Updated: Jan 24, 2020
Full disclosure, I was a fan of Fortaleza before I set foot in the distillery and I have had email correspondence with Mitch, Fortaleza's Global Brand Ambassador, who arranged this tour for me. A number of years ago I had a few tequila's with a ex work colleague in San Francisco. She only drank tequila and her favorite was/is Fortaleza. I was surprised. Fortaleza is available at my local Vons Supermarket and retails for approximately $40 (blanco), $50 (Reposado), and $60 (Añejo). I shrugged off her passion for Fortaleza as being naive. Fast-forward four years and I realize how wise she is. Mitch informed me before I left San Diego, that you can't truly appreciate tequila until you have visited a true tequila distillery, and he was right. In the past 10 days since returning from Tequila, every time I smell and taste a good tequila the senses are heightened and the experience of touring Fortaleza comes flooding back.
The Fortaleza distillery is located a short walk from the main square in Tequila. The history of the family behind Fortaleza goes back to the origins of the commercial production of tequila, but Fortaleza was only launched in 2005. Interestingly, Fortaleza is marketed under the brand name "Los Abuelos" in Mexico, in the same distinctive bottle as in the U.S. Apparently Los Abuelos wasn't available as a trademark in the U.S. If you want to read the history it is here.
As well as Dave and Brad, another couple of Fortaleza fans joined us for tour conducted by the charming Eunice. The tour started where the piñas arrive freshly cut from the fields adjacent to the distillery. Here the piñas are cut in half and the core is removed (apparently this is not common practice among distilleries) prior to being loaded in brick ovens for baking. The photos below are taken in and around the distillery.
What is amazing is the amount of manual labor involved in distilling Fortaleza - not to mention the harvesting. From the loading and unloading of the brick ovens, to the tahona (a large stone wheel) that is used to crush the cooked agave, to the manual washing of the crushed agave to extract the sugars (the guys above in action with the pitch forks) . The sweet smell of cooked, crushed and fermenting Fortaleza agave is the sweetest memory I have from this whole trip. Eunice answered all our questions and let us tour at our own pace - she was wonderful! You can read more about the Fortaleza production process here.
Next it was off to the bottling facility across the driveway. The Fortaleza bottles are hand blown but not on-site, but their famous bottle caps and bottle engraving is done on-site at this distillery. The amount of manual labor that goes into the filling, corking, and labeling of a bottle of Fortaleza is truly amazing. It truly is an artisan process every step of the way - including the stencil on the back of every Fortaleza label. The fact that you can buy a bottle for $50 USD at Vons (big supermarket chain here in San Diego), is truly incredible. After this experience I know I'll enjoy every drop even more. My pics from the bottling plant are below.
Next we visited the barrel room which was filled with used American Oak barrels which are used to age Fortaleza's Reposado and Añejo - they are re-chipped and re-charred prior to being refilled. Fortaleza does not make a Extra Añejo. Not sure why, but meeting demand for the current range may be tough enough with this manual process without have barrels that could be sold hanging around for another couple of year.
Then off to the tasting room. Deep in a hill-side cave is the Fortaleza tasting room/bar. Here we got to sample the complete range including the new Still Strength. By this stage we were thirsty and amble tastings were provided to quench our thirst. Wasn't a fan of the stronger alcohol in the Still Strength, but the others give beautiful agave notes, light vanilla and honey and well rounded flavors. Sweetness and vanilla notes more pronounced with age. I love this tequila! Pics from the tasting room (1st. is the entrance) are below.
This visit more than any other increased my appreciation for well crafted tequila. I hope to return some time soon. After an hour of tasting, we were off in search of lunch... Day 2. recap to be continued... it gets ugly.