It’s impossible to ignore the meteoric rise of tequila within the world of craft spirits. Once derided as an inexpensive centerpiece for frat parties and bar crawls, Mexico’s most famous export is finally earning the respect its time-honored craftsmanship deserves. As well it should. Tequila is serious business, particularly in Guadalajara. Mexico’s second biggest city is the capital of Jalisco—the state responsible for virtually every bottle of the agave-based spirit ever produced. Steeped in history and national pride, this cultural epicenter boasts world-class art, award-winning cuisine, and, naturally, tons of tequila. But to fully appreciate the level of care that goes into each glass, you’ll need to spend a couple of days in this thriving metropolis and its mountainous surroundings.
Before heading into the agave-lined fields of the outlying countryside, you’ll need to secure a place to lay your head, and find a succulent meal to fill your belly. Thankfully, there is plenty of both in Guadalajara. Book a room in the stately Quinta Real, in the Vallarta Norte section of the city. Offering unrivaled luxury at $160 per night, its grounds provide a serene oasis from the frenetic bustle of downtown.
What the Quinta Real is to classical lodging, the Demetria is to modern. If you enjoy the sleek minimalism of contemporary design, consider staying at this newly remodeled hotel in the Lafayette area of the city. Rooms start at $149 a night, and provide thoughtful amenities, such as vessel sinks, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a rooftop pool.
When it’s time to get down to business, your first drink south of the border should be Mexico’s most popular, the Paloma. A refreshing combination of tequila and grapefruit soda, it pairs perfectly with the salty, savory cuisine typically consumed here. For a noteworthy example, make your way to the fully stocked bar at Casa de Los Platos. An incomparable collection of Mexico’s finest spirits is housed here, everything from two-dollar tipples to decades-old expressions that can set you back hundreds of dollars. Whatever your budget, you’re sure to be impressed by the thoughtful Jaliscan cuisine coming out of their kitchen, some of which even incorporates the great spirit into the meal. A hearty bowl of melted cotija cheese with crumbled chorizo, for one, is jazzed up with a liquid layer of tequila flamed on top. Most of these offerings fit well with the American palate, but for those eyeing more adventure, be sure to order your quesadilla with gusanos—fried crickets packing a crunchy, protein punch into the mix.
Remember to pace yourself, though, as your first full day in Jalisco involves an early departure into the heart of tequila country. Tour vans can be secured through the hotel concierge and will take groups on an entire day of agave-laced adventures for approximately $100 a head—including food and drink. A little over an hour’s drive outside of the city, past volcanos resting dormant in the distance, you’ll arrive in the town of Amatitan, home to Casa Herradura. This 150-year-old distillery is housed on the estate of a 17th century hacienda. It’s every bit as breathtaking as imagination allows. A full immersion here reveals one of the only open-fermented stills in tequila production. Surrounding the fermenters is a field of meticulously cultivated fruit trees, whose numbers are kept under careful control to maintain a consistent array of native yeasts to feed on the vats of exposed agave juice. Sip on cask-strength spirit straight from the still, manufactured under the discerning eye of Maria Teresa Lara—the industry’s only female master distiller.
Sip slowly, however, as you’ll want to save some thirst for the road ahead. A short drive west is the actual town of Tequila, home to many of the big boys: both Sauza and Jose Cuervo boast tasting rooms here. But for a more intimate, less commercial experience, schedule a free tour at La Fortaleza on the outskirts of town. This historic, fully operational distillery makes stone-crushed, 100% agave spirit in largely the same manner as they have for over a century—with wooden fermenters and two original copper pot stills. Their complex añejo, with slight hints of butterscotch and vanilla, owes its richness to 23 months of aging in American oak casks.
After returning to Guadalajara in the evening, be sure to make your final meal a memorable one. La Bocha fits the bill. A chef-minded steakhouse fusing the flavors of Jalisco with Argentinian flair, you’ll feast on succulent cuts of carne, backed by an inventive assortment of tequila-based cocktails. A tamarind margarita is an elegant expression, lending a tropical finish to seduce the classic drink’s trademark tang. It’s rimmed with tajin, a common Mexican spice known for its salty, simmering kick. For dessert, finish strong with their dulce de leche, served in a glass jar. With weighty notes of caramel and toffee, it will dance on the tongue when partnered with Herradura’s top-shelf Suprema. This extra añejo rests in casks for over four years, imparting heaps of heavenly oak, dark chocolate, and even cinnamon into the fray. It’s the perfect reminder of how far tequila has come, and how far you should be willing to go to explore its remarkable origins.
Address: Av. Mexico 2727 Col. Vallarta Norte Guadalajara, JAL, 44690, Mexico, 800-491-9657
Price: Rooms start at $160/night
Address: Avenida de la Paz 2219, Lafayette, 44140 Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Price: Rooms start at $149/night
CASA DE LOS PLATOS
Address: São Paulo 2367, Providencia, 44630 Guadalajara, JAL, Mexico
Hours: Tue – Sun 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Price: Queso Fundido w/ Chorizo $10, Paloma Cocktail $5
Address: Calzada del Carmen 82Centro45380 Amatitan, Jalisco, Mexico
Hours: By Appointment
TEQUILA LA FORTALEZA
Address: Calle Tabsco #153 Centro, 46400 Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico
Hours: By Appointment
Address: Av. Providencia No. 2880, Providencia, 44630 Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Hours: Daily, 1:00 –7:00 pm
Price: Ribeye Steak Dinner $39, Tamarind Margarita $8