Almost every story I’ve heard from the Hacienda Patrón distillery in Mexico is about how amazing and occasionally strange it can be. It’s not surprising — when you take a group of bartenders to Mexico, adventures are bound to happen.
But its magic is also what makes it difficult to describe. I could tabulate my experience with a time-stamped blow-by-blow of the trip, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, I’ll attempt to talk about the big experiences, but leave some of the smaller magical moments as surprises for future travelers. With that said, if you want to attend with no preconceptions about the trip, stop now.
This August, I got the opportunity to attend with 17 other bartenders from Canada and the U.S., as part of the Patrón-sponsored USBG Tequila Immersion Tour. Now in its third year, it invites working bartenders to get a close-up experience with tequila production, from the agave in the field to the finished product in the bottle. Several of us had met before, and on the bus from the airport, we caught up on life. But the rest of the group quickly found connections on the way to the Hacienda. Then the fun began in earnest.
Thanks to flight delays (one caused by a swarm of mosquitos and faulty equipment), we arrived at the Hacienda in late afternoon. Due to the second group's even later arrival, we had some free time to check out our rooms and explore the residential side. Between roaming the bar, gorgeous courtyard, palatial rooms, the verdant garden behind the suites, and checking out the gym, the time passed quickly.
The first seminar covered the history and tradition of agave farming along with information on Patrón’s production methods and their capabilities. This was complemented by a blanco tequila tasting which dove into the impact of differences in where agave is grown (highland versus Tequila Valley, a.k.a lowland). The seminar also noted variances in flavor likely caused by differences in production. Everything had been pushed back thanks to flight delays, so dinner and drinks at the luxurious bar capped a relatively early night.
Day two started quite early with a bus ride out to one of the several agave fields that supplies Patrón. There, we walked out among the spiny agave while our guide led us through the methods that the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) uses to track every single agave used in tequila production. Once she’d gotten to the point in the story where the leaves were stripped off the agave plant, Don Mañuel, who’d previously worked as a jimador, prepped an agave by stripping its spiky leaves. Our group was his last demonstration for a tour: he was scheduled to retire a couple weeks later.
Before we left for the distillery itself, we tested the sugar content of the agaves Don Mañuel had prepped for fermentation and distillation. Both had very high BRIX readings, meaning that their sugar content was more than adequate for distillation, and they could be transported to Hacienda Patrón, the company’s distillery, for production.
From there, we headed back towards the Hacienda by way of Casa Patrón, located in the city center of Atotonilco El Alto. This Patrón facility produces only roller mill tequila by crushing baked agave fibers to release juice, then fermenting and distilling it. This product, we learned, was blended into what was produced at the main Hacienda distillery to create Patrón. That afternoon, we also toured the production facilities at the Hacienda, getting to see both the roller mills and tahonas in action. During the tour, we were able to taste tequilas produced by these processes separately to learn the differences.
Next came the barrel room and a discussion of the different types of barrels used in aging tequila. Patrón uses several different types of oak (Hungarian, French limousin, French Allier, American oak, and hybrid Allier-American) for their barrels, and the flavor characteristics imparted by the choice of oak range varied greatly. After dinner, drinks, and time by the fire pit, it was time to get ready for the last full day of the trip.
The next morning, we said goodbye to the Hacienda and headed into Atotonilco for our day of community service. This addition to the itinerary was developed in partnership with the USBG to provide a chance for bartenders to give back to the community. During our time at the food bank, we prepped and filled baskets to be given out and helped to load all the sorted foodstuffs into the truck.
The afternoon was spent distributing this food in a nearby town, which gave us the opportunity to interact with people from outside the distillery. After we finished up there, we took a restful bus ride to Guadalajara to freshen up for free time and dinner in Tlaquepaque.
From the scent of roasting agave and palatial suites to watching a jimador in action to sunset fireside Palomas, it’s just … special.
After a very restful bus ride, we pulled into Guadalajara to get ready for shopping and dinner at Casa Luna in Tlaquepaque. After hitting the tequila shop, some of us headed to the local pulqueria, and others went out in search of souvenirs at the surrounding art galleries and street vendors. It wasn’t yet time to say goodbye, so many of us went for a last round at a local speakeasy.
If tequila, educational experiences, and new friends aren’t your cup of tea (or flute of tequila), don’t apply. Otherwise, don’t miss out.