How good does this look? Exhibiting perfect form, Sweeney samples tequila while in Mazatlan.
By Mr. TWS — It’s really a rare thing to see since Sweeney’s preferred beverage is wine. However, when in Rome… The occasion was a tour and sampling at the Los Osuna distillery in the Mexican state of Sinaloa near Mazatlan. I like the amusement on the face of the onlooker on the left.
Although tequila certainly comes to mind when I think of Mexico, I would probably not have sought out a tour. Fortunately, it was included it as part of a day of inland activities and cultural exploration planned for us by Mazatlan Tourism Trust. Arriving by bus after zip-lining at nearby Huana Coa Canopy Adventure my first impression was of the beauty of the grounds combining tropical and desert vegetation and brightly painted buildings.
The tour was brief but fun and informative. It turns out that there’s a lot about tequila I didn’t know. For example, I thought it ws made from cactus, but the source is typically blue agave shown in the picture below. They are cultivated from 5 to 10 years and determining harvest readiness is an art. Harvesting too soon or too late renders the agave useless for tequila. The window of readiness is only about a month, so each plant is checked monthly. The blue agave requires regular trimming and the small plants that grow from each plant need to be removed (often replanted elsewhere).
From the large central stem of the plant is harvest the core called a pineapple (piña) pictured below. Harvesting involves a careful, skilled manual process of extracting the piñas from the rest of the stem and the removing the leaves.
The pinas are baked in an oven, then smashed to extract the liquid and the liquid is fermented then distilled. There are several steps in the process that include reducing the alcohol from 70% to 40% and aging much the way many spirits are aged in oak barrels. Most of the processing is done with modern machinery but some of the older methods were on display.
The final step, of course, is bottling.
There are a number of varying techniques and we were provided much more detail on the tour. But let’s get down to what was really the most fun – sampling the tequila. The salt, the limes, the tall thin shape of the glasses. There’s a fun ritual around tequila shots, but I’d approached this with a plan. I’d be the photographer and chronicler while encouraging Sweeney to roll with it. I’ve had some experience with tequila (prompting my habitual correction of people’s pronunciation: “I believe that’s pronounced ‘ta-kill-ya’”). My plan was to have one polite taste and then report on the activities of Sweeney and the rest of our group, including our zip-lining adventure companions, Marivic and Margaret of All About Mexico. But that one shot sure tasted good! Sweeney’s reaction was the same. We all noted that there were many subtle flavors, which was surprising based on my recollection of my last tequila shot years before. So we decided to have another shot to identify the flavors. Everyone started making guesses about what they detected — similar to playing wine connoisseur at a wine tasting.
Another shot? I thought: “Why not? It’s only 80 proof!” The bartender was amazingly adept reaching across the bar, filling the narrow glasses from a height of at least 10 inches above the glass from a bottle with no spout — and never spilling a drop. Every time we set the glass down he filled it up.
The guide had informed us that the record was 26 shots (in an hour or so). Astonishingly, he said the guy walked out on his own and fell asleep on the bus but never got rowdy or sloppy. Someone (I think it was Sweeney) suggested going for the record. But after 5 shots we realized that the rest of our group had headed back to the bus, so we follwed. I’m sure the record would have been safe anyway. There was no dancing on the bar, but another 5 shots — who knows? Although we were certainly feeling happy, I think the claims of the Los Osuna team and our guide seemed to ring true — that symptoms are muted due to the purity of this 100% blue agave tequila. The mid-day celebration had no impact on the rest of our day or night.
So when is tequila not tequila?
The Los Osuna team is very proud of their 130 year tradition and also their award winning products. They have primarily 3 grades of tequila: blanco (non-aged), anejo (the grade that we sampled is aged at least a year) and maduro (aged at least 3 years). So why can’t you find the word “tequila” on the Los Osuna labels? Isn’t it tequila? Tequila is highly regulated in Mexico and only spirits made from the blue agave from the Mexican state of Jalisco and near the town of Tequila where the blue agave originates can bear the name “tequila”.
Have you ever visited a tequila distillery? Have any tequila stories you’d like to share?
Disclosure: We were guests of the Mazatlan Tourism Trust, but the perspectives and opinions in this article are totally our own — as always!