From field to shaker, Jose Cuervo immerses visitors in the beloved Mexican spirit.
BY KELLY MAGYARICS
WINE & SPIRITS
If your only experience drinking tequila in Mexico has been sipping a margarita while waistdeep at your Cancún resort’s swim-up bar, you’re not giving the spirit its fair shake. Make a pilgrimage to its natural habitat, and you are guaranteed to view it as more than the makings of a salt- and lime-accompanied shot. Mundo Cuervo — the hospitality arm of Jose Cuervo — can take you there and school you in the spirit. Tequila is produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco, home to its namesake town. To start your agave adventure, fly into Guadalajara and check in for the night at Casa Habita, whose fun rooftop pool and lounge area serves botanical tequila and mezcal cocktails. Nearby, Hueso restaurant, helmed by Chef Alfonso Cadena, occupies a 1940s refurbished building whose stark white walls boast 10,000 whitewashed animal bones and plant remnants. The tequila-drenched fun really starts when you board the Jose Cuervo Express, a two-hour train ride that makes the 40-mile trip to Tequila while passing through fields studded with rows of agave plants and their spiky, green-gray, succulent leaves. (Agave is closely related to the lily and amaryllis, not the cactus.) Depending on the offer, your train car might have its own bar, live music or lounge-style seating; Premium Plus is the best bet for most guests, as it includes a comfy seat, drinks, snacks, a tour of the agave fields and a distillery tour. A mariachi band greets the train at Tequila Station, where local vendors sell brimmed hats — buy one, as the sun is intense. During the In the Fields Experience, watch a jimador slice through the leaves of a fully grown agave to reach the piña, the heart of the plant whose juice is fermented and distilled into tequila. Through sustainability efforts like The Agave Project, Jose Cuervo continuously finds uses for the fibers left over after tequila production, from drinking straws to compost. A more recent initiative, The Agave House, hopes to be a prototype for sustainable, affordable housing in the area. Built with dirt/clay bricks, bagasse fibers, wood and recycled bottles, it incorporates eco-friendly practices like rainwater harvesting and solar heating. A short bus ride from the fields takes you to La Rojeña Distillery, Jose Cuervo’s flagship location and the oldest active distillery in Latin America. During the guided walk-through tour, you’ll see how piñas are cooked in brick ovens to release the sugars before the juice is fermented and distilled in copper pots. Afterward, thirsty guests can taste three expressions and may even sample a piece of cooked agave, whose earthy sweetness hints at the finished spirit. Diamond and Elite ticket holders taste the brand’s higher-end Reserva de la Familia tequilas and get a peek inside the private cellar. Previously an inner sanctum reserved for family members, now it’s the place where the precious liquid dating back decades or longer rests inside stacked barrels and dust-covered glass carboys. After the distillery, explore the shops and bars in the cute town, including taking a requisite photo by the colorful “Tequila” sign in the square and finding that perfect souvenir. If you arrive via train, you’ll return to Guadalajara by motor coach. However, if you’ve made the trip by car, consider staying a night or two at Hotel Solar de las Ánimas, a 93-room Cuervo-owned boutique property featuring 17th- and 18th-century Mexican architecture based on a Creole colonial house. Sip a tequila tipple in the gorgeous courtyard pool with Mexican tile backdrop or amid the marbled columns and gilded bar of La Antigua Casona restaurant. For the ultimate view, grab a creative take on the margarita at the rooftop Sky Bar, which overlooks the 10,000-foot-high Volcán de Tequila in the distance, sink into a lounge chair and soak in this uniquely spirited sojourn.