“The luckiest tourists arrive with Clayton Szczech of Experience Tequila. He’s a Portland resident who loves the culture and history so much that he now guides tequila-curious tourists. The Lonely Planet-recommended guide is the first gringo to hold the TT certification of the country’s Tequila Regulatory Council, which means he is as adept at discerning flavors as he is at explaining how it all came to be. He took us to an obscure, one-man operation where the tequilero used a garden hose to fill our liter Coke bottle from his lone aging barrel. And he’s friendly with premium distillers such as Casa Noble, which don’t usually open their doors for tours.
“True tequila and a tequila culture thrive down here, you’ve just got to know where to look,” said Szczech.
“Fans of tequila and travel (and who isn’t, really?) are smart to book their next vacation with Experience Tequila – a tourism company designed by tequila geeks, for tequila geeks. The five- to 10-day trips offer a laidback mix of distillery tours, cultural outings and beach excursions, all with enough downtime to kick back with a glass of tequila at the end of the day.”
[Imbibe published the original item in the print version only, but we have uploaded a scan in case you’d like to see it.]
“Maybe it’s that thing with the salt and the lime. Maybe it’s that crazy old tune by the Champs. Whatever the reason, when it comes to tequila, many Americans are once bitten, twice shy—as Clayton Szczech ’00 knows full well. “Tequila’s got a lot of bad reputation to overcome,” he admits.
Clayton wants to change all that. Equal parts scholar, evangelist, and self-described “booze nerd,” he’s on a mission to defend the honor of Mexico’s famous libation.
Doing business as Experience Tequila, he leads immersion tours to Jalisco, where enthusiasts can explore the culture of the enigmatic spirit, see the blue agave (turns out it’s not a cactus after all), and learn how subtleties in harvesting, distilling, and aging affect the liquor’s taste.
“That’s the thing that’s fascinating to me,” he says. “You’ve got this process that’s pretty rigidly defined, and a raw ingredient that’s nominally the same . . . but I can pour you two [unaged] blancos that taste totally different.”
By concentrating on the process—and as important, the context—Clayton encourages his guests to think beyond the stuff that comes out of the bottle.
“I really try to push a lot of culture on people, whether they like it or not,” he says. “Go see the murals, go to the marketplace, go to the cathedral. Because you can’t separate tequila from its history and its culture. . . . When you know the story behind something, it does taste different.”
Clayton cites professor Gail Kelly ’55 [anthropology, 1960–2000] as a key influence on his approach. “The idea of field work . . . really did help my perspective on going down [to Mexico] and doing research for months,” he says.
Clayton will conduct a tasting at Reunions 2011 and lead an alumni trip to Jalisco in the fall (See www.reed.edu/alumni/travel). Meanwhile, he offers this advice for warding off hangovers: “It should say, somewhere on the bottle, ‘100 percent agave.’ Avoid anything else.”
[Click the image above for the original article in its entirety.]
“For those wanting to explore the riches of Tequila themselves, I met Clayton Szczech of Experience Tequila while in Mexico. Clayton regularly leads tours in the area, filling a rare niche for knowledgeable, passionate expertise on the region without rigid schedules and touristy stops one normally associates with a tour group. He purposely keeps it small, tailoring it towards the needs of each individual group. Clayton has good relationships with the distilleries (certainly with Fortaleza), maintaining a relaxed stance, as if traveling with friends, which, in fact, you just may become.”
[Click the logo above for the original article in its entirety.]
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your business.
I’m Clayton Szczech, owner and operator of Experience Tequila. I’m a lifelong traveler, former teacher and social worker who decided to invent my dream job- leading tequila tours- in 2008. I’m bilingual and have been traveling, living and working in Mexico since 1995.
Where in Mexico does Experience Tequila operate? Tell us about some of your featured tour itineraries.
I operate exclusively in Tequila Country – the state of Jalisco in central-western Mexico. I operate 5-day, 10-day and custom itineraries. Most tours include the village of Tequila and Guadalajara. Many include the Highlands tequila region and the Costa Alegre (‘Joyful Coast’). I organize several trips a year around special festivals – Day of the Dead, St. Patrick’s Day, Mexican Independence Day, etc.
Please talk a little about what makes Experience Tequila tours so unique.
I call them “group tours for people who don’t do group tours.” I personally handle all the logistical details of transportation, lodging, distillery visits, etc. And I’m on-hand day and night to assist with interpretation, advice and trouble-shooting. I’m there to help my guests experience more of Mexico, not less.
These aren’t package tours where you are insulated from the local culture behind huge motor coaches and nagging guides.
I limit my groups to 10 people or less so as not to create an impassable barrier between my guests and my local friends. Not to mention that some of the special craft distilleries we visit couldn’t physically accommodate many more than 10 people at a time.
Speaking of which, unlike other well-known Tequila package tours, I don’t just take my guests to the huge brands as a captive audience. I do think it’s important to include some of the larger and better-known distilleries, as some of them do a great job and their history is undeniably part of tequila culture. But I also take my guests to places they have never heard of, places whose tequila is jealously guarded in Mexico rather than exported, and family-owned distilleries doing things the way their great-great-grandparents did in the 19th century.
Quite literally no one is offering what I do.
Are the tours offered by Experience Tequila all-inclusive or geared more toward the independent traveler in Mexico?
Like I said, they are something of a hybrid. “Independent-minded” describes most of my guests well. So does “curious.” Again, I don’t work with people who want to feel as if they weren’t in Mexico. But I make sure people are safe, comfortable and able to access the activities that interest them. Sometimes that means I’m hosting a young couple in their early 20s and their parents. After we visit the distilleries there is always ample free time. So I can point the couple towards a cantina or a marketplace or whatever they are after and say “have at it,” while personally accompanying the older folks to a nice restaurant and maybe a concert.
So they aren’t the kind of trips that usually come to mind when you hear “all-inclusive.” However, the trip cost does include almost everything! Lodging, transportation, food, distillery visits, tequila tastings and 24-7 guide services are included. Airfare, bar tabs, and a couple meals (so that people have time to explore on their own) are not. I am confident in saying you can’t get the type of guide service I offer for anywhere near the price from anyone else. I want these trips to be accessible to working people, young people and retired people.
Are you currently offering any special rates or promotions? How should someone go about booking a tour with Experience Tequila?
My rates are the best in the business, period. Even if a traveler is fluent in Spanish and conversant with Mexican culture, they would struggle to do as much as I offer for as little money. Due to my strong and long-standing relationships in the Tequila region, I get great deals on everything, and personal relationships also allow me access to distilleries and other out-of-the-way attractions that aren’t accessible to the general public. That said, I do offer even more attractive prices to pre-formed groups, for early payment and for payment in cash. I organize, sell and guide these trips myself, so all folks have to do is email or call me.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the tours offered by Experience Tequila? Where can our readers go for more information?
Well, I’d like to address the concerns a lot of folks currently have about safety in Mexico. There are a few places in Mexico, mostly in the north, that are not good places to visit. On the other hand, the central-west Tequila region is as safe as the nicest destinations in the US and Europe. I have been going to Mexico regularly for over 15 years, and never had a single problem. My guests always remark about how Tequila and environs feels like the safe, friendly small towns you hardly find in the US anymore. As you know, Mexicans are proud hosts and go out of their way to ensure people have a good time. This is particularly true in the Tequila region, where people are eager to share their unique culture and the wonderful beverage to which it gave rise.
Thanks Clayton, the tours sound fantastic! Cheers!
I hope you enjoyed today’s interview. A special thanks to Clayton for participating and please contact him directly with all tour-related inquiries. You can also find Experience Tequila on Twitter (@tequilatrips) and Facebook.
If you’d like to see your tour services featured on the Friday Explorer Series please contact me.
All photos are the property of Experience Tequila.
“I am a little winded as a group of us walk up a trail that leads to the highest point on Guillermo Sauza’s property in Tequila. I only had to look up at the ancient volcano that dominates the Southern sky to explain my shortness of breath. The town of Tequila is 4,000 feet above sea level, with mineral-rich volcanic soil that contributes to the growth and flavor of the blue agave, the plant tequila is made from….
Having written about tequila for nearly an entire year, it was high time I made the trip. I’m not a fan of planning trips – especially to other countries – so I chose Experience Tequila’s 10-Day Total Jalisco Experience, which includes hotels, most meals, and all travel costs (except airfare) for four days in Tequila, two in Guadalajara (Mexico’s second-largest city) and four days at Costa Alegre on the coast of the state of Jalisco. The itinerary is well-organized with plenty of room to breathe, and our guide, Clayton Szczech, was extremely knowledgeable, thorough, and fluent in Spanish.
We are a small group of six. Clayton likes to keep his tours relatively small so he can give each person attention without being overbearing. I am joined by Lauren and Bill, a well-traveled couple from Portland who recently toured Bourbon country, and Cody and Betsey, a technology librarian and lawyer, respectively, from Minnesota….”
[Click the logo above to read the original article in its entirety.]
“While living in Mexico, Reed College graduate Clayton Szczech developed a passion for 100 percent agave tequila, and after returning to Portland started a company called Experience Tequila to share that passion with others. Clayton spreads the gospel of tequila by hosting fun, lively tastings in Portland restaurants and leading tours to Mexico’s tequila country. Check out www.experiencetequila.com for dates and times of tours and tastings.”
[Click the logo above for the original article in its entirety.]