Tequila Mexico – a World Heritage Site, Not Just a World Renowned Liquor

Magic Carpet Journals invites you to come with Lenora Hayman to visit the World Heritage Site Tequila and learn how the liquor is produced there.

Story and Photos Courtesy of our friend and fellow traveller, Lenora A. Hayman
Tequila Town Square or Plaza and Cupola or Music Stand
Tequila Town Square or Plaza and Cupola or Music Stand

In 2006, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated three Mexican towns: Tequila, Arenal and Amatitan, the Teuchitlan archeological sites and neighboring Haciendas to be World Heritage Sites. Fortunately I found a day tour to the town of Tequila just 62 kms out of Guadalajara. The town and its main produce share the name of Tequila.

La Fonda Cholula Restaurant, Tequila, Mexico
La Fonda Cholula Restaurant, Tequila, Mexico

On arrival we stopped for lunch at La Fonda Cholula restaurant. Tiled murals decorated the walls and wrought iron lights shone on the pretty yellow checkered table cloths as we dined on chicken pipil marinated in orange juice.

On exiting the restaurant I noticed that there were no people around the bandstand and cathedral in the town plaza of Tequila. Diana Chalitan Rodriguez explained that most of the adults of the town are part of the workforce of 38,000 people, who all work in the production of tequila, including the farmers and labourers from the nearby areas and those working in the distilleries.

Jose Cuervo Distillery in Tequila, Mexico
Jose Cuervo Distillery in Tequila, Mexico

The Jose Cuervo Distillery is across the street from the La Fonda Cholula Restaurant in Tequila. This tour was called Mundo Cuervo (Cuervo World). Cuervo means raven consequently replicas of crows decorate the entrance of the distillery. As a writer who specializes in food and wine, I personally wished to learn first hand about the production of Tequila, Mexico’s distinguished drink and therefore came on this tour.

Raven's of Jose Cuervo Distillery, Tequila Mexico
Raven’s of Jose Cuervo Distillery, Tequila Mexico

Ms. Rodriguez also told me that only alcohol from the Tequilana Weber Agave, Blue Variety, a succulent, related to the lily (it’s not a cactus) and originating from the valleys of Amatitan, Arenal and Tequila can be called tequila. Tequila must meet the standards of the Tequila Regulatory Council (estab.1994) and thus qualify for ‘the application of origin’ stamp protected nationally in 1974 and internationally since 1978. The ‘T’ award programme focuses on restaurants, bars, hotels and alcohol retailers to educate and protect the public from counterfeit tequila.

Cutting the agave pineapples in Tequila, Mexico
Cutting the agave pineapples in Tequila, Mexico

Blue-leaved agave plants stretched for miles up to the mountains. It takes 7 years (5-6 years with irrigation) to grow each 200 lb blue agave pineapple (pinas). The flower stalk is removed because it consumes the nutrients that produce seeds. The jimador or harvester uses a tool called a coa to reap and split the pineapples before being cooked in steam rooms, (formerly brick ovens in the ground) to convert the carbohydrates into simple sugars, for fermentation. Freshly baked pineapples taste like cooked yam.

A mechanical crusher shredded and separated the waste from the pineapples flesh. Pressurized water is sprayed onto the agave which is squeezed to remove the juice called mosto.

 The juice can be fermented two ways into either100% tequila which is created only from agave sugars and goes straight to the next stage of fermentation or tequila can be formulated with 51% agave sugars and mixed with sugar, brown sugar, glucose, fructose and molasses. This type of tequila is passed into huge stainless steel vats where fermentation takes about 24 hours. At this point the liquid is only 8-10% alcohol.

Sorting agave pineapples in Tequila, Mexico
Sorting agave pineapples in Tequila, Mexico

All tequila is distilled twice in either copper or stainless steel stills (alambiques) or in distillation towers. 20% alcohol results from the first distillation which takes 1½ to 2 hours and the second distillation after 3-4 hours yields 55% alcohol. Tequila is filtered through activated carbon or cellulose filters and demineralized water is added to reduce the proof to 80%.

Copper distillers or alambiques distill tequila in Jose Cuervo distillery
Copper distillers or alambiques distill tequila in Jose Cuervo distillery

Blanco or Silver tequila is bottled from the stainless steel tanks. However, Alejandro Mercado Guzman told me that the Reposado and Anejo tequilas were stored in French white oak and American red and white oak barrels, some burned and some toasted to give different characteristics from chocolate and almond to hints of smoke.

Mundo Cuervo Plaza, Tequila, Mexico
Mundo Cuervo Plaza, Tequila, Mexico

Alejandro took us downstairs to the darkly lit cave for a ritual tasting of the highly prized Reserva de la Familia tequila. Using Riedel crystal tequila glasses we swirled and looked for oil on the glass. After sniffing in the centre, I followed Alejandro’s directions and put the tip of my nose on the opposite rim and inhaled with my mouth open. I then sipped and tasted in my mouth before swallowing. A second inhalation completed the ritual tasting. Now that’s heaven in a glass!

We concluded our tour by visiting the distillery’s amphitheatre where their two house mariachi bands and ballet folklorico perform. The artist Carlos Terres has graced the courtyard with lovely sculptures of animals and people involved in the tequila production.

Statues of harvesters by artist Carlos Terres in Jose Cuervo distillery, Tequila, Mexico
Statues of harvesters by artist Carlos Terres in Jose Cuervo distillery, Tequila, Mexico

Story and Photos by Lenora A. Hayman

Last Updated February 25, 2021 by Matthew George – Webmaster


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