We drove out of the marina parking lot about 8:30 AM in a rented Nissan; Dave & Marj (s/v Kievit), Lulu and I. Our plans were to go to the Los Osuna Blue Agave farm and distillery and also to visit the little towns of La Noria and El Quelite. But first: breakfast!
We figured we'd stop at some roadside spot as there usually seem to be lots of places to eat without making specific plans. So, we headed out of the tourist/resort area and turned inland. The directions I'd gotten from Google Maps said that we should drive 9 km at which time we could get on Highway 15. So, we'd just find someplace to eat in the next 9 km. But, before we knew it, we were at Hwy. 15! Wow! That was fast. I'm no metric expert but it sure didn't seem like 9 km to me. But, whatever, we turned and headed south. We were only supposed to go about 1.2 km and then turn left off of the highway and on to the road to La Noria. Well, our 1.2 km point came and went without the slightest opening in the concrete divider that ran down the middle of the highway. That's when it occurred to me that this wasn't Highway 15 (in spite of what the sign said) but, rather, Highway 15D, a distinction that showed up on Google Maps but nowhere else. Certainly not on the highway signs. We were well into Mazatlán before the highway ended and we got the opportunity to turn around.
Once turned in the right direction, we started looking for breakfast again. We saw some potential places but nothing really appeared to be open yet. Oh well, we'd find something later. So, back up to where we turned on to the highway. This highway is pretty weird. While we were able to exit where we got on, there wasn't an exit headed east. No, we had to exit westbound, back the way we'd come, and then hang a U-turn at the first opportunity. We decided to chill out about breakfast and just see what happened.
We turned off the REAL Highway 15 on to the road to La Noria. This is also the road that Los Osuna is on and the distillery is first, what with La Noria being pretty much at the end of the road. A few kilometers in, we saw signs for a hotel/restaurant. We figured we'd stop there for breakfast so we wouldn't arrive at Los Osuna too early. A few more kilometers and we turned on to a dirt road, following the signs to the hotel. A little further down the road, we happened on a bright little cemetery out in the middle of nowhere.
While were were poking around and taking photos, we listened to steady thunk-thunk-thunk of a campesino cutting down brush and trimming trees with a machete. Guys alongside the road with machetes became one of the constants of the day.
Continuing on, we passed more scrubby-looking land and finally came to a spot where we had to pull over to let another car get past. As the drivers' windows came together, he rolled down his and told us that the hotel/restaurant was closed. Big surprise. We turned around and headed back to the main road. Oh well, at least we got to see the cemetery and some pretty ranches along the way. Our plan now was to go to La Noria and have breakfast, then return to the distillery and then return to La Noria to do a little sightseeing and maybe get some lunch (okay, definitely get some lunch).
As soon as we crossed under the arch welcoming us to La Noria, we saw our restaurant "El Sazón de la Abulea Tina". But we drove on into town anyway. We knew we were going to eat at "El Sazón..." for lunch because it had been recommended by another blogger so we thought we'd try to find another spot for breakfast just to sort of spread it around. Well, it took no time at all to drive through La Noria and realize that "El Sazón..." was pretty much the only place to eat, at least for tourists. So, back to Grandma Tina's we went.
Huevos rancheros are always served on a corn tortillas as far as I know. But these were served on a black corn tortilla that were being made fresh in the kitchen as needed. Much heartier and more flavorful than the standard masa-based tortillas. Lulu had huevos con jamón (eggs with ham) and Dave had huevos con chorizo (eggs with chorizo sausage) and I can't remember for sure what Marj had. Too busy eating to notice I guess.
If you clicked on the link above, you saw that a fellow traveler had rated Grandma Tina's molcajete as the best ever. You also may have picked up that I have a thing for molcajete and Dave is developing the same "thing". So, nothing would do but we had to come back here for lunch and try some. We told our waiter that we would definitely be back later today for the molcajete. He was such a cute kid (maybe 15 or 16) and seemed pleased to hear it.
So, finally breakfasted, we piled back into the car and headed back up the road to Los Osuna Blue Agave Farm and Distillery. What a beautiful place!
There were already a couple of tour vans parked there when we arrived but, we had no more gotten out of the car than a young man walked up and introduced himself as our tour guide. Later on, I believe I heard one of the other tour guides refer to him as "the boss". He certainly knew his stuff. Wish I could remember his name.
The Los Osuna farm/distillery has been under continuous ownership and operation by the Osuna family since 1876. They don't make "tequila" here. Tequila, like Champagne or Bordeaux, is the name of a place. Tequila is a town located in the state of Jalisco. Mexican law has degreed that distilled blue agave liquor can only carry the name "tequila" if it is made in Jalisco or certain areas of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nyarait and Tamaulipas. Mexico has also claimed exclusive international rights to the name "tequila". So, being located in Sinaloa, Los Osuna does not make tequila. What they do make is "100% Blue Agave Distilled Spirits". And they make a pretty limited quantity of it. The only places it's available in the US are some cities in California, some cities in Illinois, and, just recently, in New York City.
The blue agave plant is a pretty formidable looking beast.
How anyone figured out they could get anything edible or drinkable, much less marketable, from these guys is beyond me. I guess you work with what you've got. Anyway, after the agave is harvested, the leaves are cut off leaving what is called "the pineapple".
We chewed on a sample of the crushed pulp and the juice was amazingly sweet. The next step (fermentation) in the process was to mix the agave juice with yeast to turn the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. They use a special yeast that they've spent years isolating and developing for their needs. Following fermentation, after the CO2 has bubbled off, comes the first distillation. The distillate is about 30% alcohol and 70% "other stuff". Not nearly pure enough for the final product. So, the distillate is distilled again. Following the second run, the resulting liquid is now at 60% alcohol. Our guide referred to it as "to kill ya". We sampled a teeny tiny bit and it was definitely strong! They use some of the to-kill-ya to disinfect their bottling equipment and bottles. Since
tequila blue agave liquor is typically about 35% alcohol, the to-kill-ya is diluted using water that has been run through a two-stage filter (including reverse osmosis) and ultraviolet disinfection. At this point, the liquor is clear and is sold as "blanco". This is usually the cheapest form of the liquor and has the unadulterated taste of the agave. Some of the batch is transferred to oak barrels for aging. During the process, some of the wood flavor and color leaches into the liquor, giving it an amber color. The taste also smoothes out a bit during aging. Liquor that has aged 11 months is called "maduro" (or, on tequila labels: "reposado"). Some of it is aged 7 years and gets much darker. This is called "añejado" and is naturally the darkest, smoothest and most expensive variety available. Maduro is the only kind that Los Osuna sells in Mexico. Presumably, you can get the other varieties if you live in San Francisco, Chicago or New York.
We saw some guys sitting around a couple of vats. It looked like they were tearing the labels off of the bottles and uncapping them as well. This seemed a little backwards so we asked about it. Our guide said that some of the bottles had some small residue, possible from the water, possibly from the bottle caps. They were pouring the liquor (fortunately it was the Blanco) in a stainless steel vat. It would be re-distilled and the bottles would be rewashed. They had cases of the stuff to deal with.
We were then shown the correct way to taste agave liquor. Our guide brought out a brandy snifter with some maduro in it. He swirled it to show it's body and viscosity. Then he had us sniff it with our left nostril first. This side was supposed to pick up the wood odors. Then the right nostril for the alcohol odors. Then both nostrils together. Then, take a breath, take a sip and, after swallowing, exhale to get the true flavor. Well, I'm not sure about this right nostril-left nostril stuff. We tried it and did find a difference between one side and the other. However, later we tried it again in reverse and found the same difference: mainly, the first sniff was stronger smelling than the second. Dave and I chalked this up to olfactory fatigue more than the right brain picking up one thing and the left something else. But, it was fun anyway, even if it's bogus, which it may not be.
After the tour was the tasting. There was a pretty spot set up under the trees with tables and chairs, a couple of gift shop booths and a bar. The deal was, it cost 25 pesos for the first shot. All of the shots afterwards were free. You could sit there and get shit-faced if you were of a mind to. We anted up $100 for our 4 shots and proceeded to taste. Lulu got into it and thought she was some sort of tequila bandito.
Don't get between that girl and her shots if you value your life. We spent an hour or so sitting around sipping tequila although we limited ourselves to only 2 shots. Hey, it wasn't even noon yet! We bought a bottle of Maduro and a few keepsakes as well. There was a guy singing for background. He was very smooth and the volume was just right. It turned out to be the same guy who was singing at Carlos & Lucia's on Christmas Eve! We bought a CD.
Finally, it was about time to leave this beautiful spot and head back to La Noria.
Tomorrow: Back to La Noria.