Tucked into Mexico’s western state of Jalisco, is the Tequila valley, where horseback rides through rows of agave and leisure strolls through cobblestone streets denote the town of Tequila. Here, contrived connotations of salt, lime, and really bad hangovers are replaced by the local way of sipping the spirit–neat, at a tequileria. As the contagious culture and community behind Mexico’s Denomination of Origin (DOO) spirit, the town of Tequila beholds more than just the product so aptly named after it.
For years, other DOO regions such as Champagne, Cognac and Sherry enticed travelers to experience the communities and culture, land and locals behind their product. And with the rise in popularity of tequila over the past ten years, it seems that it’s now Tequila’s turn to share the spotlight with visitors–showcasing a volcanic valley and colorful, whilst simultaneously colonial, downtown.
As a relative newcomer to both Tequila and the tequila industry–with some brands dating back 100 years–Founder and CEO of Tres Agaves, Barry Augus, recognized his position as one which he could share with travelers coming to this sleepy, Mexican town. He, therefore, began his own campaign, “the Spirit of Jalisco,” as both a way to share the energy and livelihood of Jalisco’s tequila epicenter, along with the alcoholic spirit as the product originating from this town.
We sat down with Barry Augus to discuss his #TequilaMadeInTequila initiative and discovered the charm of Tequila as a culture. In fact, these may just be the five reasons you need to bump this authentically Mexican town up to your next must-visit destination.
It’s a real place
“For many people, when I mention I’m going to Tequila, or that there’s a place named Tequila, there’s this initial reaction, ‘there’s a place named Tequila?’ or ‘I had this terrible experience in high school…” begins Augus. About an hour drive to the northwest of the Jalisco region’s capital of Guadalajara lies the town of Tequila. Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the town itself transports you back in time, while the surrounding fields of blue weber agave reflect the evolution of the tequila industry; with distilleries modernizing to accommodate the ever-growing industry’s demand.
“Within two or three cobblestone street blocks, there’s two companies, that, combined, ship over 10 million cases of tequila a year,” says Barry Augus, on the growth he’s witnessed in the past 20 years of visiting the area with Tres Agaves. “You can see the scale of that and the influence of it on the town—it just reverberates everywhere.”
It’s technically the Tequila Valley
Not only is Tequila a real place, but it is a whole valley. Augus explains that similar to Napa Valley, there are various growing regions throughout the Tequila Valley, which include Tequila, Amatitan, and Arenal. Of these primary regions, Amatitan is where tequila was first produced, and thus the perfect location for Augus and Tres Agaves’ new proprietary distillery, set to open this summer.
“We’re sitting in a beautiful dining room of a four star hotel, but this hotel didn’t exist two years ago,” Augus says on the rapid growth reverberating throughout the valley. As we gaze around the restaurant at Hotel Solar de las Animas, off the main square of Tequila, Augus further explains that the valley used to simply be a day trip for visitors staying in Guadalajara, but now Tequila is a destination in itself. There’s more to do in each region, so a trip will have you exploring agave fields by horseback in Amatitan, practicing your hand as a jimador in the fields of Arenal, and drinking in Tequila’s local dive bar, La Capilla, infamous for its 95 years of mixing up Mexican Coca Cola with the tequila of the day.
Not only does Tequila produce tequila…
The Valley is carved into the foothills of the dormant Tequila Volcano, where the agave plant thrives in the volcanic soil. Its shallow succulent roots adapt to the dry climate with fibers stronger than hemp and a pina fruit that seals itself during the day, then grows throughout the evening. The rare phenomenon of this CAM lifecycle and the effective probiotic that is derived from it, make the agave plant critical to the Tequila Valley’s spirit industry, and individuality.
“The more botanists learn about the agave plant, the more we’re fascinated by it,” beams Augus. “There’s also an effective probiotic–inulin–derived from it. The human body loves the sugars of the agave plant—it seems to process them really cleanly.”
There are no shortage of horses
While there are many prevalent animals in Mexican culture, such as the eagle and serpent, represented on its flag; and the national animal as the hairless dog (Xoloitzcuintli), the horse’s presence in Tequila is somewhat of an unofficial animal representing the state of Jalisco. A stroll through the agave fields confirms this as the caballeros lead their horses around the thousands of hectares of agave for leisure, as often as they do for work. “There’s a really rich history here with horses,” says Augus with a smile. “Even the most successful people in the tequila business, almost without exception, all collect horses.”
In fact, after a ride of my own, I learn that the prominent sombrero of Mexico was popularized by caballeros not just as a wide-brimmed alternative to sun protection, but also as a fancy helmet, since the durability around the head protects riders from accidental falls.
Naming the spirit was more complicated than it appears
The town of Tequila dates back to 1530, but the spirit itself went through quite the evolution of nomenclature before settling on ‘tequila.’ Originally, locals of Mexico referred to the alcohol derived from agave as ‘vino de mezcal.’ “Mezcal was the original, historic name for agave plants,” explains Augus. “When the Spaniards came in the mid-1600s, they had picked up the word magay, and this became the substitute word for mezcal. Ultimately, the plant was given the official name agave, which derives from greek, and means noble.”
The nobility ties into the sentiment of local pride in their agave, which led to the addition of “de tequila” to the existing label “vino de mezcal” to ensure the rest of Mexico would know that this mezcal wine was coming from the region of Tequila. Throughout the years, vino de mezcal de tequila was shortened to, simply, tequila. “Given that this was the birthplace of the soul experience of tequila, the people here had a lot of influence in terms of that evolution of nomenclature, and so the spirit took on the personification of this place,” concludes Augus.