jesús Hernández — is very tasty tequila. The plata is fruity and refreshing, and the robust reposado has a delightful smoked caramel quality to it. Both retail for under 25 bucks in the U.S.
I also spent some time around folk who know how to enjoy their tequila properly, which is always refreshing. Remember that scene from Caddyshack when Chevy Chase seduces a young woman with the aid of a few tequila slammers?
Yeah, that’s not how it works. First off the tequila goes in your mouth, not on the floor. Secondly, there’s no right answer to the “which one first” question. Tequila isn’t meant to be set-up with salt, slammed or chased with a giant wedge of lime (or lemon, as they use in this scene). This may be one of my favorite movie scenes in history, but in terms of tequila it’s an absolute mess.
If, on your visit to Mexico, you don’t want to look like a wide-eyed gringo who’d be fun to roll for his wallet (I prefer to project the air of a degenerate gringo who you might catch something from), there are three acceptable ways to drink tequila.
1. Just drink the goddamn tequila
Licking, slamming and biting may be a recipe for a good time at Señor Frog’s, but it’s no way to treat a decent tequila. Rather, it’s a technique designed to disguise the taste of inferior cactus juice so you can drink lots of it really fast and make terrible decisions. If you’re drinking something worth a damn, it will taste delicious on its own. If the alcohol is too high for it to be pleasurable, there’s no shame in drinking it on the rocks, just remember that if you try that in Mexico, ice is — and this is a shocker, I know — frozen water. And water is how they give you the Mexican shitstorm. But let’s face it, you’re getting that anyway. Christ, it’s booze, people. Booze is for drinking. Just put it in your freaking chimichanga-hole. Slowly.
2. Sip it with Sangrita
It’s a mystery to me why sangrita isn’t more widespread in this country. This sweet, tart, spicy tomato-based concoction is Mexico's answer to bloody mary mix and you can get a shot of it alongside your neat tequila at just about any bar in Mexico. Again, we’re sipping here, not shooting. Bouncing back and forth between a fine, grassy plata and a bright fiery sangrita is like taking your tastebuds on a rollercoaster. A rollercoaster that gets you drunk. (Note to self: call patent lawyer, drunk rollercoaster could revolutionize theme parks.) If you don’t plan on being in Mexico soon and want to get in on the action at home, it’s pretty simple to make. Everyone has their own recipe, but the primary ingredients are generally tomato juice, fresh orange juice (about half as much as you have tomato juice), fresh lime juice (about as much as you have orange juice), salt and pepper, and hot sauce or powdered chiles to taste. Some people like fresh jalapeño. Some like pomegranate juice. Some like Worcestershire sauce. There’s no wrong way to make sangrita. Unless you count making it with Mexican shitstorm water. That would be a wrong way to make it.
3. Mexico! Fuck yeah!
Finally, if you’re trying to suck up to your native hosts when traveling in the big M, there’s a handy and tasty way to do it. The Bandera is named for the Mexican flag and consists of three ingredients, one green, one white, one red, each served separately in tall shot glasses. Lime juice represents the green, tequila’s the white and sangrita’s the red. The exceptionally alert among you may realize that this is tequila and sangrita with a side of lime juice. Shhhhhhh! Don’t tell the Mexicans! As far as proper drinking order goes, there isn’t one. Sip some tequila, then a little lime juice. Or go tequila, sangrita, lime. You are the master of your own destiny. At least until you get around the corner and a gang of 12-year-olds sticks you up with a machete. Say hi to Pablo for me. Punk owes me $20.
Follow Dan Dunn on Twitter @TheImbiber.
Dia De La Mercado Cocktail Recipe
If you simply can’t abide the notion of pouring straight tequila down your gullet, I managed to procure the recipe for a delightful tequila cocktail dreamed up by Olmeca Altos’ brand ambassador Daniel Warrilow.
Pineapple chunks grilled and cut into cubes
2 ounces Blanco Altos tequila infused with jalapeño peppers (4 peppers left in the bottle for 45 minutes to an hour, tops)
1/2 ounce agave nectar
1 ounce fresh lime juice
Pineapple leaf garnish
Gently muddle the pineapple in a shaker.
Fill with ice. Add tequila, agave nectar and lime juice. Shake vigorously.
Strain into a rocks-filled glass and garnish.
You’ll notice this recipe calls for jalapeño-infused tequila. If you don’t happen to have that around and can’t be bothered to make it (you heathen), you can muddle a few slices of jalapeño along with the grilled pineapple. If you can’t be bothered to grill the pineapple, then there really isn’t any hope for you.
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