Tequila: What You Should Know
I have been involved in many projects involving Tequila. I have seen it made, was involved in overseeing new brands and producing labels for many of what are now popular tequila brands.
Tequila is more than your average spirit, it has a history of tradition and culture and has been a topic that has always fascinated me.
Ask the average person what tequila is and the first thing that comes to mind might be a Margarita drink or Cuervo Gold, sure, it may be one of the more common tequilas sold but there is more to it than that.
I have had Tequila that could easily compete with some of the most prestigious whiskey brands. Over the last couple of decades, Tequila has become more popular and expensive. But it has not always been that way.
In the past, Tequila had been considered a farmer or poor man’s drink. In fact, tequila was not expensive at all.
This all changed in the early late 80’s, Tequila Tres Magueyes which was produced by Tequilera la Primavera would eventually produce the brand Don Julio, which is one of the Tequilas that set a new standard of what tequila is today.
What is Tequila?
Tequila is a distilled alcoholic drink that comes from the blue agave plant.
Tequila is a regional drink, a big portion of the Tequila factories are in a small town of Tequila Jalisco Mexico. Tequila is 65km northwest of the city of Guadalajara. However, Tequila is produced in other small towns, cities, and regions in Jalisco and other states.
There are over 100 distilleries that make over 900 brands of different tequilas.
Other towns in Jalisco where tequila is produced include:
- Jesus Maria
- Las Juntas (Puerto Vallarta)
- Ixtlahuacan del Rio
- Venustian Carranza
There are only 5 states in Mexico that produce tequila which are:
Brief history of tequila
Tequila production dates back to the 16th century near the town of Tequila. Tequila was not officially established until 1966.
Before Tequila existed, a beverage by the name of Pulque was produced in central Mexico, before Europeans came to Mexico. Spaniard conquistadores who came to Mexico eventually ran out of their own brandy and began to distill and ferment the Agave plant, making some of the first indigenous distilled spirits.
Over 80 years went by and in the early 1600s Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle started mass producing tequila in the state of Jalisco in 1608. The Colonial governor of 1 Nueva Galicia placed a tax on tequila
Later on the the king of Spain Carlos the IV granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially produce and sell the tequila.
Tequila is different than Mezcal
Many confuse Tequila with Mezcal however they are different. Tequila is produced exclusively from the Weber Agave or Blue Agave, whereas Mezcal is produced from three different agave plants which are:
- Agave Potatorum
- Agave Angustifolia Haw
- Agave Esperrima Jacobi
Other differences between Tequila and Mezcal
Tequila has a more neutral flavor, this does not mean its flavorless but the hints of flavoring are more subtle.
Mezcal has a more pronounced smoky flavor and is produced in the state of Oaxaca. Some Mezcal bottles come with a worm, tequila does not.
Harvesting Tequila is a manual process
Harvesting the Agave plant still remains a manual process and not much has changed. In fact, some of the older distilleries still use burros and wooden wagons to haul the Agave from the fields to the plant processing.
Men who harvest the Agave plant are called Jimadores.
A Jimador plays an important part in the whole cultivation and harvesting process. Jimadores are very knowledgeable when it comes to knowing when its time to harvest.
If the agave plant is too ripe it will affect the amount of carbohydrates in the plant and will interfere with the fermentation process.
You will find two different categories of tequila one is what is considered a mixto tequila, this tequila is fermented with at least 51% or more agave plant, the rest is fermented from fructose and sucrose sugars.
Tequilas which contain the label 100% agave are fermented from pure blue agave.
Tequila comes in a variety of colors and aromas there are 4 categories of tequila which are:
- White (Tequila Blanco)
- Reposado (Aged two months)
- Añejo (1 year)
- Extra Añejo (3 years or more)
White tequila is bottled immediately after the fermentation and distillation process, it is also anything that sits in a stainless steel vat or oak barrel for less than two months.
Tequila reposado the word reposado means “rested” it is aged a minimum of two months and less than a year.
Añejo tequila is aged around a year or slightly less, smaller tequila companies may extend the aging process on añejo tequila to achieve a certain flavor and improve the smoothness.
Extra añejo tequila is anything aged a minimum of three years, the longer it is aged the smoother it gets.
I have personally tasted extra añejo that has been aged for 30 years and it is truly as smooth as any expensive whisky, and the flavor is incredible.
Tequila is tequila, right?
No, its not, the quality of the barrels in which the tequila is aged makes a big difference in flavor and aroma. You will note different flavors depending on the type of wood as well as the age of the barrels used to age the tequila
Tequila alcohol content
You have probably noticed that the alcohol content varies in different tequilas, in the U.S the alcohol volume is generally 40% by volume whereas in Mexico it is 35%, 38% and 40% this is controlled during the fermentation process.
While some may say there is not a big difference, I much prefer the lower 35% and 38% alcohol volume because it is is much smoother, I prefer to drink my tequila straight and not mixed with anything.
If you are someone that enjoys margaritas or mixed drinks the alcohol/taste will not be noticeable.
I hope I have been able to give you a basic background on what tequila is, I have but scraped the surface of this fascinating spirit. I will follow up with reviews on some of the most popular as well as many of the lesser known tequilas (hidden gems) some of you may have never heard of.