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The True Story of Jose Cuervo
by Tom Buckley


According to Mayan legend, this sweet "honey water" was discovered by a maiden known as Mayahuetl.

FLICKR ALBUM: Agriculture

After presenting this find to her husband, the unnamed spouse fermented the solution from the blue agave plant, much to the delight of the gods, high priest and warriors (not to mention the generations that followed).

The Aztecs also knew that by hacking off the plant's spiky leaves, they could expose the core, or piña, then press the juice from it to create a mildly alcoholic libation.

The roots of this spirit -- derived from the Agave Azul Tequilana Weber plant -- can indeed be traced back centuries from the cruder pulque to a more refined elixir.

At the beginning of the 19th century, in the Jalisco countryside, tequila production emerged in the region of the same name (derived from the resident Tiquila Indians), where the crop thrives today. The valleys surrounding Guadalajara teem with the majestic, blue-green plant.

Once the plant matures roughly 10-12 years - and following a careful selection process - the agave is harvested by hand, leaving its pineapple-like hearts exposed.

Slowly heated in old-fashioned stone and mud ovens, the must is extracted after a meticulous fermentation process. The heart of the agave - the purest part of the plant - is then distilled in copper cauldrons.

Finally, the learned passing of time allows the brew to age, reaching a dark, amber color with a distinctive aroma and delicate flavor.

There is an old saying, so I'm told, that says: "To speak of Tequila is to speak of Mexico ... to speak of Mexican tequila is to speak of Tequila Cuervo."

Though many people can readily identify Jose Cuervo as a tequila (it is considered the world's best-selling tequila), few realize that the Jose Cuervo company is recognized as the first tequila producer in the world.

In 1758, Jose Antonio Cuervo founded a distillery in the village of Tequila, near Guadalajara, and 37 years later, his son Jose Guadalupe was granted the first license by the King of Spain to produce what was called at the time "wine of the earth."

The La Rojeña distillery, the oldest such commercial facility in the western hemisphere, has been continuously producing tequila since then. Throughout its history and right up to today, the elegant, hacienda-like La Rojeña and the Jose Cuervo company have remained securely in the hands of the descendants of the original Cuervo family.

Though its Cuervo Gold is its most well-known product and associated with the old tequila-salt-lime routine, the distillery also produces fine sipping tequilas: from Gran Centenario Reposado (first made in 1857 to celebrate Casa Cuervo's 100th anniversary) to Reserva Antigua 1800 (a major export) to Agavero (a tequila liqueur) to its top of the line Reserva de la Familia (as smooth as cognac).

Taxis and buses are also available for travelers who wish to visit the seemingly endless fields of blue agave surrounding the village of Tequila. Some hotels can also make chartered arrangements for larger groups wishing to explore the agave fields or visit the Casa Cuervo.


LOCATION -- Tequila is only an hour's drive from Guadalajara along Highway 15, the main thoroughfare to Tepic. If you're staying in Guadalajara, it's easy to arrange a bus trip, just ask your hotel clerk for directions or you can hire a taxi.


TIPS -- Visitors can tour the Jose Cuervo, Sauza, Herradura and Orendain distilleries in the town of Tequila. On May 13th, join in the festivities as the town of Tequila celebrates the day of their most favorite drink.


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