Mexico signifies different things to different people…
…for me it is home to the first World Cup I remember and brought me the loveable mascot Pique, for many Americans it is the only country other than their own they can point at on a map, for anyone aged between 32 and 50 it is the home of the sombrero wearing mouse Speedy Gonzales, however worldwide it is undoubtedly best known as the home of Tequila.
It is a country I have long dreamt of visiting to not only track down a now presumably, arthritic, bitter and alcoholic Pique but also to learn more about the bartenders best friend and worst enemy Tequila.
Last month the fine people of Jose Cuervo and more specifically the exceptionally fine Tim Homewood invited me to join them for a 3 day trip to Guadalajara and Tequila. There will be a more detailed article to come on the actual Cuervo distillery, manufacturing process and agave fields however this trip was so much more than that I feel compelled to tell you all about it.
After a days flight we arrived at Guadalajara Airport at 9pm and were quickly ushered onto a people carrier for the 30 minute drive to our hotel. Not quickly enough to stop Tim from popping into Duty Free and acquiring the first bottle of Tradicional of the trip.
The bottle was cracked and after a flight which saw us sitting at randomly placed spots around the plane and a transfer than only gave us time for a Sam Adams and Pint of Margarita (and they say travel is more civilised these days!) our group was given the first real chance to bond.
My esteemed colleague Andy has often told of the importance of the people you find yourself with on these trips. After all when you are spending every waking hour (and if you get lucky some sleeping hours too) over several days with a group of people any weak link (or ‘annoying ball sack’ as they are technically known) can quickly create a very bad vibe.
In this respect Tim could not have picked better bunch. Tim and I were joined by Andy from Kensington Roof Gardens, Dan from Barrio Central, Dean from Hoxton Bar & Grill, James from LCC, Kyle from LAB and Rob from Jaguar Shoes (or BMW Flip-Flops as they may be called by the time you read this).
Needless to say the Tradicional didn’t stand a chance and 30 minutes later the empty bottle was being swapped for a tray of ice-cold Tommys Margarita’s. A night out in a Mezcal bar called 400 Rabbits (in which we failed to drink any Mezcal) and an American Pool Bar which served beers in pitcher sized glasses and our first night was complete.
The Cuervo Express
Unbeknownst to us as we awoke the next morning in our palatial rooms, we were about to embark on one of the most extraordinary days of our lives. The omens didn’t look good for Dan when at breakfast a dead bird fell from the tree he was sitting under (oddly not the last time this was to happen to him on this trip). An hour later, however, he was sat with the rest of us in a train carriage that would have given the Fat Controller something to puff about.
The Jose Cuervo Express is a new addition to the Cuervo family and in keeping with that analogy, it is the hot 18 year old cousin from LA. We were in the Don Guadalupe carriage which comes complete with its own bar and a bartender banging out frozen Margarita’s at a speed any Rematch bartender would be proud of.
The train and indeed the trip as a whole wasn’t put on specifically for team UK. We were joined and entertained by bartenders and drinks aficionados from Greece, Spain, France, Turkey, UAE and Switzerland. I mentioned earlier the importance of your companions, well this extends to those from outside your core group. Once again we were very lucky with a fantastic group who I sincerely hope I will see in their own bars very soon.
After a couple of hours and a fair few drinks we emerged on the streets of the town of Tequila. As we were handed bandanas and cowboy hats the rumours of a horse ride through the streets of this beautiful town became very real. 40 snorting, noisy, twitchy and seemingly nervous beasts with flared nostrils descended on a group of unsuspecting horses. For many the ride was one of the highlights of the trip, for me it was happily avoided – me and horses are not friends.
Brand trips can take you to amazing countries across the globe however due to their very nature getting a real feel for the countries you visit and the people who inhabit them is usually unrealistic. Cuervo, who give 5% of their profits to the local community, had other ideas.
The afternoon found us in the main square, divided into groups with each given a part assembled bike, a local primary school kid and a huge amount of decorative material. This was our chance to give something back to the local community and the look of joy on their faces as they rode off on their new bikes was a real highlight. Even more impressively is that as far as we know not a single child has yet died of a brake failure caused by shoddy workmanship.
The evening saw everyone gather for dinner before heading to Guadalajara’s hottest night club. The VIP area was festooned with bottles of Cuervo and with unnerving speed the UK contingent sniffed out the two bottles of Platino and had polished them off in 10 minutes flat. After an evening of Justin Beiber and tequila the hotel pool was next to suffer along with our mini bars as the party continued late into the night.
Dean vs An Angry Mexican in Lycra
Day Two of the trip saw a group of sunglasses festooned bartenders set a challenge in the local market. The UK team were soon trawling the stalls to find various items on a shopping list consisting of shot glasses, margarita glasses, tequila barrels and more.
As it turned out we were rubbish at negotiating discounts with Andy somehow managing to pay more for a shot glass than the original offer. A certain member of the group had formed a crush on the filmographer of the trip Paola, so to show his affection we had each piece of merchandise inscribed with her name. Only when we had to display the items at lunch did we realise how creepy this looked and needless to say didn’t win her admiration!
The evening saw yet another highlight of the trip, a visit to a Lucha Libre bout. For those uneducated in such things it is basically the Mexican version of WWE. In a sweaty school hall we sat drinking beer whilst overweight middle aged men in masks threw themselves at each other, it was awesome. Whilst Fat Rey Mysterio nearly won man of the night for some high flying antics it ended up being Dean who stole the prize.
On route to the toilet he walked past the ring just as a big, angry Mexican was thrown through the ropes onto the floor at his feet. A worried hush descended the group as he stared up at Dean and the crowd got agitated. Not one to be fazed by such things Dean put his arm around the wrestlers moist shoulders and checked he was okay before giving us all the thumbs up. On another day the balaclava donned mafia hit man guarding the toilets may have shot him, on this day he was a hero.
After an evening of more tequila and a tutored tasting by one of our hosts Mark (who was the next day to prove himself as a true legend) and more poolside shenanigans, the stage was set for our final day and the trip to the Cuervo Distillery and Agave fields.
Cuervo Hacienda Party
As I said a detailed look at the Agave fields and distillery tour will be coming shortly however the evening saw us partying hard within the Cuervo Hacienda. There was dancing and drinking, singing and shot limbo, there was knife throwing and the world whistling champion, there was a lot I am unable to tell you about (what happens in Tequila and all that).
One of the highlights of the night came at James’ expense. The photographer who had been following us around the whole trip had printed out copies of his best pictures for people to take home. James had been enjoying the attention of the camera the whole trip so whilst he was belting out some Elvis action on the dance floor the rest of us removed all the pictures of him from the display.
His little face getting more and more disappointed as he searched in vain for a picture of himself was an image I shall long remember (don’t worry we gave them back in the end).
As we were gathered around the piano in the hotel bar later in the evening (by gathered I mean using it to hold ourselves upright) as Markus knocked out some tunes I had time to reflect on the trip and the people I had spent it with.
We had truly had the trip of a lifetime with people I hope will be friends for life. The words above only give a glimpse into the trip and the experience we shared together. I haven’t even had time to mention the Mexican Joan Collins, the Gay Swan, Kyle’s attempt at Spanish resulting in him asking for a Spooninio to eat his dessert with or the quote of the trip ‘If you don’t drink it I’ll rub it on you’.
If you want more on the trip visit the BarLifeUK Facebook page and have a look at the pictures, they do after all say a thousand words. Thank you Cuervo and to everyone reading this try to get yourself on the trip next year, it is excellentinio.