Desert-like Los Altos produces 'sweeter' tequila
Photograph by : D Agren
Frida Lagunas of Cazadores shows off some of her distilleries best stuff. Although not as famous as Tequila, Jalisco, the Los Altos municipality of Arandas is home to several famous tequila brands.
Story by : David Agren
Tequila put its namesake town on the map, but Mexico's famed firewater is also proudly produced northeast of Guadalajara in Los Altos, where the area's red soil, elevation and climate give beverages from the region special characteristics.
"When you try a tequila from here and one from Tequila, Jalisco ... there's a big difference," said Miguel Ramirez, operations manager for Tequila Cazadores, which is based in Arandas, a city of 70,000 located 120 kilometers northeast of Guadalajara.
Tequila owes many of its characteristics to the region the blue agave used to make it comes from.
"One of the differences here is that the soil where the agave is grown is red," Ramirez explained.
"It gives the agaves different nutrients."
Unlike the Tequila area, the temperature in the Los Altos region dips at night and some of its towns shiver through the winter. (The mercury in San Gaspar de los Reyes dropped to -14.5 degrees last January). Blue agave plants, which blanket the countryside, mature more slowly in Los Altos' cooler temperatures than in the Tequila area.
"The main difference between the (agave growing zones) is the climate," said Luis Alva Mu–oz, a technical advisor for Jalisco's Rural Development Secretariat (Seder).
"The Los Altos region is more desertlike. It's also colder, which causes the plants to grow to smaller sizes."
According to Alva, agaves grown in the Tequila area take seven years to mature. In comparison, agaves in Los Altos grow for eight to 10 years before being harvested.
As a result, agaves from Los Altos have a higher sugar content, which impacts the final products' flavors.
Bertha Becera, spokeswoman for the Guadalajara-based Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) said beverages from the Tequila area tend to be "drier" while "tequilas from Los Altos are more aromatic with more sweet notes."
As for tequila from one zone being better than another, both Bercera and Alva said that depends on personal preferences.
Distillers in both regions use similar production techniques, but some outfits like Cazadores (hunters in Spanish) strive to produce a premium product. At its production plant, which is adorned with the head of 12-point buck deer, Cazadores produces 100-percent-agave tequilas. In the production process, the distiller naturally ferments its agave juice and ages its spirits in oak barrels made from new wood, instead of using old whisky barrels.
Much of Los Altos' tequila production centers on Arandas and Atotonilco, pueblos famous for milk, cheese and cajeta production, along with fiery spirits. Other famed brands from the region include Don Julio, Siete Leguas (named for Pancho Villa's horse) and Cabrito (little goat).
Production in Los Altos, however, lags behind that in the Tequila region, home to some of the industry's most legendary distilleries, including Jose Cuervo, Suaza and Casa Herradura.
"There are large installations here, but I don't think the volume produced is as large," Ramirez explained.
Due in part to the town's image as the birthplace of tequila and efforts by distillers to make it something other than a booze-cruise destination, tourism is increasing in the Tequila area. A train dubbed the Tequila Express chugs towards Amatitan, Jalisco every Saturday.
A journey through the rolling hills of Los Altos, though, warrants a visit too. Cazadores will welcome guests Monday through Saturday once maintenance at its Arandas facility is completed later this month.
From the Guadalajara Reporter, April 15, 2006