Fifth of May or as we more commonly know it, Cinco de Mayo, is when Tequila heads around the world goes nuts. Bring out your best sombrero and all the other tacky mexican decorations we get in Europe and last but not least, a shit load of Tequila, the more the better. In Copenhagen this day has for the last few years been celebrated quite hard in the bar community. Most people don’t really know why, but it is a reason as good as any for getting hammered on Tequila. This year though, I could not be a part of the tradition in Copenhagen, but even better I got to spend it with some of my close friends in London. I knew that ment trouble from the moment we planned this trip. Not only was it Cinco de Mayo, but also holiday, you know what that means. Go all out!
I started that day with a bit of Tequila shopping, thought i would take advantage of the situation. No time to spill so we had the first Tequila at 2pm at Hawksmoor Seven Dials. A glass of Altos Reposado and a few beers later we went across the road to Cafe Pacifico where Matthias Lataille prepared for us to blind taste nine different Tequilas. Four blanco’s and five reposado’s. We were instructed to taste them one by one and write down the first three things that came to mind, and try to be as specific as possible. When we had tried all of them, we played a guessing game, what is highland and what is lowland, given general guide lines of highlands being more fruity and lowland being more earthy. Looking at what we wrote down, this made everything more confusing. And this whole exercise was much harder than is sounds, but much fun. I learnt some great things about my palate, mainly that after 2 days of hard-drinking, I shouldn’t trust it.
After a great session we hit the bar for some guacamole and beers and decided to hit La Perla for pitchers of margarita followed but great food at Wahaca in Soho. Plates of food kept coming and so did the Tequila, but there was something missing, a bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal for dessert and the party was on. We ended the night at El Camion, Dick Bradsels new Tequila joint. After a few drinks and some shady dance moves, I remember thinking, this is it, no more, so I bought a bottle of Altos Blanco, everything after that is blank.
So why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo again? Well long story short, in 1861 Mexico stopped paying interest on loans the Mexican government had accepted from a bunch of European countries, they obviously got pissed off, and said, but why? And went across the Atlantic to claim their money back. The easiest way to claim money back is to threaten the poor Mexican with the biggest weapons available. But on the 5th of May 1862 the Mexicans stood up to the French troops and pushed them out of Puebla, and it was all good. Well, not really the troops joined forces and went to Mexico City instead and occupied the presidents throne, and just like that the emperor of Mexico was french. Until 1867 when Benito Juarez, the president of Mexico at the time, got tired of the french emperor, killed him and sent all the french home, so there you go, the story of Cinco de Mayo in my very own words.
Everyone who has been to Arandas in the highlands of Jalisco knows that waking up early the following day will be a mission. Opposed to Tequila, Arandas is a bigger and much more vibrant city. While in Tequila the days go on, there is almost always something happening in Arandas, whether it is on the main plaza or in the many bars around town. Weekends are best spent getting up on the horse get some great food and then of to the night club for some serious banda action. Banda as far as I understood is the club version of mariachi music, at least that was the feeling I got. I walked in to the club not knowing what to expect, an hour later with a bottle of Viva Mexico Tequila in one hand and a Squirt in the other I was ready to hit the dance floor. Well, at least I thought so. On stage was a 15-20 man band giving it all they had, and the people on the dance floor the same. Everyone danced in couples, but nothing a little Tequila couldn’t fix. Before I knew it, me and my friend got handed instruments and we really thought we played along for a while. With no musical skills what so ever, I guess this was wishful thinking, but a lot of fun. At least the people around us seemed very entertained. I left the place like the true cowboy I am, on the back of a horse with my head held high, until I got woken up on the back of a truck just outside the hotel(?!). Guess I might not be that much of a cowboy after all.
My eyes opened roughly five minutes after I did the following morning, with heavy steps I made it to the breakfast table. After a big plate huevos rancheros, orange juice and some water I was just about ready to go, again. I was off to Atotonilco to visit Fernando Gonzales who is the managing director of 7 Leguas Tequila. I had read on beforehand that a taxi would be the best option, and especially ask the driver to take the “old way” where the scenery would be amazing. That never happened. Fernando insisted on sending a driver to pick us up, and right on time a huge truck rolled up, Senior Carlo?
The drive to get from Arandas to Atotonilco could not have been more comfortable, I felt like the king of Tequila country. There was agave everywhere I looked, huge hillsides covered with this majestic blue variety. And as we drove higher up in the mountains we could see the most beautiful little town in a valley far down on our left hand side, Atotonilco. 7 Leguas is located right in the beginning of the city as you come down the mountain. We got out of the car and got greeted by Bertha, a very friendly little Mexican lady who after a warm welcome led us in to the premisses and found Fernando for us. Fernando was not at all as I expected, well, I did not know what to expect, so maybe he was. Very friendly man with a big black mustache. He took us pretty much straight to the tasting room after he explained that the best way to get to know one another is to fuel up on a bit of Tequila. Fernando very proudly gave a long enough masterclass about the history of 7 Leguas. Tequila was drunk and we started walking around the distillery, unfortunately when I was there it was the time of year when the production stands still and everything gets a proper deep-clean, so the tour was fairly short, but we got to see all the new additions that was being built at the time, show room and bar etc.
It was 1952 when the late Don Ignacio Gonzalez Vargas, the original founder, started making his extraordinary Tequila 7 Leguas. Carrying on the tradition are his widow, the matriarch Sra. Amparo de Anda and their 7 children, who have continued producing Tequila 7 Leguas. 7 Leguas is made using a proprietary formula, a combination of the agave “juices” from the family’s two distilleries, El Centenario est. 1942, and La Vencedora est. 1956. Each distillery has its own process, roller mill (Molino) and the traditional Millstone (Tahona), which to this day is pulled during different shifts by one of 7 mules. The mixture of the two exceptional juices, together with the time-honored process for crushing, cooking and fermenting, produces a very smooth, sweet taste inherent in the quality of the agave cultivated by the family.
After a very eventful and informative morning we all got hungry and Fernando suggested a good restaurant down the road, but I had a appointment later that day so there was only one thing to do, cancel my appointment and enjoy the great company I was in. This later proved to be a excellent choice. Walking in to the restaurant we got greeted and introduced to everyone there. We were seated in the little garden attached to the restaurant and got to enjoy a long dinner full of never tried before Mexican food and great Tequila. I think it was at this point it hit me, I got a real taste of what mexican pride was, a simple visit to the distillery was not enough for Fernando, he really wanted us to enjoy the best his city had to offer, and it did not stop there. Since me and my two friends were bartenders he made sure we stopped by a friend of his who was building a bar at the time to share a cold one and throw some ideas around. Atotonilco (and the highlands) are very different to the rest I have seen of Mexico, it does not feel as dusty, it has a very fresh feel, a little bit more colorful I guess.
We walked back towards the distillery for what we thought was a last good-bye and then back to Arandas and the hotel, but Fernando had different plans. We jumped in the car and took off to his family’s range, 15 minute drive or so. We stopped by the road side and opened a gate leading onto a private road that led up to the range. Fernando started telling stories about the house, it was haunted, and that was why no one lived there any more, the house was used for shorter visits, and in a way as a very fancy stable for the 30 something horses. If I remember correctly there were five of the horses that competed on a high level and I got to meet them all. On the way back we visited the bottling plant and head office, needless to say, we really got the whole package. Sitting in the car on the way back to the hotel I was more that satisfied. It is truly amazing that Fernando takes the whole day off to hang out with a bunch of gringos. I was almost in chock. I got shown hospitality to a whole new level, something i have never experienced before. Fernando is a man with an answer to all of my questions, much of which I unfortunately may not speak, and I will therefore shut my mouth. Fernando, thank you so much for everything and I hope to see you soon!
Viva la ranchero vida!
When I first heard about a little bar called La Capilla, I found it quite hard to understand all the talk about the bar. I saw pictures, heard stories, and after a little while I thought it was the kind of bar you “have” to like when you get back from a booze-trip with a Tequila company. I have had that experience before with different places. People talk it up so much, that my expectations are through the ceiling. Which in all honesty is not fair to any place. Mexico was a place I had been thinking of travelling to for quite the while, so one day I had enough, and took off.
It is very difficult when you have such a passion as I do for Tequila and Mexican food. My problem was that i had never been to Mexico before. I loved everything, and I mean everything. I fell in love with Wal-Mart (not even Mexican and I loved it) which I never been to before, but I supplied me with an amazing range of quality Tequila. I bought every bottle under 150 pesos. So after a week or so running around every liquor shop I Guadalajara, and doing some serious tasting and of course taking notes of everything, I woke up and found it appropriate to move on. I soon learnt there was much better things to life than Wal-Mart (though i did return frequently).
I went through highlands and lowlands of Tequila country, in and out of distilleries like I had never seen one before. It was at this point it got so much easier to filter all the information I took in about being in Mexico. All of a sudden the tacos I had in a restaurant downtown Guadalajara wasn’t the best I had ever had, the ones made in a little street stall in Arandas were much better, and so it kept on, Tequila for Tequila and taco for taco.
Four something weeks later I had come back to earth and landed in Tequila town. For those who have not been there, it is a beautiful little tranquil town pretty much in the middle of agaves. Everywhere you look on the way to Tequila is agave. It is absolutely amazing to see Tequila Orendine, Sauza and many more painting the hillsides with flowers in the shape of their brand names. It somehow added a different dimension of real-ness to the pictures I had of how Tequila country was. As we kept driving we passed by distilleries belonging to Partida, Herradura, Tres Mujeres and many more. Then almost at the end of the road came the town of Tequila and even before I could see it, I could smell cooked agave through the windows of the little yellow taxi. A big smile came on my lips, I was home.
After numerous tours of distilleries and late nights drinking Tequila with fellow aficionados, we made our way to the little bar called La Capilla. It must have been early evening, the sun was still up. After getting used to the way buildings look and the state of them, it adds a lot to the charm, so by the time I saw La Capilla, I ones again just smiled. Walking in and there they are, I recognised the three people in the bar, from pretty much every photo I have seen from La Capilla. Don Javier of course, behind the bar with his big smile and his big belly sitting down on a bar stool. The other one drinking a Batanga and the third making himself one. It is situated a couple of blocks from the town square and it is the oldest bar in town.
Don Javier Delgado Corona, a very generous man in his mid 80’s and third generation bar owner of La Capilla. It is a simple space, almost poky and lit by bare light bulbs, with only a handful of stools on which to perch in front of a plywood bar, plus a further scattering of plastic tables and chairs where we enjoyed a few Batanga’s and a big plate of small, round, green and red chili peppers served with a cup of salt, listening to story after story told by the man himself. It is after this experience I came to understand why people talked so highly of this place. People do not come for the bar itself, but for the feeling of being with Don Javier.
It is really the Batanga that started my knowledge of El Bar la Capilla, it was first invented in 1961, by a slightly younger Don Javier. Javier is a long time friend of the family who owns and operates the El Tequileño Tequila factory that’s located just up the hill from La Capilla. His signature drink is the Batanga made with El Tequileño Blanco and Coke with a little salt and fresh lime. The El Tequileño company was founded in 1959 and Javier created his original Batanga recipe in 1961. He is a well-respected and frequently visited man of the little town. If I was there for three hours, there was at least a handful of kids passing by offering a helping hand to the lovely old man.
To quote Julio Bermejo, “Don Javier is one of the most giving persons I have ever been acquainted. He embodies everything that is great about the hospitality business. It is a pity there are not more people like Don Javier”
A friday night late fall a couple of years ago I was behind the stick as usual in my little bar on the corner. There was a couple sitting in front of my station, they had been there for an hour or two, had a few cocktails and kept to themselves, as much as you can sitting at the bar.
I really like those nights that start quite slow, when you really have time to spend with your guests and tell a story or three. Anyway, a bit unexpected they asked a few questions about cocktails in general and what I prefered myself, which led us on to Tequila. I gave them a short introduction to Tequila, and poured a little Tequila flight for us to taste. If I remember correctly we were drinking Tapatio Blanco, Corralejo Reposado and 1800 Anejo that night. A bit of a trippy flight, but just to show just how versatile Tequila can be. They were not to keen to be honest, but I offered to make a Tommy’s Margarita with Tapatio Blanco, if they didn’t like it I would happily give up and make them what ever they desired.
There is something in the air when you take your lime squeezer and press that fresh lime juice in to your boston glass, the color is different, it’s almost clear and smells great. I put my best effort in to the making, and served it straight up in a coupette with little ice crystals floating on top. Just as I like to drink my Margarita.
After a sip or two I asked them what their thoughts were.
– It is not the best cocktail I have ever had. But it is the only one who made me smile, and she smiled.
The Aztecs believed that since the beginning of time there was a goddess in the sky. Tzintzimitl, an evil goddess that devoured light. She had the earth in darkness and forced the natives to do human sacrifices in order to give them sunlight.
Quetzalcoatl had enough and decided to do something about it. He believed in honor so he ascended to the sky to fight Tzintzimitl. But instead, what he found was that Mayahuel, his granddaughter was kidnapped by the evil goddess. Mayahuel is the goddess of fertility, she was portrayed as the goddess with four hundred breasts. Quetzalcoatl found her and fell in love with her so instead of killing the evil goddess he and Mayahuel descended to earth to live together.
When Tzintzimitl realised, she got pissed off and went for them. They were forced to run from one place to another to hide from her. One day they decided, because there was nowhere to hide, they would disquise themselves as branches of a tree. The two stood very close together, so that when the wind blew their branches would touch and they would comfort each other.
Tzintzimitl however did not give up that easy so she used her light and created stars. Finally Mayahuel got recognised and Tzintzimitl descended and tore Mayahuel in to pieces. Quetzalcoatl, was heartbroken and furious so he buried the pieces and flew up in the sky and killed Tzintzimitl. He was staring at the sun rising, crying, thinking of his loved one. Every night he would go to her grave and cry. The other gods saw how miserable Quetzalcoatl was, At her grave a plant started growing up, and they decided to make him a gift. They gave the plant hallucinogenic properties that would comfort Quetzalcoatls soul, so that from that day on he could always find comfort.
A rainy and stormy night many years later when Quetzalcoatl was at her grave, Mayahuel sent a lightning strike from the sky straight down into the agave plant. The agave opened up and was steaming hot inside. The sweet smell and the honey golden color of the agave made Quetzalcoatl taste it, he never tried anything like it. So every night when he came back, he would eat of the plant. The plant quickly fermented in the open air and Quetzalcoatl found comfort.