[indent]I was up early again on day three, already awake when the TV-alarm went off and another classic B&W Mexican movie was showing. Pedro Infante again? I wasn't sure, but thought it was another film star. Obviously it's a channel that specializes in classic Mexican film. I was still bemused that the set had that particular station for my benefit...
My internal clock was still on Canadian time, running an hour ahead. At home we rise at 6, have done so for 20+ years, and if we're not up by 7 the cats make sure we're awake to attend to their needs (one doesn't own cats; one is hostage to them). I couldn't break that habit in a few days here, so I usually awake about 5 local time, and used the time to read or write in my journal.
From the hotel at 6 and 7 a.m., you can hear the church bell strike, 11 chimes, a hesitation, then a 12th... and at 6 a.m. there were three loud, long whistles - calling workers to a shift at one of the distilleries? I never found out. Then the rooster crowed... but no one started screaming at it this morning. I was dressed and ready to go before the night attendant had even unlocked the front gate.
Tequila wakes slowly. Stores remained closed and shuttered in the early morning, and traffic was light on the streets. Vendors were setting up, unhurried, in the alleyway behind the church, the place where we'd had out 'shrimp burgers' two nights ago, now selling bootleg CDs and DVDs, as well as various items - clothing, jewellery, clothing, as well as some food stalls.
Tequila has also retained a lot of its older buildings, its built heritage, and it feels like it's been here for a long time, which by osmosis seeps into the industry that drives the town.
Along the streets, I saw vendors cleaning the sidewalk in front of their stores; a little water splashed on the concrete, them brushed away with a broom. Mexicans take such pride in so many things.
I took advantage of the time before the next bus to wander around the streets again and enjoy the morning freshness and the quiet. I stopped at the cafe in the zocalo for another coffee, took some more pictures, then headed back to the hotel.
Other members were up. I joined a group in the restaurant for a coffee, but we decided to eat elsewhere - the kitchen staff were still clearing up after the Penca Azul 'party' and it looked like it might still be a while before food started flowing. So the group of us went around the corner to a small restaurant on the main street, where we had a quick breakfast, with delicious eggs, beautiful, sweet, freshly-squeezed orange juice, and really, really terrible instant coffee. Then we dashed back to board the bus ando head over to Tequilas Finos, at the outskirts of town, beside the railway line.
I liked looking out the window at the houses and shops along the narrow streets as the bus slowly motored towards the distillery, seeing how the people of Tequila live, where they live, work and go to school.
Tequilas Finos is actually located in the original, now restored, train station. Passenger servce to Tequila has been suspended (except for the Tequila Express tourist train), and the freight service didn't need a fancy building, so the station ended up as a distillery. Quite an attractive front, really. The ubiquitous blue agave was planted in a garden along the front of the station.
The company makes both 100% and mixto tequilas, including Sol Dios, a Kosher tequila (made since 1999, although I confess it's hard to picture a Lubavitcher with a caballito...).
Once again we got the plant tour, and for the first time a chance to talk with a company biologist. He was delighted with opur presence, because, as he said, "There are no Mexican tequila fans like you." He explained how he uses gas chromatography to create a "fingerprint" of their tequilas, and how this would be importnat when the new requirements came into effect (March 7, which requires all factories to have their own labs).
Another new regulation requires plants to use only agave with at least 24% sugars, in part to prevent too-young plants been harvested (perhaps an issue in the last shortage). Random samples or agave are shredded, then the juice extracted, and a "copper reduction" method used to determine the sugar content.
Talking to their biologist gave us a better understanding of the technical complexities of making tequila, but conversely it also emphasized how much of it is still an art, despite all the new technology.
We were the first tourists to visit the factory - another first for our group. We got a chance to see a bottling-label operation in use, too. Like most of the places we visited, the managers and owners seemed happy, even proud, to show us every aspect of their business.
Our tour guide was Arturo Fuentes Cortes, plant manager. He told us, fankly, that producing mixtos, "helps us pay the bills." The tour was good, but at this point there was a certain weariness over the group, a sort of 'been there-done-that' feeling as we looked into fermenting tanks and pondered shiny stills. But even if we expected few surprises, each fabrica gave us another insight into the business, some new facet of the process, some new photo ops.
At the end of the tour, we went to the board room that looked down over the barrel cellar, for our fifth tasting, this time for Dos Manos reposado and aņejos. The aņejo is aged four years, was very coppery in colour, with a sweet, almost candy-like nose, and perhaps a bit fruity, with a slightly astringent aftertaste. I thought it was good, better than the reposado, but others were not as impressed.
Back on the bus, we headed out to the highway, for a short ride to Amatitian, a small town just east of Tequila, home of several other distillers including Tres Mujeres. Our next target was Casa Herradura, one of the oldest, and largest of the distillers, and a world unto itself.
And it deserves itw own entry.