Like champagne, tequila is a denomination of origin product that can be produced only in a specific region. Of the five Mexican states where tequila is produced, the OG is Jalisco. This region of west-central Mexico is home to namesake pueblo magico Tequila, whose downtown bears the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to a legendary hole-in-the-wall bar that regularly tops best-of lists.
For tequila lovers, a weekend visit to Jalisco reveals a wealth of food and beverage experiences, from the down-home to the high-end. The best part: with the exception of large cities like Guadalajara, you won’t need to fight crowds to sample your favorite beverage, or authentic Mexican foods that pair beautifully with it.
Visit the Blue Agave Fields
Kick off your explorations with a trip to one of Jalisco’s many blue agave fields to learn about cultivation and harvesting. We chose Tequila Atanasio, in Tequila, a sprawling plantation of the spiky succulent. After a lesson in separating the mother plant from its babies, which draw nutrients away from the parent, we learned how to harvest the piña, the medicine ball-sized fruit from which agave nectar is extracted.
Go to Tequila Atanasio in the morning, and you’ll help prepare—and enjoy—an al fresco fieldworker’s taco breakfast. The process, from roasting chiles over a cookfire to pressing your own corn tortillas and loading them up with beans or pulled chicken, is one of those authentic experiences that tourism companies often tout, but rarely deliver on.
Tour a Tequila Distillery
The town of Tequila has 10 distilleries, from well-known commercial brands like Jose Cuervo to small-batch Tequila Fortaleza. For a detailed look at how the spirit is made, take a tour of La Guarreña, a family-owned distillery run by third-generation master distiller Jorge Antonio Salles. La Guarreña makes all of the tequilas for El Tequileño, founded in 1959 by industry pioneer Don Jorge Salles Cuervo.
After the tour, walk down the block to the rustic-chic El Tequileño tasting room. The distillery’s knowledgeable staff will walk you through a tasting of up to 10 additive-free tequilas—from the agave-forward Platinum and clear, cocktail-friendly Cristalino to the world’s first Reposado Rare. The latter is made by aging a reposado tequila in American oak pipons for six years. The result: a smooth, complex sipper, with notes of oak, bourbon, and honey.
Stay at a Tequila Hotel
La Guarreña has its own entry in the trending distillery hotel market. Casa Salles opened just before the pandemic, only to shut down again. It’s still got that shiny-new feeling, with spacious, comfortable rooms that feature plush mattresses and linens, and modern bathrooms with large showers and a separate vanity area. Ask for one of the pool-view rooms, which overlook the hotel’s courtyard.
Casa Salles isn’t just a great spot for sleeping off a day of tequila sipping. You can also book a cooking class with executive chef Sergio Perez, a bespoke barbecue, or a five-course dinner—paired with tequila and tequila cocktails—at Mango Cocina de Origen, the on-premise restaurant.
We visited during Day of the Dead, and were treated to a dinner on the theme. Courses included mahi mextlapique cooked in a corn husk with purslane, and paired with an otherworldly passionfruit black martini: tequila reposada, activated charcoal, and black lava salt, served with a steaming globe of ice.
Visit Mexico’s Oldest Tequila Bar
Downtown Tequila is about a 10-minute walk from Casa Salles, through cobblestone streets where colonial buildings painted adobe, butter, and sepia, and decked out in folkloric mosaics, stand sentinel. Soak in the lively atmosphere, visit the street vendors, or pick up snacks and souvenirs at the local shops.
Around the corner from the stately Church of Santiago Apostal, you’ll find La Capilla. The unassuming bar might not have a sign, but it’s easy to spot, thanks to its boisterous music and line of tequila devotees snaking out the door and down the street.
Our visit began with shots of tequila—poured, college style, straight into the mouth—and friendly conversation. As dusk slid into the dark of night and the staff belted out “Despacito,” we moved on to our next drink: the Batanga. La Capilla’s spinoff of the Cuba Libre, the Batanga is a simple yet refreshing blend of tequila, Mexican Coke, and fresh lime juice.
The late Don Javier Delgado Corona, who founded the bar back in 1961, attributed the drink’s alchemical quality to his stirring the cocktail with the same knife he used to chop limes, chiles, and other produce.
Can we vouch for the science behind the magnetic appeal of Don Julio’s creation? Nope. But some mysteries are better left unsolved, and the Batanga is a must when visiting Tequila.
Have an Authentic Mexican Meal & a Drink at a Tequila-Education Outpost
About six miles southeast of Guadalajara lies vibrant, artsy Tlaquepaque. Known for its “umbrella lane” and central plaza strung with colorful papel picado, the city is a great stop for shopping. Its stores and galleries sell traditional crafts like ceramics, handwoven textiles, folk spirit and Day of the Dead figurines, and traditional sweets such as guava rolls and honey-coated cocuixtle, the fruit of a bromeliad.
Tlaquepaque also has several excellent restaurants that serve authentic casual and elevated Mexican fare. Lively Casa Luna serves dishes like chile en nogada and guacamole with grasshoppers. Sister venue Restaurante Cielito Lindo—where Jay-Z reportedly dined in early 2022—has a tiled courtyard-turned-dining room decorated with wrought-iron furniture and hung with wicker pendant lamps. Seafood, like the fried shrimp served on a bed of fresh guacamole, is their forte.
A few blocks from downtown Tlaquepaque, mini distillery Casa Lotecito provides educational tequila tastings. It’s run by Scarlet and Grover Sanschagrin, American expats who fell in love with the spirit and developed the Tequila Matchmaker app, to help beverage aficionados find tequilas made without additives like glycerin, sugar, and vanilla extract. (Spoiler alert: according to the Sanschagrins, 70 percent of tequila has additives, thanks to a loophole in Mexico’s Ministry of Health code.) Head upstairs to the private bar for a craft cocktail made from one of Casa Lotecito’s favorite premium brands.
If you’re in the “more sipping, less talking” mind-set, stop in Guadalajara at Matilde Mi Amor, a newer craft cocktail bar. Try one of their creative selections, like the Amiga Date Cuenta (El Tequileño Platinum with mezcal, Jamaica, vanilla, lemon, and Himalayan salt). The bar also offers a long list of Mexican spirits like tequila, sotol, mezcal, raicilla, and bacanora, as well as vodka, whiskey, and gin.
Robin Catalano’s writing has appeared in National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, TIME, Smithsonian, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR, Hemispheres, Robb Report, Bon Appetit, Fodor’s, ROVA, Insider, Boston Globe, Albany Times Union, and a variety of other regional publications.
Photo of tequila bottles by Adrian Ceron, used through Creative Commons license.
Photo of agave field via Unsplash.
Photo of Casa Salles courtesy of Casa Salles.
Photo of Tequila sign is public domain.