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Sara Baldwin Designs Blog

Capitals, Columns, and Cuervo, Parte Dos

Or, Gourmet Tequila, the second best thing in Mexico after the Materials Marketing factory

Once upon a time, I was a Tequila Philistine. Then I met Dave (see “The Best Shower Accessory: a Tan, Naked Man”). Amongst other things, he taught me to Appreciate the Nectar of the Aztec Gods and How to Make a Proper Margarita. (Hint: it does not involve Margarita mix–see recipe below.) For these skills and more I am eternally grateful.

Hence I was thrilled to learn that the town of Tequila, Mexico is an hour’s journey from Guadalajara where my son Michael is studying Spanish for a few weeks. I combined business with pleasure by visiting him on my way to Mexico City to meet the aforementioned Tim Roberts of Materials Marketing (see below).

Now doesn’t a trip to a Tequila factory in Tequila sound like a great mother/college-age-son bonding experience? I highly recommend it (seriously!).

So off we went.

Dotted with an occasional cow, miles of blue agave plants (from which Tequila is made) decorate the vibrant landscapes that surround the dusty town of Tequila. Once we were unceremoniously dropped in the town center, it wasn’t very difficult to locate the José Cuervo factory– the largest Tequila producer in the world. Capitalizing on their success, they offer a fairly new, highly recommended, and curiously but memorably named tourist attraction –“Mundo Cuervo” or…Crow World.

Yes, “cuervo” means “crow” in English. Ready to have my Tequila-snob not-flattering preconceptions about Cuervo turned on their heads, we patted an enormous bronze crow in the courtyard and signed up for the Reserva de la Familia factory tour which includes eventually being escorted into the family’s private reserve and sampling it.

If I had any doubts about the price of admission, they were quickly assuaged simply by viewing the gorgeous murals throughout the tour. This one illustrates the history of Tequila starting with the recipe’s deliverance from the Tequila goddess.

And then there’s this one….

and this one…

ummm… does this depiction of an agave plant remind you of anything? It’s like Catholicism, pornography, and Tequila all rolled up into one image, right? IMHO, great marketing, although you have to hope they weren’t taking themselves too seriously the day they approved the design. After the murals the factory tour began in earnest, complete with our very own friendly guide named Francisca. Here are some basic facts and highlights:

Tequila is distilled from the core of the blue agave plant, or “piña” that weighs from 90 to 200 pounds after the outside spears are removed. Francisca encouraged us to taste the raw agave–the texture and taste resembles jicama. Slightly sweet. Plants take from 8 to 10 years to mature, and most of the pollinating is done by bats(!).

Piñas awaiting processing

After being staged in the above courtyard, the piña hearts are loaded into a room-sized oven and steamed for 36 hours.

One of sixteen ovens

Cooked piñas

Once it is cooked, agave is mushier and even sweeter. The juice is then extracted and “honey water” is the result. Add some yeast, distill and filter it a few times, and voila, Tequila. (Interesting fact: when I asked our guide why a man seemed to be bathing in a vat of Tequila in one of the paintings above, she told us that before the invention of processed yeast, they used a person to begin the fermentation process, because the same micro-organisms live on our skin!). The best Tequila is made from 100% blue agave juice, identified clearly on the label, but many (cheaper) Tequilas only use the required 51%.

I forgot to mention the really attractive hair nets that we were forced to wear--possibly to deter photography (sorry Michael).

After sampling the honey water and new, clear (52% alcohol!) Tequila, the aging process was explained to us. Like wine, Tequila is usually placed in oak barrels to age for anywhere from two months to a hundred years. However, unlike wine, once a vintage is bottled, the aging process ceases and the Tequila is stable. Reposado Tequila (slightly amber in color) has been aged for two months to three years; anything older is called Añejo (more amber). We sampled both.

We were then ushered into a tasting room where our gracious guide instructed us in the fine art of Detecting Tequila Aroma.

Biggest take-away: try sniffing the area towards the far side of the glass. The alcohol smell will be much diminished and you will begin to identify bouquets like date, persimmon, caramel, etc. Tequila makers claim there are six hundred different scents.

Another similarity to wine is the attention paid to the “legs” of the Tequila. As Tequila ages, the legs become more pronounced, the Tequila less interested in returning to the bowl of the glass.

When prompted, we dutifully drank all three vintage samples served to us.

Relaxing in the tasting room, I mentally recapped…at this point in our tour, we had ingested six different tequila samples, some of which were at least a full ounce. I was starting to doubt the wisdom of including the “sample from the family’s private cellar” in our tour as we were then ushered down the stairs to the basement. On the other hand, the excruciating back pain I had been experiencing for days had disappeared.

Once below, our guide pointed out sealed crocks of Tequila that were over 100 years old, and barrels that visitors are occasionally invited to sign (apparently, Michael and I are not yet famous enough).

We were the only two guests in the dark, cool cellar this particular afternoon, and after we were properly forewarned about our upcoming religious experience, Francisca ladled a generous serving of Reserva de la Familia straight from a barrel into large snifters. Before the tour, I had put Jose Cuervo in the same category as “Tequila I drank in college and don’t care to remember” but after tasting several of Cuervo’s finest, I’ve had to revise my thinking.

The samples got pro gressively better and better, culminating in the Reserva sample. (Bottle of Reserva = $100). As finely tuned as a Maserati, it smelled of vanilla and oak, of figs and currants and smoke. Sorry to wax rhapsodic, but hey, we’d already had like six shots. And it was really good.

various modes of transport in Tequila

When we finally waved goodbye to Jose, the 10 year old company pet crow, I could swear he was humming the 1958 song “Tequila” by the Champs.

The Margarita


1 1/2 oz Tequila
1 oz Fresh lime juice
1/2 oz Cointreau
Coarse salt
Lime wedge (for garnish)


If desired, rim a rocks glass with salt (run the lime wedge along the edge, then dip the glass in a shallow bowl of salt). Fill the glass with cracked ice; combine the tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau. Stir.

Dave’s Margarita

3.5 oz. silver tequila, 1 oz Cointreau, ½ Lime crushed and squeezed.
Combine over ice & mottle.
Best served over sand.

3 Responses to “Capitals, Columns, and Cuervo, Parte Dos”

  1. Mosaic Geek says:

    Awesome post, thanks for the recap of your tour, Sara! I didn't know any of this about tequila – fascinating! Starting the fermentation with a person is wild – I'm pretty glad they don't do that anymore, ha. (Although I guess I wouldn't mind being the guy in the tequila bath…)

  2. Zoe says:

    Terrific photos, Sara!
    I took the tequila train tour from Guadalajara a few years ago and it was fabulous. We saw the Heradura factory, but it looks like the process is similar.
    Thanks for the cool post. Now off to go make a margarita!

  3. Sara Baldwin says:

    Thanks guys–Zoe, that's the iphone for you! We almost took that train, but in the end couldn't get started that early for some reason. Hat's off to both companies for creating memorable experiences for both of us!

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About Me

Sara BaldwinSara Baldwin

Exmore, Virginia, United States

New Ravenna Mosaics founder and Creative Director, Owner, Sara Baldwin Design, Bass guitar player, Envisioner, Appreciator of the Sublime and Ridiculous.


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