Why Bartenders Should Traverse The Tequila Trail
Tequila comes to us from the mountainous region of Jalisco, Mexico. There you'll find La Ruta de Tequila, a trail where you can explore the tequila production process from start to finish. Seeing agave cultivation and fermentation first-hand is not only educational, but it also connects bartenders with the land and the people responsible for giving us this unique spirit.
"Every year the Tequila trail is getting more people than the last year,"says Khristian de la Torre, a bar consultant in Mexico specializing in tequila and mezcal. "Thanks to the trail, many families around the region can be involved in the increase of the economy and benefit."
Thankfully, the most damaging tequila myths have been busted — most people know there's no worm in the bottle and no need to slam it with lime and salt. Consumer education by bartenders has been a critical part of the spirit's improved image and increasing sales. Americans bought 7.4% more tequila in 2016, with an all-time high of 16.3 million cases sold.
"The number of distilleries has grown from somewhere around 40 in the early 1990s to over 100 currently," says Szczech, founder of Experience Tequila/Experience Mezcal and co-founder of La Cata, the only independent tasting bar in Tequila, Jalisco.
But this spike in sales has perpetuated a new myth that tequila production has gone industrial and strayed from its historical origins. But Clayton Szczech (pictured left), an expert in Mexican spirits, says a visit to the tequila trail will demonstrate that's not true.
"I see a lot of U.S. bartenders attributing the most industrial and efficiency-focused production techniques to the majority of producers, which is simply not the case and would be obvious to them if they did some first-person research and travel in the region," says Szczech. "The most common type of distillery in the Tequila DO could only be described as artisanal by the standards of any spirit produced in the U.S."
Visitors to the trail can be a part of an agave harvest and have a new kind of sensory experience with tequila: tasting it both raw and right out of the oven, smelling fermenting must and tasting tequila at all stages of the process.
"These elements are fundamental for forming an educated tequila palate," says Szcech. "Additionally, sustained and repeated exposure to the people and culture of the region deepens our understanding of what this spirit is all about."
La Ruta de Tequila is a tourism project of the Tequila Regulatory Council that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The tequila trail connects people to the culture. Seeing the landscape with your own eyes makes for a more authentic, immersive experience than simply sipping the spirit at a bar in the States.
"It's important to realize all the hard work involved in making one shot of tequila, all those years cultivating the agave plant," says de la Torre, whose new bar Aioros will open in a few months in Mexico City.
The Tequila trail is well-traveled, the traffic doesn't match the spirit's popularity ... yet. But the region's culture, cuisine and breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Site will inspire more tequila lovers to make the trek. It's up to bartenders to be the leaders in understanding what tequila has to offer.
"Once you know the process of the product you will see it in a different way next time you pour it in a glass," says de la Torre. "That's when you will take care of tequila. That's when you will treat it better."