Tequila seems to be one of those spirits that people either love or hate (I’m in the love it category!) and there is no doubting that it has a unique taste and leaves a weird aftertaste. But aside from shots and other shock drinks, tequila can be drank in a number of different ways and makes amazing cocktails. So here is all about tequila.
Tequila is made from a plant called the blue agave and originates from the area around the town of Tequila, 40 miles northwest of Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Tequila is a type of mezcal but is made using different processes.
Tequila was first made in the 16th century and was based on a fermented beverage made from agave plants that the Aztecs had drank. Conquistadors started to create their own version of the drink when the brandy they had brought with them ran out, making tequila the first indigenous distilled spirit in North America.
Around 80 year later, in 1600, Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira began to mass produce tequila in a factory in Jalisco. By 1608, the governor of the Nueva Galicia province began to tax the drink and King Carlos IV of Spain granted the first license to commercially make tequila to the Cuervo family.
The first person to export tequila to the US was Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila and president of the village of tequila in 1885. His grandson Don Francisco Javier was responsible for the practise that real tequila can only come from the state of Jalisco, where the agaves are grown.
Today, many of the tequila makers are still family owned businesses and there are over 100 distilleries making over 900 brands of tequila around Mexico. The most expensive bottle of tequila was a limited edition premium 1 litre bottle that sold for $225,000 in July 2006, made by the company Tequila Ley .925 who received a certificate from the Guinness Book of Records for the most expensive bottle of spirit sold.
The basic process of tending and harvesting the agave plant remains virtually unchanged from the earliest times of tequila production with the men responsible being known as jimadores. They pass their knowledge from generation to generation and are experts at getting the plant to fully ripen. They use a special knife called a coa that has a circular blade on a long pole to cut away leaves from the succulent core of the plant, called the pina. If this is done at the wrong time, the pinas will not have the right amount of carbohydrates in them for fermentation.
The harvested pinas are then baked slowly before being shredded or mashed under a stone wheel called a tahona. The pulp fibre, bagazo, is used for animal feed, compost or even processed into paper. The juice created is then left to ferment in wooden or stainless steel vats for a few days to make mosto, a low alcohol liquid. This is distilled twice to create ‘silver’ tequila and a third time to be used to make ‘golden’ tequila, which is pumped into wooden barrels to age and develop its amber colour.
Types of tequila
The two basic kinds of tequila are mixtos, which is no less than 51% agave and 100% agave. It is then bottled in one of five categories:
- Blanco (white) – unaged and stored immediately after distillation or aged for less than two months in stainless steel or neutral barrels
- Joven (young) or oro (gold) – unaged silver tequila that can be flavoured with caramel colouring, oak extract, glycerine or a sugar-based syrup
- Reposado (rested) – aged for a minimum of two months but not more than a year in oak barrels
- Anejo (aged) – aged for a minimum of one year but less than three in oak barrels
- Extra anejo (extra aged) – aged for a minimum of three years in oak barrels
Many people think that tequila contains a ‘worm’ in every bottle but this is untrue. Certain mezcals from Oaxaca are sold with a worm, called con gusano, as a marketing trick in the 1940s. The worm is actually a larva of a moth that lives on the agave plant and finding one was considered a sign of infestation and a poor quality product.
The traditional way to drink tequila in Mexico is straight without lime or salt while some parts of the country drink it with a side of sangrita, a sweet, sour and spicy drink made from orange juice, grenadine and hot chiles. These are sipped in alternating shots without salt or lime. Alternatively, the bandera is named after the flag of Mexico and features three shot glasses filled with lime (green), white tequila and sangrita (red).
Away from Mexico, the tequila shot is a popular drink where salt and a slice of lime are served with the drink. The idea is that drinkers moisten the back of their hand, pour salt on it then lick off the salt before drinking the tequila and biting a slice of lime. In Germany and other countries, golden tequila is often drank with cinnamon on a slice of orange as an alternative.
Tequila has also become the basis for a large range of cocktails, combining with other ingredients. The margarita is one of the most famous, using tequila, Cointreau and lime juice with many different variations while the Tequila Sunrise, Tequila Slammer and the Matador are other famous tequila cocktails.
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