Learning About Tequila at La Cofradia

While in San Jose del Cabo, Matt and I had a chance to learn more about mezcal. We decided that it was only fair to go someplace to learn more about Tequila. After all, all tequilas are mezcals, right? Where better to learn about tequila than in Tequila?!

We were told about Hotel Boutique la Cofradia from a nice man in San Jose del Cabo. It’s basically a distillery with a tasting room and four hotel rooms on the property. We were not sure what to expect, but when we arrived we knew that we were someplace special.

20150626-115624-2904Simone welcomed us at the reception area and showed us to our room, which was beautiful and well designed – large, comfortable, and two glasses of their añejo to start our visit off right. Then we went to the tasting room and tienda (little shop) and met Alejandra, who runs their tasting room, tours, and shop.

The grounds were beautiful with stone buildings studded with obsidian, which comes from the nearby volcano, also named Tequila. The four hotel rooms, more like bungalows, are on one edge of the property and the distillery was on the other. The air smelled sweet and faintly of tequila.

After a little photo session in the tasting room with Alejandra, we decided to jump in with a tour, which Alejandra arranged for us (check out the president of La Cofradia’s Instagram page to see the silliness). With our afternoon arrival, the tour busses were gone, so we had the place to ourselves, and a private  tour with Adilene.

“Adi” was a great guide and taught us more than we ever thought we would know about tequila. Ready? Here’s your tequila primer:
Tequila can only be made from 100% blue agave. Specifically, only blue agave grown in the states of Jalisco and a few regions of the states of Guanajauto, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. The rules for this are similar to the rules for champagne production in that it recognizes the denomination of origin of tequila.

Adeilene and Neeley in front of Agave "piñas" at Cofradia DistilleryThe blue agave is a rhizome that has to be split every few years. The plant sends up shoots, or baby agave plants. These baby plants are cultivated by La Cofradia by cutting them from the mother plant and replanting them. You can also propagate blue agave by allowing the mother plant to blossom and gather the seeds. This takes more time and is not, according to Adi, the best way to provide the most consistent quality of agave.

The agave is harvested after 3 to 6 years by a jimadore, so called because traditionally they “hum” while they work. It comes from a local word to “hum”. The harvesting is still done the way it has been done for centuries, and never by machine. The leaves of the agave are cut off with a special long-handled blade, leaving the piña or the core of the agave plant. This piña is where we get tequila.

The piñas are taken to into the distillery and roasted. At this point, the core of the piña can be eaten, and often is by children, as a sweet treat. Matt and I were able to taste it and it’s delicious. It tasted like a pineapple that had been cooked on the grill with brown sugar and some vanilla.

After roasting the piñas are broken down by machine, put into a giant vat with water with the addition of natural yeasts and left to ferment. The fermentation time and amount of water has everything to do with the sugar and moisture content of the piñas for that batch. The maestro tequilero is the person who makes all of the decisions about the production of the tequila. Some of the maestros are quite famous in Mexico.

At the end of distillation, water is added to the results to produce an alcohol content from 35 to 45%, depending on the maestros goal. Most of La Cofradia’s tequila is at 40%. Tequila can be only be sold as tequila if it is 55% or less alcohol. We sampled a “not-tequila” that was at 57% alcohol that was held at the maestro’s work station. It cannot be sold as tequila and I thought that it would be harsh, but it was surprisingly sweet and smooth. I wouldn’t drink much of it, but a glass every so often to warm the toes would be lovely.

Typically tequila is double distilled, this means that it goes through the distillation process two times. Each distillation removes impurities.  The higher-end tequilas will go through a triple distillation process. In our sampling, it is significantly smoother.

Mexico has about 100 tequila distilleries that produce close to 1000 brand names of tequila. So, La Cofradia, like others, produce their own and other labels. They have a label done in conjunction with the musician Santana called Casa Noble. Casa Noble label has a blanco, reposado, and an añjeo. The label triple distills their tequila and it is delicious!

La Cofradia also produces some of the most interesting tequila bottles. They have a pottery studio on site where the artists create stoneware bottles using molds designed by local artists and then the bottles are painted and glazed and baked in the kilns in the studio. Some of the bottles are simple and represent traditional Mexican designs and symbols. Some are more fantastic or fun. The glass bottles are made elsewhere.

After our tour of the distillery and pottery studio, Adi took us back to the tasting room to try some of La Cofradia’s tequilas. As with mezcal, Mexicans tend to prefer blanco tequilas. In the US we usually think of those as the tequila we put in cocktails. The blancos are La Cofradia were delicious and smooth. The reposado is aged for up to eleven months in oak barrels and añjeo is aged from one to three years. Sometimes American oak barrels are used and sometimes French oak is used. It depends on the flavors the maestro is trying to achieve and the cost they want to target. French barrels cost considerably more, so tequila aged in French barrels will cost more.

We had dinner at the restaurant, which is in a room below the tasting room. It is stunningly beautiful. Unfortunately, the meal at the restaurant did not maintain the high standards of the tequila, it was disappointment. They have giant screens on which they project music videos, loudly. Matt and I had trouble hearing each other. The restaurant offers somewhat traditional food from all of the regions that produce tequila, but it seems too much for the kitchen to handle. And sadly, the mango margarita, made from their tequila and the mangoes from the trees that cover the grounds, was disappointing. It is highlighted as one of the specialties.

Despite the mediocre dinner, we enjoyed our stay at La Cofradia. Their tequila is delicious. The staff were fantastic. The room was very comfortable. We ended our stay with breakfast cooked by Teresa. She should be the chef at the restaurant. She is a great cook. As she told us, “I cooks from the heart with love.”