Everything's Bigger in Texas Tequila
by Tim Love
You know what they say: If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself. Fort Worth's big chef on campus, Tim Love, headed down to the land of agave to build his own version of North America's oldest distilled spirit.
So, what brought you to Mexico? I went down to customize my own tequila at Herradura.
Was it your first time? This was my first trip to Guadalajara. I plan to go back soon and often. Not just for my tequila either. The town was very cool.
What was the best tip you got before you left? Don’t drink the water. Ha! Be aware of your itinerary and make sure you travel safely.
How did you get there? We flew direct to Guadalajara from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, but I would suggest that you pay attention to what type of plane you are flying on. We flew down on a regional jet — meaning no first class and very small — and we flew back on a super 80, which was still small but had first class and food service.
Where did you stay? We stayed at what appeared to be a Mexican version of a W Hotel — Hotel NH. It had modern lines and was very clean. Ask for extra and large pillows, since otherwise they only provide two small ones. You can’t have too much bottled water. Make sure you work out each day, so you can grab a few from the gym for free instead of paying $6 per bottle!
What did you do? We spent an entire day going through the process of making tequila. We started in the seven-year agave fields, cutting the plants, cleaning them with the jimadores (farmers who specialize in agave plants), and preparing them to be picked up by front-loading tractors. We had a traditional field breakfast of eggs, nopales, and quesadillas with canned palomas, which were refreshing on a hot day on the plantation.
While the agave was being transported, we returned to the hacienda for a historical tour. Casa Herradura, according to their world ambassador, is the last original hacienda. Some requirements of authenticity include being fully self-sufficient and having an operating chapel. The chapel is beautiful and the stone kitchen still uses fire as the heat source.
When the agave arrived, it was placed into 100-year-old steam ovens to be cooked for 28 hours at about 195-205 degrees. At this point, the agave tastes like insanely sweet sugar cane. It is then placed by hand on a conveyor belt and brought towards the miller. The liquid that has seeped from the agave while cooking is called agave nectar. It is sweet, but not nearly as sweet as that freshly cooked agave. This juice is pumped into a holding tank. The steam-roasted plants are then juiced by a milling machine and funneled into a tank. The milled pulp is returned to the fields to help replenish the soil.
Now the master distiller blends agave juice and nectar to achieve the desired flavor. The juice is slightly more bitter but has notes of tequila flavor, while the nectar has a more sugar-water taste. Once blended, the mixture is pumped through into open-air holding tanks. This is where Herradura separates itself from everyone else, since they use 100% natural fermentation. Which is a big deal. Fruit trees on the property generate yeast in the air to help the natural fermentation process (which takes about four days total). The result is agave wine — and it tastes just like that — which is distilled, yields steam, and becomes alcohol.
What do we have now? Tequila with some bad gasses, like methane, still in the spirit. It could definitely be sold inexpensively at this stage but would cause some pretty bad hangovers. In order to remove the toxic elements, the tequila is distilled again, and the "heads and tails" — the first and last 25 percent of the distillation — are cut off. This creates a very clean and smooth blanco tequila that is 120 proof. Yikes! Very smooth but dangerous.
The final stage is to add distilled water to the tequila to create the desired 75 proof. Now it's ready for aging. All tequila is aged for various lengths of time in newly charred oak barrels. The law requires that in order for a tequila to qualify as "reposed," it has to be aged between two and eleven months. Herradura ages eleven months on their reposado. The master distiller decides which barrels to blend to achieve not only the best flavor but also consistency from one bottle to the next.
Let’s talk about stuff.
1. Glad you packed: A fleece vest. It gets colder than you think it would at night.
2. Wish you’d packed: A hat. The sun is pretty powerful in the fields.
3. Didn’t need: My computer. There's no time for work when you are drinking all day!
4. Brought back: Two barrels of my own blend of tequila. Hell yeah!
Speed round of favorites.
1. Meal or meals: I have been a lot of places in Mexico, and this may have been the best food experience yet. We ate at the Polo Club, which was definitely the highlight. From tuna tiradito to tripas to the vacio cut of beef, it was all delicious.
2. Neighborhood to explore: The neighborhood around the hotel has numerous high-design spots, from a sushi bar to casual Mexican restuarants with great wine lists and cocktails.
3. Cafe/casual hangout: Adjacent to the hotel was a great outdoor tequila and beer bar that served complimentary chips and salsa.
What’s the local specialty? Tequila, obviously, but there seems to be an abundance of Argentinian-type steakhouses.
What’s the #1 tip you’d give a friend who wanted to go? This place has really nice weather all the time and great booze, along with highly stylized restaurants and fashion. But you still need to be careful in these parts.
You can’t stop thinking about: How good the fish was at that raw bar.
Would you go back? I have already planned my trip back with different friends!
I travel for the fun, thrill, and adventure of it all!
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Photos (from top left): Tim hacking away at agave spikes; Tim and his wife, Emilie, tasting during the distillation process; Tim checking out the stills; with the final product. Tastes just right.