After the kids are tucked away for the evening, enjoy some quality tequila in the Riviera Maya—even though it’s made more than 1,000 miles away.
I once agreed to meet my friends at a bar in San Francisco, known for having the largest selection of 100 percent blue agave tequila outside of Mexico. I was immediately hooked. More than 10 years later, I’ve taken trips to tequila distilleries in Mexico, met with the owners of the best-known tequila brands, and gotten an education at that very same bar—enough to be called a Ninja Demigoddess of Tequila. Sure, it’s a useless title outside of my tequila crowd, but it’s fun.
If you’re planning a trip to Mexico’s Riviera Maya for the sun, sea, sand and tequila, even with the family in tow, you can easily fit in some one-on-one time with the agave nectar in its home country.
Dismiss your foggy college memories of a certain “gold” tequila. The Mexican national beverage is far more varied and complex than the stuff used for those tequila poppers.
The distilled drink is made from only one plant—the Agave tequilana Weber, blue variety. Its lance-shaped leaves have a blue-green hue, which is why people often refer to it as “blue agave.” When harvested, those spiky leaves are cut off to get to the plant’s heart, or piña (which looks like a big pineapple). The piña is cooked to obtain the juices that form the basis for the final product.
Tequila and mezcal, another local spirit made from agave, can often be confused. Mezcal is produced from any of 28 types of agave, including blue agave. Tequila, however, is an appellation of origin, much like cognac and champagne. Besides being made from one kind of agave, it can be produced only in certain areas of Mexico (the entire state of Jalisco, and parts of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas). The finished product must contain at least 51 percent of the agave; the remaining 49 percent may include other sugars. Tequilas that are mixed in this way are called mixto (remember college?), but the best quality products are 100 percent agave, with no mixing allowed.
The immediate distilled drink is called blanco tequila (it’s also referred to as “silver”). Aging the liquid in oak yields either reposado (rested) or añejo (aged) tequila, depending on the period of time it’s been in oak barrels. Reposado tequila is aged from two months to one year. Añejo tequila stays in oak for a minimum of one year. There are “very aged” products as well—some muy añejos live in oak barrels for seven to 10 years.
The Mexican state of Jalisco contains the two most popular regions for producing tequila. The area surrounding the town of Arandas is called Los Altos (the heights). The agave grown in this region tends to contain a higher amount of sugar than agave from the other most popular region—the area outlying the town of Tequila. Just over 2,000 feet lower than the Los Altos region, the soil of Tequila’s fields contains the evidence of millions of years of volcanic activity. The variation in the soil from the two areas yields a subtle taste difference. Tequilas made from Los Altos agave tastes fruitier (a good example is El Tesoro tequila). Tequilas made from Tequila agave have an earthy taste (a good example is Herradura tequila).
Because tequila is not produced in the Riviera Maya, any invitation you may receive to visit a tequila factory is a little misleading. It’s more likely to be a distillery for mezcal or another regional spirit. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go check it out, however.
The best places in the Riviera Maya to enjoy the agave nectar are where there’s a good selection—a bar. Here are a few of the top spots:
Agave Azul Raw Bar and Tequila Library at the Rosewood Mayakobá. Each evening, tequila experts present a sampling from the hotel’s library of more than 100 varieties of the Mexican national beverage. Room rates at the resort start at $490 per night. Children under 5 years stay free when sharing a room with a parent. Tel. 888-ROSEWOOD (767-3966), www.rosewoodmayakoba.com.
Agavero Tequila Lounge at the Azul Beach Hotel. Check out the Pancho Villa era décor and order a tequila martini—the hotel’s specialty. All-inclusive rates start at $180 per person/night. Rates for children aged 3-12 years are half-price based on double occupancy when sharing a room with a parent (kids under 3 stay free of charge). Tel. 866-KARISMA (527-4762), www.karismahotels.com/azul.
Maguey Lounge Bar at ClubHotel Riu Tequila. What better place to sample tequila than a hotel named after the beverage? Rates at this all-inclusive resort start at $159 per person. Rates for children vary, depending on promotion specials. In June 2008, children 12 and under stay for free. Tel. 888-666-8816, www.riu.com.
(Read more about the Azul Beach and Riu Tequila in our Riviera Maya hotel article.)
Sounds yummy... I never realized tequila was so complex. Thanks for the tips.