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A Journey into the Past (Part 1)

By Albert Hayashi

Walking around the small town of Tequila, Mexico, one finds a strong sense of the past and history.  Founded in 1530 by the conquistador Cristobal de Onate, the small town (pueblo) of Tequila rests below the base of a volcano amongst the blue agave landscape.   From these beautiful large blue green colored plants exploding out of the rich volcanic soil, Tequila and its relative Mezcal are made.  This is a story of my journey into the past where I discovered certain things in life are never meant to change.

After arriving in Guadalajara, I began my journey into the historic Mexican past.  I first noticed these famous “blue agave” plants at the Camino Real Hotel.  Spread throughout the central courtyard and grassy knoll were dozens of shining aluminum agave plants.  The reflection of the afternoon sun on each of these plants complemented the more tropical feel of the area.  After a quick breakfast, I boarded a van which would take me to Tequila nirvana.  Along with many others “gringos” I met along the trip, I did not realize there was a town called “Tequila” where this spirit was grown and made.  As we approached the Tequila regional area, I could see the color around me change into a soft blue green color.  I found myself in the middle of thousands of blue agave. Although often mistaken for being a cactus plant, the blue agave plant is actually a member of the lily family.  By Mexican law, Tequila can me only made from blue agave and be grown in specific designated geographical areas found in and around the Jalisco state in Mexico.

The agave, also known as muguey (“muh-gay”) grows for 8-10 years depending on the type of agave.  During these years, the plants are pruned carefully redirecting the rich juicy pulp into the central stalk area.  Using a sharp bladed machete, the jimadors shape the growing agave into an escobeta (little bear) or arbolito (little trees) shape.  Agave plants reproduce two ways: through vegetative propogation where buds develop into shoots that take a separate root or the agave plants develop a quiote (bud) that sprouts as a tall stem from the heart of the agave.  The appearance of the quiote is a sign that the agave plant has reached maturity.  If the plant is harvested too soon, the center of the agave plant will contain little sugar and sap, too late, too much.  When the agave are ready for harvesting, the jimadors will slash off the agave leaves using a sharp bladed hoe called a “coa” separating them from the main agave stalk.  What remains is a the “pina” (because what remains of the agave plant is a cross-thatched giant shaped looking “pineapple”). The blue agave must be harvested and brought to the horneros (ovens) within 24 hours.

My journey continued onto the town of Tequila. Rising 1300 meters above sea level, the blue agave plants grow bountifully amongst the evergreens and juniper trees.   To be called tequila, the product must be made from the blue agave located in this specific region of Mexico. Many of the local folks are experts on the tradition and history of their town and famous beverage spirit.  They talk about tequila with fondness relating it to a flat stone called obsidian which is common below the Tequilan volcano.  Obsidian is a black volcanic rock which when polished and trimmed is used for cutting.  The indigenous people of the area say that tequila means “stone that cuts”.  Similar to the way obsidian cuts through any material, the drink itself cuts through one’s throat as it is sipped.  

Continue Reading Part 2 of 3


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