We are in the midst of our Margarita series and I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at tequila. Today, we are going to share everything you need to know about tequila. I ended up learning quite a bit about the spirit and really found a new respect for tequila. Making tequila is actually quite a difficult and long process. For many Americans, tequila brings to mind bad birthday party shots and worms in the bottles. We dispel some of those myths and will talk about what makes a tequila a good tequila. We hope you enjoy our exploration of tequila and good tequila.
What is Tequila?
Tequila is a Mexican liquor of 80 proof or higher (in the US) that is made from the blue agave plant. This plant is native to Tequila, Mexico and prefers high altitudes (5000 feet above sea level) and very specific soil. The agave plant really requires a special location to grow.
OK, so get this, the blue agave is normally pollinated by a native bat when it flowers. After it flowers, it dies. To get around this, commercial farmers cut the shoots of the plant to prevent it from flowering. They, then, plant the shoots to make new agave plants.
Do you know how long it takes for an agave plant to grow so that it is mature enough for tequila? About 8 years… or longer. EIGHT YEARS to begin the process of making tequila, and even longer to make good tequila!
(g)Class 7; Tequila. “Tequila” is an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash derived principally from the Agave Tequilana Weber (“blue” variety), with or without additional fermentable substances, distilled in such a manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to Tequila and bottled at not less than 80° proof, and also includes mixtures solely of such distillates. Tequila is a distinctive product of Mexico, manufactured in Mexico in compliance with the laws of Mexico regulating the manufacture of Tequila for consumption in that country.
How is Tequila Made
The blue agave grows for EIGHT years. So, after that ridiculous amount of time, the heart, or piña, of the agave is harvested. The piña is cooked and agave is extracted from the heart. The agave is then distilled twice to make tequila. I found a great YouTube video that outlines the process from a Don Julio distillery
Pretty cool and quite the process to get that little shot of good tequila to your margarita, huh?
What about the worm?
It’s a myth that likely was generated as a marketing ploy. Good tequila is not going to have a worm in the bottle.
What are the different kinds of tequila?
We are not talking about brands here, but styles. Not all tequilas are the same and the difference has to do with aging. Tequila is stored in oak barrels, much like other liquors, and then takes on some of the aspects of those barrels. Additionally, the flavor of the alcohol can change and become more subtle over time. Some tequilas are clear, while others are darker. The darker color is due to coloration from the oak barrels. Generally, younger tequilas seem to be designated for mixers, while the aged tequilas are designated for sipping. The good tequila, meant for sipping, tends to be more on the añejo side.
- Blanco – this is a clear spirit that is not aged at all or less than two months. This is what we use in our Margaritas
- Reposado – Aged between 2 and 12 months in oak barrels.
- Añejo – This tequila is aged in oak barrels between 1 and 3 years.
- EXTRA Añejo – What the name suggests. It is just aged longer than 3 years.
Pure Agave vs NOT Pure Agave in Good Tequila
Technically, tequila only needs to be made from 51% blue agave. The rest is a filler that still ferments, but is not agave. The desired tequila is generally 100% pure blue agave tequila. If you are looking for good tequila, look for the pure agave tequila.
The Difference Between Mezcal And Tequila
Tequila is Mezcal, but not all Mezcal is Tequila. Much like scotch, rye, and bourbon are all whiskeys, tequila is a kind of mezcal. There are a few differences I found described at Food and Wine going on here that are important to distinguish.
The Kind Of Agave Being Used
Tequila is made from Blue Agave. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from a wide variety of Agave plants.
Distillation Process Is Different with Mezcal
The pina in the blue agave is processed in a plant to make agave. For mezcal, however, the pina is cooked in an earthen pot and involves lava rock. Also an interesting distillation process, but different. Having tasted both, I would certainly identify Mezcal as having a smokier flavor, explained by the process.
Tequila Early History
Tequila has been around since the 1500s and first produced around what is now known as the city of Tequila, but the use of the agave plant goes as far back as 10,000 years ago. It has been a source of food for a very long time, but there is also a history of fermenting the plant to produce an alcoholic beverage called pulque, that has been made for over 1,000 years. This is NOT tequila, but a fermented product of the agave plant.
Tequila did not happen until after the Spanish conquistadors ran out of brandy. While the locals had pulque, the Spanish had tastes for harder alcohol. Remember that brandy is merely distilled wine. Pulque is essentially an agave wine. Using what was already known about brandy, they ended up coming up with mezcal. As time went on, local producers eventually identified the blue agave as a good way to make it, refined the production process, and the spirit of Tequila was born.
It gained popularity and started to be mass-produced as early as 1600. In the late 1800s, tequila first was exported to the US.
Tequila, however, did not really take hold in the states until later in the 1900s. Events like prohibition and scotch shortages during WWII would have helped expose Americans to tequila during that time. Well, then Jimmy Buffet happened.
The latter half of the 20th century saw a meteoric catapult of popularity in tequila and tequila drinks. However, the spirit has come to be appreciated on its own or in a mixed drink.
Whew, we have covered quite a bit in this tequila article and I hope you learned as much as I did. Tequila has definitely earned a bit more respect from me after this research. If you like what we are doing here, please sign up to get updates via email and follow me on Instagram!