I'm standing at the gate about two minutes before the airplane doors are going to close, searching the terminal walkways for Lou Palatella. There was a line from hell at security this morning, so backed up and slow moving that even the hour-plus leeway we gave ourselves was meaningless. Luckily, just after the attendents told me they couldn't wait any longer, I see a pastel pink polo shirt on a lineman's figure working its way down the escalator. It's Lou. We were going to make our flight.
Four hours later we landed in Guadalajara City where we were met by Juan Núñez, the gerente general of El Viejito distillery, the home of Campeón tequila. He and his co-worker Pancho had a car waiting outfront where they would be whisking us away to a downtown lunch. I couldn't wait having only nibbled on some crackers with hummus all morning. We pulled into an upscale, yet traditional Mexican restaurant with a tequila collection that featured hundreds of different selections.
There were all kinds of crazy bottles on the shelves. Old school Don Julio botellas, a vintage label called Tequila Marijuana, adorned with a Farrah Fawcett-looking, feathered-hair belle from the 1970s. The four of us perused the cornucopia of booze before sitting down for lunch.
The most important bottle, however, was Juan's El Viejito blanco tequila, a botella we had brought to the table for our enjoyment. I had it neat and also with Squirt. Lou poured his on the rocks. Pancho shot it straight. Juan actually mixed it with ice and water. Tequila is such a versatile drink with so many different ways to enjoy its flavor, as was evident after we all chose completely different methods of imbibing. After a fifteen minute drive where Juan, Lou, and I shared our passionate views for the spirit, we were ready to finally drink some actual tequila.
The original El Viejito distillery was founded by Indalecio Núñez in 1937 in Atotonlico, located in the highlands of Jalisco known for having the best land, climate, and altitude for growing quality agave. It has remained a family-operated affair since that time. However, after Patrón ended its relationship with Siete Leguas distillery the tequila giant needed a source for its spirit – fast. That's when Juan and his father entered into a contract with the company and began distilling Patrón at their El Viejito site. Having been burned in the past by an ever-increasing contract price for its tequila, Patrón wasn't eager to repeat past difficulties. After deciding it was happy at its new home in Atotonilco, the company made a bid to buy the distillery from the Núñez family – a deal Juan and his father were all too happy to make since they had already begun discussions on a new facility. Patrón would take the old El Viejito, while the Núñez family would build another.
However, seeing that I'm spending all day at the distillery tomorrow, we can cover all those basics in a later post. What I found most endearing at lunch time was Juan's passion for quality, unadulterated tequila with no additives or artifical coloring. He got super pissed at one point when we were talking about a competitor that doctored their tequila to increase sales. Whether or not Juan was putting on a show, I was impressed. I think he was relieved that I cared.
And I really liked the El Viejito's rustic nature. It's old school tequila in an old school package. And it went particularly well with a dish I had been dying to try for years, especially after two failed trips to Oaxaca: Tacos de Chapulines. Yes, you translated that correctly, that would be grasshopper tacos.
Earthy. Tangy. Absolutely stunning when paired along side the tequila.
Lou about fell over watching me eat it. "You're actually eating it!" he screamed with glee.