By Duncan Tucker
Ever wondered where your hangovers come from? Well now you can find out first-hand on Jose Cuervo’s express train to the town of Tequila.
Billed as the only train that actually takes passengers to Tequila, one of Mexico’s fabled “pueblos magicos,” (magic towns) the Cuervo Express opened in February. It is not be confused with rival service, the Tequila Express, which for 14 years has been transporting tourists to the Herradura distillery in nearby Amatitan.
The leisurely 60-kilometer journey from Guadalajara to Tequila takes exactly two hours. Holding up to 395 passengers, the finely furnished seven-carriage train rumbles along at a gentle pace through the rugged Jalisco countryside, past volcanoes and row upon row of spiky blue agave plants. As much agave-based booze as you can handle (margaritas, shots, long drinks) is readily available throughout the return journey, along with delicious nibbles, including empanadas, tacos and tortas ahogadas.
Upon arrival in Tequila, guests are transferred by bus to the Jose Cuervo factory. Home of the iconic Cuervo raven, La Rojeña was founded in 1795, making it the oldest distillery in Latin America. The distillation process and the history of Casa Cuervo are explained at length on the factory tour, which also includes free samples of various tequilas in case anyone’s attention starts to wane.
The most potent spirit on offer is a 55-percent white tequila, which is so strong it must be watered down before it can be sold legally. The longer a tequila is aged in wooden barrels, the richer its flavor and the darker amber its color. The finest sample available is the Reserva de la Familiar, a limited edition añejo (aged tequila) made from hand-selected mature agaves. A bottle will set you back over 3,000 pesos (around $250 USD), but its smooth taste with hints of honey and vanilla makes it worth every centavo.
In a later tasting session guests are taught to appreciate the different smells and subtle flavors of white, gold and añejo tequila. Brewers such as Cuervo want tequila to enjoy the reputation it deserves as a fine drink comparable to Cognac or Scotch. The recommended way to consume tequila is not to down it with a smearing of salt and lime like an over-excited student on spring break, but to hold it in the mouth for five to ten seconds and absorb the rich flavors.
For those who prefer not to take their tequila straight, guests are offered a round of strawberry margaritas during a live show in the gardens of the Cuervo estate. Tribal music is blasted out as smoke wafts across a small stone amphitheater where men and women dance in Aztec-style costumes, symbolizing the ancient roots of Mexico’s fiery national drink. Agave cultivation dates back hundreds of years to when pre-Columbian civilizations brewed a sticky drink known as “pulque,” although tequila as we know it was born later when the Spanish introduced more advanced distilling techniques.
After this colorful history lesson, guests are treated to a flurry of mariachi music and traditional folkloric dancing, while enjoying a buffet of traditional Mexican cuisine. Then it’s back aboard the train, where there’s plenty more tequila for those still standing, or freshly brewed coffee for anyone that’s had one too many.
At 1,290-1,700 pesos ($100 – $130 USD), the Jose Cuervo Express is a little more expensive than the Tequila Express, which costs 1,200 pesos. However, it promises a more upmarket experience, without such a relentless barrage of mariachi music throughout the day, and it is the only rail option for those who want to actually see the town of Tequila.
The train leaves from Guadalajara’s Estacion Ferrocarril on Avenida Washington, next to Parque Agua Azul. Friday evening tours leave the station at 7:30 p.m., returning early on Saturday at 2.30 a.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the Express leaves at 11:00 a.m. and returns at 8:00 p.m. Children and senior citizens travel at discounted prices.
For reservations or more information, visit http://www.josecuervoexpress.com/ or call free on 01-800-681-0442. Tickets can also be purchased in Guadalajara at the Jose Cuervo store on Avenida Vallarta #5005 or in the Hotel Camino Real on Mariano Otero.