travelog 123

Tequila Siete Leguas

They're writing again about alcohol, you will say. But of course! After all, we're studying agaves and from agaves you can make Tequila, Mezcal, Raicilla, and Pulque, all of which beverages with higher or lower percentages of alcohol. Not that we only taste Tequila & Co. when we're travelling, as some gentle readers have suggested after seeing our last travelog. We actually climb around in the field, hike up mountains, take pictures of plants; and from time to time, at night, after a really strenuous day, we treat ourselves to a glass of Tequila as a gratification for the day's hard work; or simply to be able to sleep better on one of those terrible mattrasses in a shack, also called hotel. It is not always Siete Leguas because it would be a sacrilege to drink this excellent Tequila, one of our absolute favorites, from our travel-kit, green plastic Tequila shot glasses designed as a cactus.

Siete Leguas means Seven Leagues (Miles), although long ago one mile counted as one league, that is about as far as one person can walk within one hour. In the English speaking area this was synonymous to 21 miles or 33.8 kilometers. something interesting is that a horse is able to cover Siete Leguas per day on average, that's why many small towns in Jalisco, for example, are about 21 miles apart. Atotonilco el Alto - Arandas = 21.909 miles. Atoto - Tototlan = 19.87 miles, to give you just two examples. The founding father of the Tequila factory, Don Ignacio González Vargas, was an admirer of Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary leader, whose horse's name was Siete Leguas. Since he was so enthusiastic about Pancho Villa he christened his Tequila, without further ado, after his hero's horse. Siete Leguas is one of the oldest Tequila factories. It was founded in Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco, around 1950 and has since always been run by the same family. Siete Leguas might not be that familiar to many people; you might have rather heard about Tequila Patrón. Patrón was originally produced by Siete Leguas, but in 1989 the rights were sold to St. Maarten Spirits. The brand grew bigger and bigger, and soon Siete Leguas was not able anymore to satisfy demands and Patrón built its own new factory just outside of Atotonilco el Alto to where the entire production was shifted.

The headquarters of Siete Leguas are along the access road to Atotonilco el Alto. There's a small store, of course many offices, and here's the place where the Tequila is bottled, labelled, and boxed. The actual factory, or better the two factories Centenario and La Vencedora lie out of the way from the highway at the upper end of town. From Tuesday to Friday a guided visit is possible after making arrangements with Señorita Berta. By now we know Berta and the Siete Leguas crew pretty well - no wonder, after all those visits with friends and family. If you're visiting Jalisco you should absolutely plan to visit a Tequila factory. If you're OK with mass tourism, you best head to Tequila to see Jose Cuervo, or ride the Tequila Express train to Amatitán to see Herradura (see our last travelog: direct link here). However, if you're more into individual tourism, you should consider a visit to Siete Leguas. The personal tour starts at 11AM and the people of Siete Leguas even offer this tour to only three visitors. We meet at the upper factory where we first enter a huge, airy building with the tahona in the middle. The tahona is something like a stone mill. It is the place where the cooked agave hearts were originally crushed. The tahona consists of a hole in the ground with a wooden post in the center where the millstone is fixed to a wooden beam. Two mules pull the millstone in circles around the pole. One worker and his pitchfork make sure that the crushed agave hearts are always piled up in front of the mules, so that everything is crushed and pressed really well.

The mules pull the millstone twice per day. Probably the most popular question concerning the mules is if they have not yet urinated during their work. Apparently not. The animals are very well brought up and their master knows them very well too; he can see if one of them needs to pee urgently. Besides, the chief chemist reminds you, we should think about what we would prefer in our Tequila: mule urine or tractor engine oil. The former is natural and the agave juice will be fermented and distilled anyway. The latter is viscous, black, and oily so it will most likely not be completely neutralized with the fermentation and distillation. Of course a tour is not really complete without having seen the mules, but if you arrive unannounced or they have a very important group, ie potential buyers or restaurateurs coming later in the day, it might happen that the mule show is reserved for the important people. While we watch the mules working, we each receive a piece of cooked agave to taste. It is of a honey-brown color, very stringy, and tastes really fruity and sweet. You can buy such cooked agave pieces at some street vendors where they are served with lime juice, salt, and chile. Even if you miss the mules, there's of course much more to see and taste at the factory. Around the corner we stand in a tall, beautiful brick room with photos on the walls, plus cleaned spotless stainless steel tanks. Fermentation takes place here and climbing up a ladder you can put your nose deep into one of these tanks to smell the fruity aroma. The gentle reader might remember the passage from our previous travelog where we talked about the "natural" fermentation. Here at Siete Leguas we also hear the same story that the fermentation is induced naturally, ie with yeast particles in the air. We are more inclined to believe this story at this factory, because the amount of agave juice which is fermented is low and the tanks relatively small, so it is quite possible that it might work. A little further ahead, we get to the first tasting. From Tequila glasses we can try the product after the first distillation, a cloudy liquid with more than 70% alcohol content. Berta, our guide, recommends to take a very small sip first and rinse the mouth a little bit with it. And really, the second sip does not burn too much anymore when passing through the throat. Here we stand next to beautiful copper caldrons from which steam and smoke rises. Copper vessels are more labor-intensive in maintenance and also more expensive, but supposedly they give the Tequila a special touch which is why they are still used in smaller, more exclusive factories.

After this first tasting we're walking down the road to the second factory. That's where the agave hearts are delivered and cut by some really strong men. Of course we are offered to try and see how hard this job is: the coa, an oval, sharp knive on a long steel pole, is pretty heavy. You also need to hit correctly; one agave heart weighs between 30-50 kilograms (60-100 lbs.). This is heavy exercise for your arms. Through various openings in the floor, the cut agave hearts are shoved into the ovens where they are subsequently cooked with steam. From this gallery we have a good view over this part of the factory. Here the steamed agave hearts are moved through machines on rollers and they are crushed and squeezed mechanically. There are more fermentation tanks. The dry fiber, bagazo in Spanish, the waste product from the cooked hearts, is recycled as fertilizer and compost for the fields. Now we taste the product after the second distillation. It is still a very powerful fire water. There's a system in the house to produce distilled water which is used to refine the fire water to real Tequila Siete Leguas. The product of the upper factory, supposedly very sweet, plus the poduct of the lower factory, tart and herbal, are mixed together to finally become Tequila Blanco, which is sold in the store. The cellars with the many barrels are in this same building.

After we have seen all of this too we climb up the stairs to the tasting room where various glasses are placed on small tables. First we get to taste the Blanco, the original Tequila which is said to be the favorite of men because of its tart aroma. Then we try the Reposado. At Siete Leguas the Reposado is aged for eight months on average in white oak (Quercus alba) barrels. Then follows the Añejo, aged for at least 24 months in oak barrels with a beautiful golden color and very smooth aroma. The oak barrels, btw, come from the US where they were used for aging Whiskey. Apparently Whiskey makers can only use their barrels one single time, a fact Mexican Tequila makers take good advantage of. After the Añejo, the culmination is the D'Antaño, a Tequila aged in oak barrels for five years. It produces beautiful so-called "church windows" (a German expression for the tears running down the side of a glass) and can easily outdo the best Cognacs or Armanacs. With Canadian friends the tour goes very well that when we arrive at this final tasting Leigh is already very happy with all the fire water he has tasted during the morning; however, when he tries the D'Antaño, it's like the revelation of a new world. Berta perfectly understands his enthusiasm and pours him a couple more glasses which convert Leigh into an avowed Siete Leguas fan. With our old friend George, the retired radiologist from Germany, we have another successful visit at Siete Leguas, where Berta and George both talk away in broken English about their phenomenal Tequila while tasting it to the fullest. Of course we can't leave out the two visits with our friends Jean-Marc and Lupita from Guadalajara and the former Consul Dieter Gruber from Basle. Again we had a great tasting, and continued the good day with a great meal; later we sampled some more Tequila.

By the way, there's a new Siete Leguas product on the market, the Single Barrel Tequila, but neither the chemist nor Berta have sampled it. As the name suggests, this Tequila is aged between 5-10 years in one single barrel and never mixed from various barrels. It is possible that an Añejo or D'Antaño are mixed together with Blanco to reach the desired flavor. The Single Barrel is for clients who are Whiskey aficionados or people who buy one whole barrel.

After the tour, we drive down to the highway to the Siete Leguas shop. Prices don't vary much between their shop and other Licorerías in Atotonilco; you will be surprised to find out that the bottles here are not cheaper even if you're buying directly at the source. Some friends buy at the Licorería, others try their luck with the producer; but when everything is on the table to be paid, it turns out that their credit card reader doesn't work which is a little bit annoying. But this is really the only complaint about Siete Leguas, and it could also be brushed aside as just another typical Mexican thing.

Last but not least, we have good news for Siete Leguas Tequila enthusiasts who don't know where to buy this product in Switzerland, for example. You may try the El Maiz store behind the main train station in Zurich. There's also a store and online shop in Embrach, Casa del Tequila, that has Siete Leguas for sale. In Germany there's a Tequila Hacienda in the greater Wiesbaden area where you can buy Siete Leguas products.

Now we have written enough, it is already late in the afternoon and time to enjoy a Tequila on the terrace and let things slide. Somewhere in the world it is certainly already six o' clock! Prost! Salud! Or better yet: ¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa' dentro!

April 2015

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen