Now this is a fun tour to add to your trip when visiting Ensenada. Doña Engracia is a special place where the lovers of tequila can be fulfilled in one stop. The tequilera invites you to spend some time and take a half hour tour to understand what goes into making the famous drink of Mexico. Doña Engracia tequila is featured and includes six tastings of some of the finest tequila in Mexico.
The tour begins with the history of Mexico’s golden drink. The museum and tasting is upstairs and is nicely done. Life-size Papier Mache statues of the jimadores, who first labored in the deserts are so well done that their life is seen clearly in their eyes. We are entertained by José Ochoa, a bright young man from Jalisco and a gifted speaker. He makes the history come alive. Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the city of Tequila, before it was named thus. But the fermented cactus juice called pulque was consumed in pre-Columbian central Mexico, well before European contact. José says, “Only five states of Mexico furnish tequila for the world’s population.” A beautiful wall-size panorama photo shows the vast fields of immaculately tended agave plants. But historically the first people roaming the vast desert terrain, discovered many uses for the agave and delighted in the fermented pulque. José points out the old hand-tools that were first used. Later, when Tequila found a market, new tools were created and a vintage press is on display. Today, of course, tequila production has become streamlined. But still it requires heavy manual labor during harvest. The jimadores know when each plant is ready to harvest. If harvested too late or too early, the piñas will not have the correct sugar content for fermentation. This knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. The piñas are transported to ovens where they slowly bake. Today, machinery shreds and mashes the agave for the juice, leaving the pulp fiber behind.
Once the juice is fermented, it goes through a distillation process. What makes Doña Engracia a very fine tequila is the amount of time it is allowed to age in the barrel, which develops a mellower flavor and amber color. The differences in taste between tequila made from lowland and highland agave plants can be noticeable. Plants grown in the highlands often yield sweeter and fruitier-tasting tequila, while lowland agaves give the tequila an earthier flavor. You won’t find a worm in these classy bottles. The worm is actually a marketing gimmick for a certain mezcal from the state of Oaxaca. It is not traditional. The tequila regulatory council has attempted to quell this image in order to represent tequila as a premium liquor, which it is.
The tasting room has a great view of the harbor and cruise ships. José will give these tours 11:00am to 6:00pm. He says how he loves his work, as one can imagine. José lines up the tequilas we will taste, each with its own story. We start with the white/silver tequila. José gives a lively Spanish grito, “With tequila we can speak Spanish perfectly! ¡Salud! There is some fire, but is surprisingly smooth. “You do not need lime and salt with our tequilas, because of our special attention to detail.” The flavor is clean and pure as its clarity in the glass. José asks, “Do you know what the best tequila is?” We wait and he goes on, “It’s the free one!”
On to the reposado with two years in new American white oak barrels. This is what makes for this fine “rested” tequila. One of the features to be aware of is how long it has been allowed to rest. Many reposados can be bottled after only 12 months. The longer in the barrel, the finer the reposado and the añejos. The full flavor rises up, smooth with a deeply rewarding flavor. The magic of tequila is obvious, as we entered as strangers and now it feels like a family. We all looked forward to the añejo with 3 years in the barrel. The añejo is a treat of smooth embers and golden flavor. The staff brings out a birthday cupcake with candles to Jackie from Pasadena. This was her first stop in Baja California and she thought it was getting off to a pretty good start. José is asked if he actually does this all afternoon, sharing drink with guests, he quips tongue in cheek, “Yes, someone has to do it.”
José leads us through the three flavored tequilas; peach, almond and coffee/dark chocolate. “Which is your favorite?” He asked, then suggests to try the almond poured over ice cream or cheese cake. Can it get any better than that? Of course we are offered the opportunity, after six samples of tequila, to buy a bottle to take home. José questions, “How many bottles can you take across?” We all answer, “One!” He continues, “No, you can take a barrel.” Laughing, “Actually you can take two bottles at 750 ml, which equals one liter.” But the tequila packets of three small bottles have no limit, because it is considered a gift item. It was a slick and congenial sales strategy and who could leave after all this good Mexican fun without a bottle?! There was only one problem, it was hard to know which one to choose.
22800, Lázaro Cárdenas 1449, Zona Centro, Ensenada, B.C., Mexico
Phone from the U.S.: 011.52.646.178.8848
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com