The Spirit of Mexico: Unbottled at the Tequila Herradura Sensory Museum
The concoction has been around since the Conquistadors. Strictly regulated by Mexican law, it can be produced in one region and one region only, from a specific type of agave plant. There are five officially recognized styles, each with its own distinct character. There’s even a particular way to drink it.
So lest you take your margarita for granted, why not discover what true tequila really is?
One way to get acquainted with the national spirit of Mexico — with minimum hangover risk — is by bellying up to the Tequila Herradura Sensory Museum. Located in Cancun’s Hotel district, it offers an enlightening journey through the deep history, culture, and mystique of this celebrated beverage.
If you go, prepare to travel back in time. Knowledgeable guides will walk you through a recreation of Hacienda San Jose del Refugio, a distillery in the volcanic highlands of Amatlan, where Tequila Herradura has been performing agave alchemy for nearly 150 years. You’ll discover the traditional harvesting techniques and tools that generations of jimadors (agave farmers) employ to this day, and learn about traditional and modern methods of aging, cooking and distilling a spirit worthy of the name “tequila.”
It’s a surprisingly painstaking process, one that’s as complex as the final product itself. Your guide will explain the different styles of tequila — blanco, joven, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo — so classified by the way they’re aged and stored.
The next part of the tour casts little doubt about why Tequila Herradura calls it a Sensory Museum. You’ll have a chance to smell and taste freshly-cooked agave, smell tequila as it ages in a barrel, and watch videos of tequila production from start to finish.
Then on to the tasting room, where your newfound knowledge of all things tequila will be put to the test. But first, you’ll learn exactly how good tequila is meant to be savored. Chugging straight from the bottle is an obvious no-no. Like a fine wine, tequila must be sniffed, swirled, sipped, swished, and swallowed.
Finally, it’s time to explore various samples, each with its own distinctive taste and finish. For tequila novices and aficionados alike, the Tequila Herradura Sensory Museum experience promises a deeper appreciation of Mexico’s signature spirit, its history, and the artisanship that goes into making each drop.
- Tequila is a type of mezcal, but not all mezcals are tequilas.
- U.S. tequila sales have doubled over the past decade thanks to the craft cocktail trend.
- Authentic tequila may be made only from the nectar of blue agave (agave tequilana) plants grown in the Pacific coast state of Jalisco and parts of four neighboring states.
- The plants must be grown for a minimum of seven years before harvest.
- The core of the plant — known as the “pineapple” — contains fiber, water, and starch. Each core weighs 130-220 pounds before it’s cooked and distilled.
- Pure tequila must contain 100 percent agave sugar.
- Hacienda San Jose del Refugio, Amaltan, is in a UNESCO World Heritage region. Workers who live on site are required to be descendants of its original employees.
- Tequila blanco is a pure, un-aged, distilled spirit. Joven may be blended with another type of tequila. Reposado is aged in oak from two months to one year. Añejo is aged in oak from one to three years. Extra añejo is aged three years or more.
- Tequila can be colorless or various shades of gold, depending on how it’s casked and blended.
The museum is located at Calle Rtno. Kukulcán 1991, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico, 2nd floor (enter through La Europea Liquor Store). Open Monday through Saturday from 12 to 8:30 pm. and Sunday from 12 to 5:30 pm. Tours are offered daily and last about 1 to 1½ hour. Admission price depends on the tasting package you choose. Phone 52 998 176 8203.
How to make a pure, unadulterated, Mexican-style Margarita
- 1/4 cup tequila blanco
- 2 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
- 1 Tbsp. + 1½ tsp. agave nectar
- 1 Tbsp. + 1½ tsp. cold water
- 1 lime, sliced into wheels
Shake the tequila, lime juice, agave nectar, and water vigorously with ice. Strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with lime wheels. Serves 2.
Optional: Before filling the glass with ice, moisten the rim and dip it in a dish of kosher salt.