‘Mezcal whisperer’ Jay Schroeder, who leads a new six-day tequila tour for holidaymakers
As the saying in Mexico goes: ‘For all that is bad, mezcal, and all that is good as well.’
And long before it became the number one mezcal drink Tequila was a place.
The city in the western state of Jalisco made such delicious mezcal in the 16th century that word of it spread far and wide.
Before long the distilled spirit produced there became known simply as tequila and unlike all other mezcal – which can be made from a wide variety of agave cactus – tequila can only be made from blue agave.
For many years tequila has held a reputation as a bad-tasting spirit knocked back with salt and lemon to simply get you drunk – a reputation that persists across many parts of the world today.
But a new tour for holidaymakers is set to blow that outdated image out from the bottom of the proverbial barrel.
The CheapCaribbean Te Amo Tequila Tour has been designed to cater for the novice mezcal drinker and keep the most devout of tequila aficionados content. It will educate about the wonders of the spirit.
Designed and led by ‘mezcal whisperer’ and celebrity mixologist Jay Schroeder, the highlight of the six-day tour will be a visit to the legendary birthplace of tequila.
Once in the city of Tequila travellers will stay at the eclectic Matices Hotel de Barricas and sleep in giant tequila barrels. And guests will be taken on the La Cata Tequila Tasting & Pairing tour, a horseback riding tour and a tour of Orendain’s Distillery.
Travellers will also visit Puerto Vallarta – another hotspot in tequila country – staying at the five-star Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta resort.
While there Schroeder will take guests on a Mexology tour, a Noble Corazon Tequila Tasting and a tour of Oscar’s Distillery.
Jay’s itinerary includes a stay at the five-star Secrets Vallarta Bay Puerto Vallarta resort (pictured)
Vallarta is also right on the beach and tucked between two tropical mountain ranges and offers a vibrant culture – where a sip of tequila along with charros and mariachi music will be the order of the day.
For Schroeder the tour is the culmination of a deep-seated passion for mescal.
And in an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com he explains how tequila has reinvented itself in recent decades and is already undergoing a taste revolution.
According to Schroeder, in the past 30 years 100 per cent agave tequila has grown in stature and matured into a spirit that can be savored for its flavor and taste – a spirit enjoyed for the nuances between one tequila to the next rather than the potent spirit we have all slammed at the bar.
And thanks to celebrities like George Clooney – who has spearheaded the revolution – tequila has enjoyed a spike in popularity around the world.
The Hollywood star started Casamigos on a whim four years ago with Cindy Crawford’s entrepreneur husband Rande Gerber and real estate developer Mike Meldman.
Casamigos, loosely translated from Spanish as ‘house of friends,’ won numerous accolades for superior taste and smoothness of texture, and sales climbed fast.
In 2017 Clooney and his partners sold the premium tequila brand for a whopping $1billion to UK drinks company Diageo PLC.
Once in the city of Tequila tour-goers will stay at the eclectic Matices Hotel de Barricas and sleep in huge tequila barrels
The barrels at Matices Hotel de Barricas are set in an agave field. It’s certainly a unique place to stay
Clooney’s toe-dip into the distilled spirit world led to other stars launching tequila brands.
These include Hollywood actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, crooners Backstreet boys, rockers Adam Levine and AC/DC, country star Toby Keith and pop icon Justin Timberlake, as a well as a string of top rappers.
Schroeder, who become known as the ‘agave whisperer’ for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the mescal drink, which he piled into a seminal book called ‘Understanding Mezcal’, said celebrities have helped bring tequila to the forefront.
He said: ‘Celebrity’s involvement has been good, bad, and ugly, but for better or worse, it has changed public perception of tequila for the better, for sure.
‘And it’s part and parcel with the transition from tequila being seen as this kind of very proletariat sort of thing into developing the reputation that it’s something that can be of substantial quality.’
A mixologist in Vallarta shows off his skills. At Vallarta Schroeder will take guests on a Mexology tour, a Noble Corazon Tequila Tasting and a tour of Oscar’s Distillery
Schroder points to the rise of tequila powerhouse Patrón as an example of a significant change in brand perception.
Patrón shifted itself away from the poor reputation tequila held as a bad-tasting spirit to get you drunk and became an ‘ultra-premium’ spirit that signaled ‘taste and sophistication’ through individually-numbered glass bottles.
With a carefully choreographed ad campaign and regular mentions by hip hop and country singers, Patrón quickly became a fixture of popular culture and in January 2018, the firm was sold to Bacardi for a whopping $5.1billion.
Schroeder, 36, originally from Indiana, studied at the feet of celebrity chef Rick Bayless – known for his passion of Mexican cuisine and mezcal – and was quickly made chief mixologist at Bayless’s restaurants Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco.
Bitten by the mezcal bug he pursued his passion by traveling frequently to various regions of Mexico, like Michoacan, Chihuahua and Durango, to complete educational courses and learn from producers who have been making mezcal for generations.
Today Schroeder is a partner/beverage manager of Chicago’s Quiote restaurant and adjacent mezcaleria Todoa Santos.
He wrote a definitive book on mezcal after realising there was very little out there to connect all the fragments of a very ‘complex’ world of agave spirits.
And he hopes the tequila tour will help people connect with mescal as he believes his book did.
He said: ‘There’s more to try to get your head around in regards to agave spirits than there is with every other spirit category on earth combined.
The La Cata Tequila Tasting Room in Tequila. This is one of the stops on Schroeder’s tour
Schroeder said: ‘Tequila is a place that not a lot of folks end up going to – it’s landlocked in the centre of Jalisco. But it’s a really cool town, with an amazing history’
- Just like Champagne comes from Champagne, most real tequila comes from the area around the city of Tequila – the same region as the very first tequila distillery.
- The knife that the jimador uses to strip the plants is called a coa.
- All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.
- The agave plant typically needs between 6-10 years to reach maturity.
- The agave is harvested by hand, often using the tools that have been used for centuries.
- A good, aged tequila is enjoyed neat – and sipped slowly – not knocked back with salt and lemon.
‘It’s a really big, really complex world. Mexico is a very big country, it’s very diverse. There’s a lot of cultural influences that go into making things the way they are.
‘And because of that there’s this insane amount of diversity of all these spirits.’
Of the tour he said: ‘I worked with the folks at CheapCaribbean to put together the itinerary, to really maximise the things that Jalisco has to offer in general.
‘Tequila is a place that not a lot of folks end up going to – it’s landlocked in the centre of Jalisco.
‘But it’s a really cool town, with an amazing history and there’s a bunch of really delicious stuff that’s being made there.
‘So as people start to pay more attention to what they drink and tequila in general rises in popularity, it’s really cool for consumers to be able to get a window into how it’s actually made, what separates the good, bad and the ugly, get a sense of the place that it comes from and the traditions that have evolved into it and then we get to hang out for a day at the beach at the end of it, which I’ll tell you is quite pleasant.’
It was long believed that the Spanish brought distillation to Mexico but recent archaeological discoveries suggest primitive distils were in place long before the conquistadors invaded.
These days more than 200 distilleries make 900 brands of tequila in Mexico.
Schroeder says the distillery visit in Tequila itself will give people a ‘real sense’ of how the spirit is made and get into the ‘heart and the traditions of tequila-making’.
He explained: ‘The hotel where we stay is on the property and it’s surrounded by blue agave, so you see the plant where it comes from, you see the place where it grows and you get to see the process that brings it all together, which is unique for tequila, it’s very different from pretty much every other spirit.’
For the non-tequila drinkers who wince at the thought of sipping the potent spirit, Schroeder’s is a big proponent of giving tequila a chance.
He explained: ‘It’s worth giving tequila, as a category, a chance to let your palate warm up to it, to breathe a little bit while you’re doing it, to try to get past that shock of the fact that it’s all almost all alcohol and see if you can get into it.
‘The flavours are just so good, it’s so sweet and soft and roasty, it’s so charming as a spirit on its own.’