Ancient Aztecs measured getting hammered in units of rabbits, as in: “I’m not speaking to my husband. He stumbled in last night at least 150 rabbits.” When they discovered that sap from the agave naturally fermented into a creamy drink with about the same alcohol content as beer, the mythology of the 400 Rabbits was born. The story goes that a drunken one night stand between the goddess of agave and the god of pulque produced 400 Rabbit offspring; the gods of booze. They drank pulque at their mother’s breasts and have been getting plastered ever since. They represent the 400 effects of alcohol on humans. 400 was as high as Aztecs counted. The 400 Rabbits continue to gather in fellowship to get blotto as THE most partying, in-the-bag, basted bunch of schnockered supernaturals in the highest half-blitzed heavens.
The 400 Rabbits date to when agave sap produced a drink of up to 6% ABV. How many rabbits might have appeared had mezcal and tequila been discovered in ancient times (avg. 40% ABV).
We aspired to be schooled in all things tequila, so we climbed aboard the Tequila Tour out of Puerto Vallarta. It is four hours across the Jalisco Highlands on roads snaking through multiple climate zones, from green rainforests to volcanic plains where the serrated-edge blue Agave tequilana flourishes. To avoid having to sing 99 Bottles of Añejo On The Wall all the way to Tequila, we recommend traveling with sparkling and amusing conversationalists as we did. Or load a movie on your tablet. The Three Amigos will take you nearly halfway there.
When your expert and entertaining guide points out that the roadside farm fields displaying fruits, vegetables and sugar cane have been replaced by an endless blue carpet of agave, you have arrived in tequila country.
It is here that the farm worker called a jimador slices off the pointy parts of the agave with a sharp blade at the end of a long pole.
The end result is an agave heart called a piña because it resembles a supersized pineapple with a weight of 80 to 300 pounds. They are trucked to multitudes of distilleries big and small producing more than 1300 brands of tequila.
Mexican law says the entirety of tequila in all the world can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and adjacent bits of its four bordering states; an area about the size of Tennessee.
Our host is La Cofradia, a family-owned distillery encircled by artful landscaping and gracious architecture not unlike estates in Napa wine country. It has grown to become the 7th largest exporter of tequila. Its logo of stones is hard to miss on the side of a mountain rising above Tequila.
La Cofradia has an underground grotto bar and restaurant called La Taberna.
Visitors can stay at appealing guest cottages surrounded by agave fields and mountain vistas. New cottages are fashioned to resemble tequila-aging barrels.
The harvested piñas are roasted in large industrial ovens. This converts the starches to sugars and the shredded piñas are fermented and distilled. The giant distillers use pressure-chamber ovens called autoclaves. Smaller artisan tequila-makers like La Cofradia stick with old-school brick ovens.
After the piña is roasted, the inner heart is exposed to reveal the sweet core, which has a taste not unlike sugar-cane.
When you order a tequila your bartender will expect you to call it by the surname that describes how old it is. Silver (or Blanco) is the youngest tequila, bottled right after it is distilled. Reposado (rested) is aged for at least two months and less than a year. Añejo is aged for a year at least but less than three. Extra Añejo is aged three or more years. Some call their oldest and best an Ultra. Or some other made-up classification like Most Venerable, or Snooty McSnootface.
The roasting of the agave makes the work inside the La Cofradia processing area as hot as…well…an oven. But the aromatic combination of the cooked piñas combined with the bubbly fermentation in the vats produces a pleasant sweet fragrance.
The newest and strongest tequila is served by La Cofradia to visitors fresh from the still. The 115 proof white lightning will be diluted in the finished tequila.
If you desired your own brand of tequila, you would just connect with La Cofradia and pay them to make it. Just like George Clooney did at another high-end Jalisco distillery.
And distilleries have commissioned armies of Mexican fine artists to design exquisitely crafted bottles of glass and ceramic to showcase their best products. La Cofradia potters shape and fire them on the estate. Their art is displayed for sale all around you as you sample La Cofradia’s best tequilas.
Artisan agave growers and distillers have lifted the reputation of tequila from college salt-and-lime-licking-level to a status previously reserved for the most celebrated scotches, cognacs and wines. Many tequilas are complex and nuanced with deep layered aromas and a pleasant mouth-feel.
The Tequila Regulatory Council (which I need to have printed on a T-shirt!) allows tequila to be aged in oak. That gives makers wide latitude for choosing barrels that produce difference characteristics. Most use American white oak whiskey barrels made from oak trees grown in the USA. A lot of tequila is aged in Jack Daniels and Jim Beam barrels. Other tequila producers age their añejos in barrels of French oak in which brandies, cognacs and wines have rested for years.
But fans of non-aged silvers and blancos are loyal and legion. This is tequila that delivers the authentic flavor of the agave. In Mexico, most tequila is taken neat, without ice, salt, lime or any sort of mixer.
To guarantee a tequila is 100% unadulterated agave, Mexico requires all pure agave tequila bottles to display a NOM number on the label. It is an acronym for Norma Oficial Mexicana, the official Mexican standard regulating distilleries. If you go to web sites like Tequila.net and enter the bottle number in the NOM database, it will display the name of the distillery and the location where the tequila was made. Cool.
Consumer tip: Distilleries often produce tequila for many brands. If you like an excellent but expensive tequila, enter its NOM identity and find other more affordable tequilas with the same number. They are produced by the same distillery and will be similar in the way they are made.
From where they MAKE tequila, our tour moved to where they DRINK tequila. The oldest bar in Tequila: La Capilla (The Chapel).
This is the domain of Don Javier Delgado Corona, the august and revered proprietor who has served generations of tequila industry workers and townsfolk.
He invented the widely known tequila cocktail The Batanga (a liberal dose of locally distilled blanco, lime juice, Coca Cola in a salt-rimmed glass). Don Javier is a frail 94 but still appears as health permits to greet visitors.
Tequila lovers from around the world make a pilgrimage to La Capilla as the honest-to-gosh quintessential real-deal tequila cantina.
In Mexico there is no better destination to party with the 400 Rabbits than in the town of Tequila in the State of Jalisco, where most tequilas are born. Two Rabbit is king of the drunken rabbits, and to this day drinkers of the original agave alcoholic beverage called pulque still pour a few drops on the bar floor as a gift to Two Rabbit. Like throwing salt over your shoulder. And in Mexico everything should be taken with a grain of salt, a wedge of lime, and a shot of tequila.
To tour Tequila on your Vallarta vacation, contact Amstar dmc. This tour takes about 10 hours and departs from various hotels in Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit. Transportation and a knowledgeable guide are included in the tour cost. Because this tour is seasonal and only operates on certain days of the week, we advise booking this tour before your arrival in Vallarta.