From Ramona to El Tequileńo: Tracing the roots of Mexico’s best kept secret

It’s not every day you pack bags and take flight for the Americas on the hunt for the origins of a cultural phenomenon and legendary spirit. Hence jumping at the opportunity to visit the home of a high-end drink regulars at the Firehouse, and its pizza-peddling neighbour, should know well.

By James Barker | December 13th '22

On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be many similarities between Swan Street, the Northern Quarter-Ancoats breakwater, and Jalisco, Mexico. Not least when you’re staring down the barrel of a Manchester winter, temperatures plummeting beneath moody skies and rain lashing down, while conditions in Central America even in the cool season hover around the mid-to-high-teens.

Never judge books by covers, though. Everyone’s favourite outdoor deep-base-pizza-joint-cum-live-music-venue, Ramona and the Firehouse next door have a little-known tie to the town of Tequila. They have been regularly importing one particular bottle of the namesake liquor 5,520miles across the Atlantic – and for good reason, as we learnt after making the reverse journey. 

Won’t you take me to Tequila town?

As you’d expect, Tequila the town has that quintessential Mexico aesthetic and it takes one hot minute to find ourselves feeling intoxicated by the colours alone. Pastel yellows, pinks, oranges, and blues wash over colonial-style buildings set within a landscape of gentle hills backed by towering peaks. Narrow roads adding a real sense of place. Look hard enough, and you’ll be able to find La Capilla, too. Unassuming from the outside, this is up there with the world’s most respected bars, and home of the famed Batanga cocktail: salt, fresh lime juice, white tequila, cola, then more salt for the rim. 

With the population just under 45,000, what this town lacks in crowds it more than makes up for in the renowned drink. We’re here for one producer in particular: El Tequileńo, one of the finest names on the planet when it comes to the tipple. And one of very few distilleries in Mexico still dedicated to a single brand, with the vast majority splitting production across multiple clients. 

We’ll come to all that later, though, and start by getting acquainted with our surrounds.

A stay at Casa Salles hotel, Tequila

For most of the four nights we stay at the distillery’s own Casa Salles, a plush boutique hotel offering 25 well-appointed rooms. Dedicated restaurant, Mango, contrasts the finca feel with an ultra-modern interior matching a menu focused on contemporary dishes constructed with an emphasis on fresh, local produce. The pairing feast is a must.

Out back, a generously proportioned pool and sun terrace provide an opportunity to unwind the morning after a flight before, although for the best rays in the building head up to the rooftop sun terrace. Here, enjoy great views across town out to wilderness beyond. Of course, few come to Mexico to confine themselves to the hotel and we make the most of our limited time by exploring some of those landscapes. Our hike through the appropriately-named Valley of Tequila is incredible, with agave fields stretching almost as far as the eye can see, rock formations to scramble over, and distant mountains framing the picture. Landscapes that make you feel small, if not insignificant: big country fanning out in all directions. 

We check out El Tequileńo’s tequila distillery ranch

A sense of timelessness also pervades, with many of the processes – at least in terms of the family-run El Tequileńo – remaining unchanged for generations. Nowhere is this clearer than while touring the firm’s ranch, where drinks can be traced from root to glass with reassuring ease. Here, master distiller and top guy Tony Salles teaches us at least some of the techniques that stand this a brand apart: high quality produce secured by cutting the top off each plant, removing some of the bitterness inferior alternatives are guilty of. Base ingredients are then doubled distilled to lock in all that flavour. All of which is done largely by hand, with a positive employment policy creating and safeguarding jobs for as many locals as possible. 

Nearby sights, hotels and dining spots

Lecture done, if you land in these parts it’s also worth noting that Guadalajara is within spitting distance. Well, spitting distance (60km) for a country that’s more than 700% bigger than the UK. A renowned city for those after yet more tequila, not to mention mariachi bands and plazas steeped in atmosphere, here we find neoclassical landmarks like the Teatro Degollado — an iconic cathedral with twin golden spires — and art enthusiasts favourite, Palacio del Gobierno. 

Lunch at Siete Y Medio, a cantina-style spot specialising in seafood, is another for the list, while Hotel Demetria, with its dark-finished contemporary rooms and spectacular rooftop pool, is unlikely to disappoint. Down the road, you’ll also find Hueso, a modern restaurant with excellent small plates and some of the most fascinating wall displays we’ve ever seen. Whitewashed plaster is lined with hats, horned skulls, bottles, flotsam maps and more, all painted in porcelain hues ensure plenty of blink-and-you-miss-it elements. 

Throughly full of fine food and Mexico’s finest, hauling ourselves back to Manchester was never going to be the most appealing – or sober – prospect. Nevertheless, all incredible experiences must come to an end at some point. Sad as that is, the knowledge that a little piece of Tequila, the town, can be found in the tequila being poured in two of the best eating and drinking spots our hometown, goes someway to softening the bump back to earth. Find El Tequileńo tequila at Ramona and Firehouse.

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Tequila: www.tequileno.com / @el_tequileno
Hotel: www.tequileno.com/casasalles
Importers and Distributor: www.ten-locks.com / Follow @tenlocksdrinks