A week in Mexico with Centinela

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Three bartenders entered the regional heats of the Centinela comp. They won. They went to Mexico for the final. We thought we’d keep them company.

Last year Centinela and Cabrito tequila held a competition in the UK. There were three heats. The winner of each reached the final. The twist was the final was at the Centinela distillery in Mexico.

The finalists

Some of you may have been lucky enough to have been to Mexico with a tequila or mezcal brand. Some of you may have been unlucky enough to know someone who has and had to listen to their endless stories and pretend you like the fridge magnet they got you.

BarLifeUK have been lucky enough to have been before and unlucky enough to know plenty of people who have also been. In all of those conversations one thing is a constant. Tequila. Not the liquid but the place.

You see Mexico is famous for two things. First up, front and centre is Tequila. Second (especially if you are an American college kid) is golden beaches, deep blue sea and a lot of bikinis. Tequila brand trips tend to focus on the first (obviously) but neglect the second. Not so with Centinela.

Guadalajara

The trip started (and ended) as so many tequila trips do, in the sprawling city-scape of Guadalajara. For anyone visiting Mexico for the first time Guadalajara is something of a disappointment after spending approximately 100 hours on a plane (even if you do open a pop-up bar in the back of it – strong work Jon).

It’s a city, full of main roads, cars and fast food joints (admittedly it does contain more than your usual percentage of strip clubs). As you drive through from the airport there is always a slight air of disappointment from those on their first trip to the land of the lovely bottoms (that’s Mexico for those not paying attention in the back). It’s a disappointment that doesn’t last long.

As soon as you leave the air-conditioned safety of the car it is the atmosphere that hits you before the heat. There is an edge to Guadalajara, to Mexico, an edge which is immediately pleasing, that makes you want more. Mexico is a very addictive place.

On this occasion we sucked up some of this atmosphere outside the hotel before we were whisked off to a fancy Italian restaurant by one of our Centinela hosts for the week. I know, I know, in Mexico, Italian food! But after a long flight with reheated dog food (or American Airlanes finest as it’s otherwise known) a good feed was very welcome and set us all up splendidly.

What a cool fella

The next day got Mexican real quick. We awoke in our hotel with a couple of hours drive ahead of us. Immediately there was only one thing one everyone’s mind….. Travelling liquid.

On masse we made our way round the corner to the local 7-eleven. It sold beer, it sold ice, it sold mixers, it even sold a cooler box to use as storage. However what it sold the hell out of was tequila. This was our first glimpse of how tequila is done in Mexico.

Buy a bottle of Centinela and get half a bottle free! There was pointing, there was laughing, there was picture taking but most importantly there was two bottles ordering (well three in reality).

The drive to the distillery was obviously a lot of fun but more of that later, right now we’re talking about Guadalajara.

On route back from the shop we encountered a Mexican institution, the street taco cart. It was run by a very enthusiastic, well fed man. With the help of our Spanish speaking group members we ordered. Food came. It was GOOD. He fell in love with Emma. She was vegetarian. He was confused. He loved her more.

Now seems the right time to introduce you to our merry band of travellers. The three competitions winners/finalists were:

Emma ‘No not chicken’ Andrew, from Scotland
Valentino ‘Pretty boy’ Longo, from London
Ruairidh ‘TeFeel Her’ Muir, from Oxford

The hosts were:

Eduardo ‘8am no later’ Gomez
Chris ‘Sorry what? I was asleep’ Amey

And the lucky hangers on were:

Julian ‘He’s taking a photo’ Lupita
Jon ‘Pool balls’ Carter

That night and the final day of our trip were spent drinking in, around and through Guadalajara. It is a fun city. With Eduardo we had a local who could take us off the beaten track and did so with great results.

I am not missing out any details here for any reason other than I can’t really remember them. Guadalajara is fun and we funned the hell out of it.

Agave Fields

Mexico is a beautiful country and over the following few days we saw a lot of it through the windows of our second home, the mini-van. The scenery was stunning, with lush valleys mixing with arid landscapes covered in a green-blue tinged sea of Agave plants stretching for miles. Giant eagles and vultures soared above us as we delved deeper into the heart of the country.

How it should be done

We weren’t so stunning. We mixed Agave based liquid for miles. Lush Centinela rehydrated our arid throats and before long our dulcet tones soared across the landscape as we belted out Hotel California (the Eagles….. get it?).

Our destination on the Centinela bar/bus was the Centinela distillery but first we stopped off in the agave fields where the magic starts to happen.

For those of you not lucky enough to yet visit Mexico and their agave fields will not appreciate the simple majesty of them. Majesty may sound like an over the top and Jane Austen fuelled phrase but it is the only one that explains what you feel upon stepping onto the spike filled acres of land that cover so much of the countries land.

The neat rows of the plants stretch seemingly forever and the lack of machinery and its resulting noise is strangely comforting. It is the Jimadors natural environment, a land they belong to, respect and thrive in.

The plants themselves, the agaves, stand in perfect lines, their colour almost out of place in a apparently dry and tanned landscape. Sitting, waiting to be expertly harvested using tools and techniques dating back centuries.

Then a bus load of idiots from the UK turn up and get involved. We watched with reverence as the Jimadors demonstrated their craft, we took pictures, we muttered to each other ‘that doesn’t look so hard’…. ‘it is a bit hot though’. Then they gave us the coa (the sharp tool of the trade) and boy did we make them look good.

The swift flick that saw them remove the ‘leaves’ saw us hacking for a couple of minutes, the deft trimming of the heart of the plant (the pina) which took them a flash took us a Gordon and a half. They wore long trousers, shirts and a hat, immaculately dressed. We wore shorts and a t-shirt. We sweated more than Graham Norton at Putin’s birthday party, their armpits stayed as dry as the land.

Smug git

I have dozens of photos of the gang hacking at the poor agaves. Every single one of them is unflattering at best apart from Valentino. He was dressed in a shirt and waistcoat and somehow manages to look suave (despite having the upper body strength of a small girl), the smug Italian git.

Distillery Action

With the laughter of the Jimadors still ringing in our ears we headed to the home of the magic, the Centinela distillery. Set in acres of beautiful grounds, on the outskirts of Arandas, Casa Centinela is one of the most striking distilleries BarLifeUK has ever visited.

The building in which all of the workings are housed has the worn facade of a worldy old man. If a building could speak then the Centinela distillery would be an amazing dinner party guest.

Despite the size of the operation the distillery feels very raw. You feel as if you can touch every part (don’t worry you actually can’t so no chance of finding any BarLifeUK DNA in your next bottle) and the smells and sounds of the production pull you in instantly.

The tour takes you through the whole process of tequila production with the unloading of the pinas from the back of the truck (they seemed to have left our hacked at attempts back on the field) starting off the experience. It was also possible to taste roasted agave plants straight from the ovens which were sweet, full of juice and quite possibly the best tequila hangover cure on the planet (at this point we should probably say something about responsible drinking….. does that count?).

The smell of the Centinela distillery would make anyone who says ‘I don’t drink tequila anymore I had a bad experience’ rethink their choices immediately. Every part of your body wants to try the final product every step you take on the tour.

We didn’t have to wait for the final product however as we were handed tasting glasses and encouraged to sample the product straight from the fermenting tanks. I think we were supposed to try one and move on, but Jon led us astray and we managed to sample at least 9.

The intriguing thing was the difference in flavours from the different stages the tequila was at. It gave a unique insight into the points of production at which the different flavour profiles emerge. It also served to wake the pallet up for the tasting and competition to come.

Final Time

With all of the adventures we’d already had it was easy to forget there was a competition final still to hold. The cellars of the Centinela distillery were an amazing backdrop for proceedings with barrels adorning the signatures of previous lucky groups from around the world.

We were honoured with the chance to sign our very own barrel of Centinela before the competition started and it was as this happened that a very touching moment unfolded. Reading over the signed barrels we came across one signed by just one person (a rarity amongst the group efforts), a signing that brought tears to this grumpy old gits eyes.

I wasn’t lucky enough to know Henry Besant well, every time I speak to someone about him I regret not knowing him a little more. However reading his inscription on his own barrel of Centinela drove home just what an exceptional and humble person he was. As we were handed a glass of exceptionally special, aged Centinela I raised it to him, from what I have heard he would have liked that.

Sentiment can only last so long when tequila is needing to be drunk however, and we had a competition ready to go. The finalists had two rounds to navigate with an original drink followed by a speed round.

Ruairidh (ok enough of checking how to spell that – Rory from now on) kicked things off and true to form made a very tasty drink with some massively inappropriate chat. Luckily for him the judging panel were all Mexican so he got away with it.

That’s how it’s done

Emma went next. Over the past couple of days we’d discovered that a ginger Scottish girl is something of ‘interest’ for the men of Mexico but she quickly distracted them with great flavour combinations and a charming performance.

Valentino was last up and quickly settled into his usual relaxed, calm and engaging routine. However just to keep us on our toes he knocked out a bit of blue, much to the enjoyment of the thirsty crowd.

The speed round happened, they were (as you can imagine) all speedy. I’m not going to mention any breakages I’m just going to announce the winner.

With an all-round cracking performance and drink, Emma proved that you can live off cheese and bread and still kick arse by taking out the win and a very nice and special bottle on Centinela for her troubles. A great and very deserving winner.

Journeys

It was late. We had to make it back to the hotel. It was two hours plus drive. We were in a distillery. We picked up a couple of bottles of tequila. The journey was good. The morning was not.

However there is nothing like the promise of sea, sand and Miami Vice’s to raise you from your slumber and the next morning we set off for the part of Mexico usually only seen by fat or scantily clad Americans (or horribly both). The coast.

A quick stop off at the shop (it was buy one get half a one for free after all) and we were back in our second home, the mini-van-bar for the chug to the seaside town of Puerto Vallarta.

Our home for the next few days was a beautiful all inclusive resort complete with beach, swim up pool bar, restaurants, swim up pool bar, iguanas in trees, swim up pool bar, Canadians, swim up pool bar, 6 pasty brits and Valentino…. Did I mention the pool bar? It was swim up.

As you can imagine we didn’t move a great deal. Rory moved to chat up a group of American police dog handlers, one of whom was in the skimpiest pair of pink bikini bottoms I have ever seen…. they were guys.

Emma moved out of the sun. Jon moved gingerly into the pool. Valentino moved when people were watching. Julian moved a lot but I have no idea where to. Chris moved when he wasn’t asleep and Eduardo moved after midday when he woke up.

It was great. We did head out a couple of times into the town of Puerto Vallarta. One ill-fated trip saw it rain so hard the streets turned into rivers in a matter of seconds and the party was soon brought back to the hotel. However one night saw BarLifeUK in its natural un-environment.

Have you’ve ever seen an Australian at a political correctness seminar? Well that is nothing compared to BarLifeUK in a club. Add in VIP table service and some very lovely ladies from Centinela trying to dance with us and we look more uncomfortable than Russell Brands nurse on STD check-up Tuesday.

It was the other side of Mexico, and in between dodging offers/attempts to dance, asking the very nice man to make me another drink and laughing at the choice of music (I’m no expert on such things but I’m pretty sure Brittney Spears  is not cool) it was the best people watching place in the world.

With our partners in inappropriate spotting, Emma and Chris, we saw it all. I can’t go into great detail as… well mainly because it was only funny if you’d drunk a paddling pool of tequila. However if you ever get the chance to go to a club on the coast of Mexico do it. If you are single, double do it. If you can’t pull there, simply give up.

Sea’n It

After a night in a club in Mexico I was pretty sure I never wanted to see another whale tail. The following day however I was treated to the finest I had ever seen.

When brand trips do something you wouldn’t expect you can bet your bottom dollar they’re gonna be good. On this occasion the trip involved a boat, a large number of Canadians, a lot of watered down alcohol and even more whales.

They’re in there somewhere…

You know you’re not in Tooting anymore when before you board a whale watching/snorkelling boat you have the option to pose for a photo with a pretty grumpy looking sea lion. Huge animal cruelty aside the day was pretty special.

The whales were everywhere, with baby whales (whalettes?) in tow who seemed to be performing to the crowd. Lots of ‘Awwwww’ noises were made, plenty of cheers were given and even more pictures of a splash of water just after a whale had surfaced were taken.

The music the boat owners decided to pair with this vision of majestic beauty was slightly less effective. To put it another way, it was shit. Jon put in headphones just to get away from it. As it turned out they weren’t even plugged in.

There was also snorkelling which BarLifeUK missed due to a dicky inside ailment which affected every member of the group at one point or another. However when the gang came back from the ‘hidden beach’ with stories of saving people from certain death through the ‘water cavern’ we weren’t that upset.

It is also worth noting that Mexico is to Americans what Ibiza is to Brits. There are beautiful places hemmed in by drunk idiots. As such the boat was a booze cruise with drinking games the order of the day. The hosts pitted America vs Canada vs Mexico vs England. Downing a beer was key. Jon won. The UK’s reputation is intact (who needs to be able to ice skate quickly?).

It was an incredible day, it was an incredible trip, it is an incredible country.

Thank you to Centinela for looking after us so well. Thank you to Amathus for organising such a great competition. Thank you to the whales for putting on such a show and most importantly thank you to our fearless, tireless and most patient driver who I spent more time with in one week than most couples do in a year.

Oh and in case you didn’t get the message. Mexico…. Go there. Now!

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