Mixologist Tony Devencenzi of San Francisco’s Bourbon and Branch often comes up with ideas for new drinks during his travels. Tony joined his cousin, who was riding his motorcycle from Peru to Tahoe, California, on the final two-week leg of the journey. They traveled together from Guadalajara to Tahoe via Jalisco, Zacatecas, Durango, Mazatlan, and Baja. Here, he shares highlights from his Mexican motorcycle adventure, plus the cocktail recipe it inspired.
“I met my cousin in Guadalajara. We had an appointment to visit the small distiller, El Tesoro de don Felipe, in the Highlands regions but we didn’t make it there because of a thunderstorm. Instead we rode to Tequila Valley. It was my first visit to this area. The Tequila Valley is like Napa Valley but you taste tequila instead of wine. As you get close to the town of Tequila you start to see tons of small distilleries littered around the streets. Fábrica de Tequila El Llano was one of the numerous distilleries along the road that was open to the public for tours. It was my first tequila distillery tour, and it was definitely designed for your average person with limited cocktail knowledge.
Just like wineries in Napa, the best distilleries require you to call and book ahead. We had made plans to visit Casa Herradura. The distillery is half way between Guadalajara and Tequila. We watched workers shovel the piñas—the hearts of the agave plant that look like pineapples—into big ovens to cook for more than 24 hours until they were soft and sweet. When they’re removed they’re crushed to extract the juice. Herradura has a big round rock called a tahona in its museum. Today Herradura uses an industrial crusher to extract the juice. El Tesoro is one of the very, very few distilleries that still use a tahona. The tahona is made from a special volcanic rock. At the Herradura distillery you can see all of the barrels of aging tequila lined up waiting to be ready for bottling. We also passed Mundo Cuervo, which is basically like the Disneyland of tequila. Visitors can tour the factory and the tour ends with a free Cuervo margarita.”
“The unexpected can quickly change your route. On day two we rode north of Jalisco to Zacatecas, an old silver mining town that has a European vibe. We stopped for roadside tacos and when we’d gone about 40 km I discovered the lockbox on the back of my bike was gone. Inside were my guidebook, sleeping bag, and camera. We backtracked to the taco lady but found nothing and just had to take things in stride. Our luck turned around when we reached Zacatecas in time to see the sunset over the city. We wandered the Zacatecas markets, where old ladies were selling prickly pear and strawberries. It was the thick, Mexican hot chocolate with tamales that inspired my Mexican Sunset cocktail (recipe below).
We heard music in the distance and realized it was a callejoneada, or alley party. Callejoneadas are a tradition here. A mariachi-type band will set up in an alley and play music. People wear small clay cups tied to a string around their neck and people run up and pour mezcal into the cup. The party moves through the city and more and more people join until you end up in the town square. A local woman at the party had grabbed us and invited us to join her for dinner. She took us to Los Dorados de Villa, the restaurant where Pancho Villa was assassinated. I had their Enchiladas Valentinas, which were lamb enchiladas in a white sauce. They were absolutely fantastic.
Durango to Baja
El Espinazo del Diablo, the Devil’s Backbone, or Devil’s Spine, is known as one of the great motorcycle or car roads in the world because of its curves. The road crosses the Durango/Sinaloa border as it travels very quickly down from the crest of Sierra Nevada to the ocean. It is on the Mexico 40 highway and connects the cities of Durango with Mazatlan. The only boat going across from Mazatlan to Baja was a cargo carrier so we road an overnight ferry with a bunch of Mexican truckers to Baja and then headed north, going through Baja tip to tale. After losing our guidebook we found one in our hostel called The Magnificent Peninsula: The Comprehensive Guidebook to Mexico’s Baja California by Jack Williams and Patty Williams. That guidebook became a magical resource for the remainder of our trip. We camped all through Baja; waking up at dawn in Juncalito our second night was pretty spectacular.
The Tequila Sunset Recipe
2 oz El Tesoro Anejo
1/2 oz Licor 43
1/4 oz Agave Nectar
3/4 oz fresh Orange Juice
1/2 oz egg whites
2 dashes Fee’s Cherry Bitters
1/2 oz Wares Warrior Reserve Port
Shaved Abuelita Mexican Chocolate
Combine tequila, Licor 43, agave, orange juice, egg whites and bitters in shaker. Shake until egg whites are frothy. Add ice and shake vigorously. Fine strain over fresh ice in a tall collins glass. Gently pour Port over the cocktail. Shave chocolate and place star anise for garnish.