What else but cultivated Agave should greet you, the sleep deprived traveller, that makes her or his way to Tequilas spiritual home in Guadalajara? I’ve heard it’s grown everywhere here. From the fields in the countryside to the grassy traffic islands just outside the airport, an Agave shortage fifteen or so years ago means Mexicans are not going to make the same mistake twice. Teamed with a worthy counterpart, Luke Redington from Eau De Vie Sydney, we were ready to hit the town. Right after a ten-hour nap that is.
When you first arrive in a new country, even with only a few hours sleep, your senses are galvanised. Every billboard is read, mariachi songs in other people cars are overheard, every scent is inhaled and categorised. In Texas, it’s ‘fried food’; in Guadalajara it’s more of a ‘freshly grilled’. It’s more, much more, enticing. I’m here to eattheshitoutof any food I can get my hands on. It goes without saying; food lies entrenched in a Mexicans soul.
But I’m not necessarily here for the food, or the mariachi bands, or even the cheap ponchos and Luca Libre masks. I’m here for the Tequila. A spirit that to be honest with you, I don’t really get. I mean, I guess I like it. I drink a lot of it. But I just don’t understand the complete fascination bartenders have for it. I’m a Scotch guy. I don’t think there’s a spirit in the world that has as much flavour diversity. From the bacon-scented bad boys from Islay, to the neutral blends of J&B. I love them all. I drink them mostly, I’ve been to their distilleries, and I have them in my optic pourer in my living room. (Oban 14 and Johnnie Gold currently). I guess I am kind of bias to a certain extent. I’ve grown in hospitality around Scotch lovers. I was passionate about Scotch. Passionate not so much, about Tequila. Over the course of a week I was going to attempt to inherit this passion. With the help of some friends that make the biggest brand in tequila, Jose Cuervo, the people that make my most beloved brand, Don Julio and some friends that make one of the best up and coming brands, Calle 23.
Jalisco is the state, in which Guadalajara is the capital. Tequila is the town, an hour out of Guadalajara, where the majority of the action happens. An exact number of distilleries I’m unsure of. Conflicting figures from different sources means I estimate it at about 20-27 distilleries within this tiny village. These distilleries, combined with the ones in the highlands, and the other four states in Mexico legally allowed to make Tequila produce in total a staggering 1600 or so Tequilas. And it’s growing by the day. Tequila is a big, big deal.
But before I hit tequila town I had some “research” to do. Four days in Guadalajara to get to know the people, the bars, the culture and, unfortunately for me, the toilets. At least the spice here is keeping me regular. Our guide is Stefano Francavilla, A Milanese expat who has been eating, breathing, living and making Tequila for five years now. He’s an ex London bartender who came to Mexico for travel, fell in love with the country and a local girl, and is now proud to call it home. He is one half of the operation that founded the Calle 23 brand, along with the lovely, French-born, Sophie Decobecq. Like most northern Italians he’s covered in tattoos and full of cynicism. On meeting him, It takes roughly 4-5 minutes before he insults me. My type of guy.
He shows us to a local cantina that seems to predominantly cater for middle-age locals. We order a round of cervezas accompanied, of course, with Tequila. The 70ml servings of Tapatio blanco wash down trays of tacos we didn’t order. In his restaurant you don’t order food. They just bring it to you. When you are full, you tell them to stop bringing you food. But the food is quite hard to say no to. Eating food you didn’t order, in a country where you don’t speak the language means its quite a lucky dip with what you are eating. I’m surprised to find out I’m actually enjoying tripe for the first time. Albeit in the form of the filling encased in a crispy shell, covered in hot sauce. Tripe has always been the holy grail of me in terms of eating. Give me liver, kidneys, brain, testicles and hearts any day. Just don’t give me the stomach lining of a cow. Maybe next time it’s on a menu I’ll order it, and ask the chef to bust out the Old el Taco kit. A third of a bottle of tequila later, and three or four beers later, (shit, who’s counting?) we pay he bill and agree to a siesta to calibrate, then to meet again that evening for dinner and drinks. And no doubt more Tequila.
This day set the precedent for the following three. Wake up, wander around local markets, eat, get a beer, siesta, meet with friends, eat, drink tequila, eat again, and sleep. This routine was broken with a night at the Luca Libre, otherwise known as Mexican Wrestling. Great times were had, maybe on my behalf a little too enthusiastically. Apparently I’m the first person Stefano has seen kicked out of Luca Libre. Whatever. It was onwards to Wednesday and our date with Mark and a tour of the home of the third biggest brand in booze, Jose Cuervo.
To be continued..