Though Cancún is known for many things—fantastic beaches, outstanding dive sites, glorious Mayan ruins, and fantastic natural parks—perhaps the resort town’s main claim to fame involves that golden liquor so dear to Mexico’s heart: Tequila.
Tequila isn’t made here in the bustling beach town, although plenty of it is consumed. The world’s finest blue agave plants, from which the famous beverage is carefully distilled, are found in the Jalisco highlands, particularly around the tiny town of Tequila (in Nahuatl, “Place of Tribute”). Tequila can also be legally brewed in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Agave liquors made elsewhere, including Mexican states such as Oaxaca (where a very similar spirit is called “mescal”) are forbidden to use the name “tequila” by law.
Want to learn more? Or just drink more? You’re in luck, as a new museum has just opened in Cancún’s Hotel Zone, the Tequila Herradura Sensory Museum. The museum was built by Hacienda San Jose del Refugio, which has produced some of Mexico’s finest tequila since 1870, using Weber blue agave grown at their Amatitán, Jalisco, estate. It claims to be “the only 100% hacienda-made tequila in the world,” and you can find out how they do it without leaving the beach.
Your visit to the museum is a “full sensory experience,” and the tour (including tastings) takes about an hour and twenty minutes. First, they walk you through the tequila-making process, beginning with the freshly harvested hearts of spiny agave plants. These are slowly steamed in traditional clay ovens, releasing sugars and flavors that will ripen throughout the process of fermentation.
As the tequila ages, other flavors can be introduced by the brewers, such as anise, cinnamon, and even “toasted oak,” infused into the brew after months in special white oak barrels. These are bottled according to age and flavor, all of which are available (hey, this is Cancún) at the museum gift shop.
First, however, you’ll need to try them all. This is the “sensorial experience” promised from the beginning, and this museum delivers. First, you’ll be schooled in the proper etiquette of tequila drinking, so please leave your new friends’ bellybuttons out of it (for now). Instead, choose a short-stemmed snifter glass with a wide bottom, which amplifies the tequila’s aroma.
You’ll then be taught to examine each carefully crafted tequila’s nose, body, and finish, by taking small sips of each, and then cleansing the palate with water an crackers. The entrance fee even includes a small notebook, where you can jot down your opinions and impressions of each brew.
Properly primed to appreciate their fine tequilas, you’ll be led, perhaps a bit woozily, to the gift shop, where you can pick out a few bottles of your favorites to enjoy at your leisure. The museum is open daily at noon, on Kukulkan Boulevard KM 12.5, on the second floor of La Europa Liquor.