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Honoring the Ancestral Custom of Making Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico


This submit initially appeared within the February 17, 2024 version of Eater Journey, dispatches from Eater workers about culinary locations price planning a complete journey round, direct to your inbox. Subscribe now.


Invisible to these round me, I might really feel tiny tributaries of sweat starting to creep down my bottom. Standing exterior underneath a blanket of blazing warmth and looking out forward at a area full of blue agave crops stretching in direction of an infinite horizon, there was a sure peace right here. Earlier that day, I’d traveled from my house in Atlanta to the state of Jalisco, Mexico, arriving in Guadalajara correct earlier than journeying additional and additional away from these metropolis limits, mainly, to find out about tequila as a visitor on the personal, invite-only Hacienda Patrón positioned in Atotonilco El Alto.

By way of the years, I’ve blithely joked that tequila makes me cry. Imbibing on the blue agave spirit does are inclined to encourage me to be extra outwardly emotional than typical, and general, the spirit isn’t my drink of selection. However being within the land of tequila and studying firsthand concerning the course of, one might say I used to be impressed, and motivated to transfer previous my perpetual tequila indifference.

A cacophony of sounds disrupted the serene silence as a jimador, somebody practiced within the artwork of breaking down an agave plant for processing elsewhere, went to work. Wielding a hoe, he whacked the greenery time and again with fervor till the bitter outward leaves started to peel away from the winter-white, pineapple-looking coronary heart of the agave. His actions have been so exact, his swings appeared to pare the plant like a sizzling knife sinking into butter.

Our guides had taken us on a tour of Patrón’s services and distilling course of. It was solely after I missed a number of cues that I spotted it was my flip to get entangled within the unearthing course of. On the path of the jimador, I shoved a metallic instrument that appeared like a thermometer into the guts of one of many piñas he’d simply completed slicing down. My information shortly translated into English that the instrument was used to measure the quantity of sugar inside the piña that had simply been harvested.

All through the remainder of my time in Jalisco, considered what it took to make each tequila I drank. Past the labor itself, what caught with me was how central ancestral custom is to the making of tequila. However the one factor that caught with me past the sightseeing and tasting of a number of tequilas inside was how central custom and ancestral follow is to the fruit of labor that’s a bottle of tequila.

The follow of being a jimador is commonly generational; a father teaches the artwork to a son, nephew, or one other member of the family, and when they’re of age, they take the baton, making this commerce their very own. In areas which are in any other case unreachable — in valleys or on mountaintops — jimadores set out on a tequila quest in groups of as much as seven individuals, filling vans with piñas, that might be cooked, crushed, and fermented at distilleries earlier than touchdown in a bottle for consumption and delight.

In a world the place buzzy celebrity-backed tequila strains are on-trend, particularly when considered as one other manner of making a profitable earnings stream, there’s significance in seeking to the artisanal and indigenous practices which are the inspiration of what it means to understand tequila.

What we drink and the meals we eat will not be merely touchstones of our tastes and preferences. They may also be a ritual of remembrance connecting us to those that got here earlier than us, those that studied a craft to turn out to be actually good at one thing. We eat, we style, we drink in celebration of them and of ourselves. We honor them and ourselves in persevering with to achieve for our ancestral and cultural meals.

Tequila, and what unfolds in Jalisco on daily basis in tribute to it, is a manifestation of routine, follow, and the artwork of dedication to craft. The expertise was a superb reminder that so many issues we eat with out pondering are the merchandise of numerous individuals’s ardour and labor.

Nneka M. Okona is a Nigerian American freelance author from and primarily based in Atlanta. Her work focuses on meals and journey and the way race, tradition, and historical past, particularly of Black individuals, intersect with these two themes

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