You call it what you want, but Mexico's national drink, Tequila, is a time-honored method of traditional distillery that predates the Spanish inquisition and full of national pride and tradition. Discover the Tequila Express Adventure...

By Logan Hawkes

Guadalajara, Mexico -- There are some that call Tequila the Devil's brew. Others, including yours truly, consider the busty, high-octane liquor the product of pure art and time-honored tradition.

Certainly the powerful brew has been abused and misunderstood down through the years. Spring breakers filtering into border towns don't order the drink because of the flavor, preferring instead it's potent impact on the human senses -- including common senses. Alas, how wrong to associate the fine Mexican drink with such a sordid reputation. Calling a lover of fine Tequila a person aspiring to drunkenness is like calling a true cigar aficionado a cigarette smoker.

It may surprise you in fact to discover that real Tequila aficionados prefer their Tequila warm, without salt, and rarely mixed into a cocktail - like a margarita. It is the aged and natural flavors of the drink that make it popular among Tequila lovers. Like a fine red wine, it should never be consumed quickly or in amounts that cause total and blatant inebriation.

Perhaps understanding the historical and traditional significance of Tequila in Mexico will help you grasp its importance as a national drink.

Tequila and mezcal, while related, are very different drinks. While mezcal traditionally is produced in Oaxaca, Tequila is mostly distilled in Jalisco state, near Guadalajara. Tequila is made exclusively from the blue agave plant. Contrary to popular belief, the plant is considered a succulent and not part of the cacti family.

Mezcal is made from one of five or more different agave plants. Some connoisseurs prefer the more earthy flavor of mezcal, and great efforts in recent years have helped the cruder version become more popular among Tequila drinkers. Tequila, on the other hand, is double distilled, sometimes distilled three times, which, in my opinion, removes too much natural flavor.

Tequila is made not from the agave "leaves" or "pedals" as commonly believed, but from the pinapple-shaped root. This sweet, pulpy part of the plant is smoked over a charcoal oven (in olden times) and provides the basic flavor to the raw tequila. Indigenous tribes were the first to brew a drink from this root, but leave it to the Spanish to add the popular fermentation process. Once considered a wine or brandy, Tequila has developed into a much stronger drink, and an icon of national pride.

The turbulent history of Mexico is paralleled in the stories of tequila and mezcal. One cannot fully appreciate Mexico without some understanding of tequila's place in its history and culture. In the words of Mexican poet Alvaro Mutis:

 Tequila has no history; there are no anecdotes confirming its birth.
This is how its been since the beginning of time, for tequila is a gift from the gods and they donít tend to offer fables when bestowing favors.
That is the job of mortals, the children of panic and tradition.

You will find three distinct types of Tequila at your local Mexican liquor store, a blanco tequila, a resposado, and the woody flavored añejo. Taste is the ultimate deciding factor. Some people prefer the rougher edge of the young blanco tequilas with their more distinct agave flavor. Others like the sharper, almost peppery flavor of a reposado. And some may prefer the smooth, woody aroma in an añejo. Try them first at a local bar, then decide which to buy.

Want to know more about Tequila? Take the Tequila Express!
If you're into Tequila or Mexican history and culture, you'll find a neat little rail excursion to be of great interest and adventure. The Tequila Express Train leaves from the privately owned Ferrocarril Mexicano station in Guadalajara, the second-largest city after Mexico City, every Saturday.

Boarding the "Tequila Express," you'll ride cross-country to the village of Amatitán, closely associated with the production of tequila. One of Mexico's great tequila haciendas is located here. San José del Refugio is the home of Herradura tequila, one of the highest quality tequilas produced in Mexico. The hacienda is the only tequila distillery where the entire production process, right down the bottling, is completed in one location.

But the party starts even before you leave the rail station. Mariachis entertain until time to board the colored cars, (colored to differentiate between first class and coach sections). Once onboard, samples of tequila and Corona beer are offered up to more Mariachi music, then an array of fruits and dishes are paraded around the train consisting of cucumber and watermelon, sprinkled with paprika.

Arriving in Amatitán, you are immediately whisked away in buses to the Herradura distillery and a tour you won't soon forget.

You can opt to leave the train and tour other nearby distilleries, including Jose Cuervo and Sauza, or to visit the town that gave the drink its name: Tequila, Mexico. In each you will be serenaded, encouraged to sing and dance and, of course, to taste the local tequila. Just remember the common sense thing mentioned earlier and you'll find your trip will be enjoyable and memorable.

If you would like more in-depth information about Tequila, there is a wonderful Web site we would recommend. Visit the In Search of the Blue Agave Web site.