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From sleeping in a tequila barrel to a mezcal tasting tour: Tequila and mezcal beckon you to Mexico.

Are you one of those people who “can’t stomach” tequila? Or one of the large percentage of people who think tequila needs to be shot down with lime and salt? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you need to read this article. If you didn’t but are just curious, you’ll enjoy reading it too, because we are going to tell you about tequila and mezcal — the spirits and their Mexican settings.

Mezcal is a distilled spirit that is made from the agave plant. So, technically, that makes tequila a mezcal, but there are differences in the production technique and in the types of agave used. Mezcal can be produced from around 28 different varieties of agave (which can include the blue agave) and is made around the state of Oaxaca (wa-ha-ca). According to government regulations it can also be produced in some areas of the states of Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas. Most mezcal are made with the Espadin agave but a lot of producers blend the different agave varieties to create distinct flavours. One of the more unique mezcals is one that is distilled through a raw turkey breast.

Tequila is made from a single type of agave plant. The “Agave Weber plant” (blue agave), also known as the “agave tequilana,” which is only found in the state of Jalisco and in other tiny parts of Mexico. Officially speaking: “Under the control of the Tequila Regulatory Council, only the spirit made in the Jalisco state in west-central Mexico, and only that distilled from the juice of the Agave Weber plant (blue agave), may be officially labeled “tequila.” I’ve probably just blown your mind with two things:
– A town place called Tequila actually exists – and
– A special council exists for tequila production.

I like both mezcal and tequila but a lot of people find mezcal harder to swallow. It’s a good thing to remember that both of them should be treated like a fine wine. Not thrown back as the last drink of the night. And NEVER buy tequila that isn’t labeled 100% agave.

In short, tequila is a type of mezcal, but mezcal is not tequila.

Now, about that town of Tequila; if it wasn’t on your itinerary, it should be. Santiago de Tequila is a small town in the Mexican state of Jalisco, around an hour’s drive from the city of Guadalajara.

The first stop in town should be a bar named “La Capilla” (the Chapel). Named one of the world’s “best bars,” it is nothing fancy but adorable all the same. A handful of bar stools, a nondescript bar man who is more than ready to serve you the “Batanga,” created by the charming Don Javier Delgado Corona, the bar’s owner. Just outside the main town is a special place named “La Cofradia,” one of my favorite places to unwind. The blue agave plants are produced here, the tequila is distilled here and it’s the perfect spot to learn all you need to know about tequila production, while taking in the unforgettable atmosphere. Wait, did we also mention it’s a hotel and an amazing restaurant as well?

Matices Hotel de Barricas is unforgettable. A bunch of tequila barrels in the middle of the agave fields make a pretty cool overnight experience! All of the “barrels” have their own balcony, are air-conditioned and have wifi. What you pay for your stay also includes a tour of the whole estate. From the blue agave plants, through to the distillation process. On our last visit, we were introduced to the local tequila expert, who was kind enough to disclose his favorite tequilas. That list didn’t include Jose Cuervo or Patron, by the way! Brands with the biggest marketing budgets don’t necessarily mean they have the most exquisite tasting tequila.

And where do I go to learn about mezcal? Oaxaca is the spot to be if you want to become a mezcal connoisseur. There are fields and distilleries everywhere. Forget about wine, beer or any other spirits when you are in this area; mezcal is what you should be drinking! Oaxaca is worthy of at least a few days. Visit numerous mezcal distilleries to learn about the process and, of course, taste the final product, visit archeological sites, enjoy world-class restaurants and take in the phenomenal art scene. To top off your experience, we suggest taking the time to try some mezcal made from wild agave. The plants are extremely rare, making production very low key and fairly exclusive. The perfect gift, a bottle of wild mezcal!

Now why are so many people sworn off drinking tequila? Well, we need now to cover the interesting topic of ‘false tequila’.

According to regulations tequila producers can manufacture two categories of tequila. Tequila 100% agave and tequila. To be specific, the 100% agave is the one produced exclusively from agave sugars; therefore, this formulation can only consist of the juices sent to fermentation tubs and the yeast added, resulting in must (mosto). The other tequila category, can be made up with up to 49% of sugars from a different source than the agave. That means they can put anything in there as long as it doesn’t exceed 49%. So we think maybe, if you are scarred from a tequila incident, you might have been drinking the “false tequila.”

Here are some tips to avoid that nasty hangover:

* Buy your tequila from a reputable source;

* Do not buy tequila contained in bottles that aren’t the original or without labels;

* Each bottle should contain a legible label with the following information in Spanish:

a) The word ‘Tequila’ and 100% agave;

b) Category and type to which it belongs;

c) Name or registered name of the producer, authorized factory or bottler with a determination of accredited verification;

d) Producers address;

e) Trademark;

f) The inscription “Hecho en Mexico;”

g) Official countersign;

h) Lot: each container must bear, engraved or stamped, the identification of the lot to which it pertains, with a coded indication.

So have you been drinking tequila or mezcal? Real or false? Oh, and one last fact – only mezcal has the worm … Our Hello Mexico! trip spends three days in Oaxaca and we can organize custom trips to Tequila.

A big thank you to our contributors:

Simon Mendoza, La Cofradia, Tequila, Mexico

Suzanne Barbezat, Discover Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico

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