Guadalajara isn’t traditionally on the mezcal trail but as many of you are fond of pointing out, tequila is a type of mezcal. It is also the entry point for raicilla country which is one of the most under-appreciated and amazing mezcals out there. Almost more importantly, the complex history of mezcal runs right through this capital of Jalisco and there are many mezcal trips to make here. It’s also one of Mexico’s hottest cities with all sorts of culinary and cultural activities, plus it’s so easy to travel there. While the below information focuses on Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta is also a starting point for visiting raicilla country and Experience Agave, Greg Rutkowski and Vallarta Tequila Tastings offer tours from there.
Many people think of Guadalajara as a business destination because it’s an off shoring and manufacturing hub for companies in the United States. Others know Jalisco just because of its coastal resort, Puerto Vallarta. The smart ones know that tequila can be produced there. But the ones who have really traveled there know that it’s not a heart on its sleeve sort of place but that it’s full of a dizzying array of activities.
Depending on your focus you should allot at least one day to the city of Guadalajara. Trips to the countryside where the distilling action really happens do take time. Tequila is very close to downtown Guadalajara but just like any contemporary metropolis traffic can be horrendous and activities spread out so do your research on the things that interest you most and coordinate with your guide on the exact duration and timing of your trip.
Long a provincial capital, Guadalajara sits at the center of a particular mix of urban and rural, agricultural and industrial, hidden and obvious gifts.
Eating: Guadalajara is alive with amazing restaurants. There are some incredibly tony places where you pay for the sheen but the city is stocked with amazing experiences up and down the price range. Our map has some of the places that we like around town that go from the amazing tasting menu at Hueso, through the casual elegance of Tikuun, and Xokol’s corn focus.
Drinking: It’s always been a drinking town in a drinking region but the addition of mezcal to the mix relatively recently makes it the full package. Traditional cantina culture is vibrant here, try places like Cantina La Fuerte and you’ll understand why it’s both a must on the tourist trail and why locals still flock here. Pulque gets its due at places like La Ultima Pulqueria which has a fun lucha libre theme. And, mezcal, oh mezcal, there’s plenty of it if you know where to look. Try Pare de Sufrir or Mezonte for an incredible experience. And if you are looking for great cocktails, don’t miss Farmacia Rita Perez, De La O, Matilde De Amor or El Gallo Altanero to name just a few. Tequila is ever present but baked into the experience of the cantinas or other restaurants you will find great raicillas, destilados and fermented beverages like Tehuino and Tuba.
Coffee: I’ve written about this but the coffee scene in town is amazing because there are some great cafes – try Café P’al Real for coffee and a cool brunch scene – that feature Mexican beans that aren’t exported and put the quality of a local coffee movement on a pedestal.
Culture: If you like Mexican modernist art, you’re in for a treat because Orozco was born nearby, had a studio in town that you can still visit, and painted two frescoes around town including his masterpiece, the Hospicio Cabañas. There are also great contemporary galleries and incredible architecture spread across the city in neighborhoods like Americana.
Further abroad: Tours will take you outside of town to visit distilleries but there are also plenty of other places to visit. Tlaquepaque is a cute little village swallowed up by the sprawl of Guadalajara but it still retains its identity with small streets, great watering holes, and an expat presence. Puerto Vallarta is very near by, as is the stunning Nayarit coast, and Colima.
The tequila factor: A little over an hour by car and you’ll be in the town of Tequila which is dominated by many of the distillery names which stock liquor shelves the world over plus a museum and a fun little down town. You can tour distilleries and that museum.
Finding a tour: According to some, mezcal originated in Western Jalisco before the Spanish arrived but it’s definitely clear that mezcal emerged here in the 16th Century and has only continued to blossom since in a variety of incarnations. Tequila is famous globally but the local mezcal called raicilla is famous among cognoscenti for its amazing flavors. And, a variety of other distilling traditions remain strong in the area. The trick is that tequila is the big flashy brother, it’s easy to visit but hard to find the nuance without a tour. And, mezcal is the shy brother who really won’t come out of his shell without a guide. So, talk to our recommended guides and find an experience that works for you.
Weather in Jalisco varies depending on where you are. Humid and hot on the coast for much of the year, with March-June and October less humid, more temperate to warm elsewhere most of the year, but cold in the winter depending on the altitude. The rainy season runs from June-September, with drier times the rest of the year, particularly March-May when it can get downright hot in Guadalajara.
Important dates for planning purposes:
Semana Santa – The week prior to Easter is a huge tourism week in Mexico.
October – It is Fiestas month in Jalisco with a variety of events happening through out the state and particularly in Guadalajara.
November – All month Fiesta del Mar celebration in Puerto Vallarta with fishing competitions, art and food festivals.
End of November thru first week of December – Guadalajara International Book Fair – this is the second largest book fair in the world.
December – Dia de Guadelupe (Dec 12th) and posadas.
A few things to remember before you set out:
- You will be traveling in back-country, on bumpy roads and in communities that may not have a lot of resources or infrastructure (cell phone/internet coverage, restaurants, capacity to take credit cards, atms, etc.)
- It is important to be mindful of local customs, which your guide can explain, and to be respectful of people – they are craftsmen and highly skilled at what they do. The growth of the mezcal category has placed huge demands on natural resources in Mexico and is fundamentally changing the economics of communities where it is produced.
- As consumers, we need to think about the impact our drinking habits have – touring mezcal producing regions gives you greater understanding of that impact.
Meet Your Tour Guides
Esteban Morales Garibi
Esteban used to be a chef and restauranteur in Guadalajara so he knows gastronomy well. Now he’s bottling and exporting some of the finest distillates from the area and Mexico at large including Raicilla Venenosa and Derrumbes. Since he knows the back roads of the area better than most he’s a great guide, email him for details. He also offers a variety of apartments and a house for rent in town.
Long time agave head, Clayton created Experience Agave as a way to help people better understand and connect with producers on the ground in Mexico. Clayton has built Experience Tequila into one of the best tour companies in Jalisco and Experience Mezcal for similar trips in Oaxaca so he really knows his stuff. He has added Experience Raicilla tours to his lineup. Contact him to set up a tour, you won’t be sorry and will end up learning plenty about mezcal while you’re at it.
Pedro Jimenez Gurria
Pedro founded Pare de Sufrir as a mezcal bar to highlight traditional mezcals in Guadalajara and has gone on to create Mezonte to bottle the small production distillates that he finds. He also leads tours of the area so reach out to him for an experience guide with great connections.
Greg Rutkowski of Mezcal for Life takes visitors on an in-depth raicilla tour in the area. From Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastian del Oeste, you’ll visit tabernas, explore a Pueblo Magico, taste many different raicillas, as well as have a gourmet tasting experience at a world-class restaurant. A truly unique and educational gastronomic dive into the world of raicilla. The tour typically runs from November to April (harvesting season) and is only available on Saturdays as of this writing. To book a tour email Greg here
Vallarta Tequila Tastings
It’s not just tequila! Corrina Levine Dahlin is the owner/operator. She offers Tequila, Mezcal & Raicilla Tastings In Puerto Vallarta or At Your Villa or or through the Raicilla Road Trip.
The Raicilla Road Trip includes an intimate rural distillery known as a “Taberna” with Checo, the owner of raicilla Tesoro del Oeste . The taberna is in a 200-year-old structure nestled in the hills near the historical silver mining town of San Sebastian del Oeste were there is a delicious lunch of traditional Mexican specialties. And finally a second Raicilla stop and snacks. They also offer private, curated tours as well. To book a tour email Corinna here
Steve and Stephanie Mellross
Based in Colima Steve and Stephanie focus on bespoke adventure tours of Mexico’s west. They will tailor a trip to your interests which can include all variety of activities but definitely mezcal. Get in contact with them through their Facebook page.
Yes, we called him the Indiana Jones of Mezcal. No, that’s not complete hyperbole. The guy travels everywhere for mezcal. He knows tons of people in the industry. And he’s got stories to tell. He is also happy to work out some of the more far flung itineraries. Since he travels so widely he is one of the better resources for trips to any of the mezcal regions in Mexico. Get in contact with him through his FaceBook page.
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