07 December 2005
Tequila attracts academic study
BY DAVID AGREN/Special to The Herald Mexico
During the week, Agustín Arce, 27, teaches administration to high school students in Tequila, Jalisco. On the weekends, he studies the fiery spirit that made his hometown famous.
Last month, Arce and 14 classmates began delving into topics as diverse as tequila’s origins, its role in rural development and its growing influence on art, music and popular culture through a new continuing education program a t the Un i v e r s i t y o f Guadalajara (U de G). The program takes an academic approach to the subject, which most people only learn about in a bar and truly appreciate the next day.
“We think that people should know more about tequila — not only as a drink, but its origins, the (agave) plant and the process,” said Marcela García Bátiz, publicity director for U de G Virtual.
While a diploma program in tequila perhaps looks frivolous at first glance, numerous universities have offered courses investigating other alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine and Scotch w h i s k y . A n d w i t h t e q u i l a reaching dizzying levels of popularity both at home and abroad, García Bátiz said it was a pertinent topic — especially in Jalisco, where residents take a special pride in the drink.
‘JALISCO IS MEXICO’
The state’s history in fomenting the popularity of tequila — along with mariachi music and charreria — makes Jalisco the most Mexican of the Republic’s states i n t h e ey e s o f l o c a l boosters. The state adorns its license plates with the image of an agave plant and its tourism secretariat coined the slogan “Jalisco is Mex i co . ”
The drink, which previously masqueraded under the names vino de tequila and mezcal de tequila , played an important part in Jalisco’s development. A special tequila tax funded the construction of the state legislature and the implementation of Guadalajara’s first public waterworks system. The nature of agave cultivation influenced the architecture of Jalisco’s haciendas. Since the passing of appellation of origin laws in the 1970s, only beverages made from blue agaves grown in Jalisco and designated regions of Guanajuato, M i c h o a c a n , Nay a r i t a n d Tamaulipas may use the tequila name.
“Tequila is a beverage that identifies Jalisco and Mexico in the entire world,” García Bátiz said.
A PLANT WITH MULTIPLE USES
It’s also “a very broad subject,” she said, which U de G researchers have studied for decades. Recent research has also focused on the agave plant, tequila’s principle ingredient.
Research points to some of the agave plant’s properties, which include insulin, possibly benefiting diabetics. Rural development officials are pitching miel de agave, or agave syrup, as a sweetener that is ideal for soft drinks. Increased miel de agave production could also provide another m a r k e t f o r a g ave growers, who in recent years have been receiving record low prices for their harvests.
The U de G course, officially titled “El Tequila, su cultura y su entorno,” enrolled an eclectic mix of teachers, foreign graduate students, tourism officials and journalists. All signed up for different reasons, but everyone expected to profit from the experience in some way.
“I live in Tequila, was born in Tequila, I’ve always worked in that community,” Arce explained, adding his knowledge of the beverage was previously somewhat limited. But as a teacher, he saw growing opportunities for his graduating students, equipped with an in depth knowledge of tequila, to find employment in his hometown’s burgeoning tourism industry. “I’m taking this course so I can pass on the information,” he said.
STUDYING COMMODITY CULTURE
Sarita Gaytan, a graduate student in sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, serendipitously found the course. She is spending several semesters in Jalisco researching her thesis, which explores tequila culture from a crossborder perspective. The course offered her the chance to gain a wealth of information, she said, as well as access experts from academia and the tequila industry.
“I’m interested in how commodity culture shapes ideas about national identity and citizenship,” she explained.
Along with teaching academic modules, the course organizers scheduled trips to a tequila distillery and a hacienda and also planned sessions with culinary experts.
The non-credit course runs until March, when García Bátiz said the university would decide whether or not to offer it again. It could eventually become part of a degree program, she added.