Introduction to Tequila

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Tequila has a very rich history that goes back well beyond today’s popular Margarita.  Originally tequila was used around 2,000 years ago in rituals, and has evolved into today’s potent spirit that we now enjoy.  In 1656 the town named Tequila was established.  Soon after that tequila started to be produced  all over Mexico.  The first commercial product was Jose Cuervo.  The first tequila imported to the US began in the late 1800’s.  It’s international popularity increased following the World Wars and Mexican Revolution.

Tequila

The Agave Plant

Tequila is produced through distilling fermented juices from the blue agave plant (lily family member) with water.  Once the agave plant has grown for 10 years it is ready for use in tequila production.  The bulbous plants are first quartered and then baked slowly in steam ovens.  This converts the starches into sugars.  Then the plant material is crushed to extract the sweet juices from the plant.  This is what is fermented.

Mixto vs. 100% Agave:

Mexican law requires tequila to contain a minimum of 51% agave.  The finest tequilas are 100% agave.  The law also requires the production, bottling and inspection of tequila to be done in Mexico.  Due to the regulations, there are not many distillers who produce this high quality spirit.  A bottle of this tequila can be very expensive.  When tequila isn’t 100% agave it is referred to as mixto due to the fact that during distillation it is blended with water and sugar.  Mixto tequilas are allowed to be produced in other countries other than Mexico.

Distillation

Pot stills are used to distill tequila.  The distillation process lasts until the tequila reaches 110 proof.  This results in a clear spirit containing a high amount of congeners.  Some distillers re-distill tequila in order to produce a blander and cleaner liquor.  Darker varieties receive their color from caramel being added or from barrel aging in cases of high quality tequila.  Other products have flavor added to them using small amounts of coconut, prune concentrate or Sherry.  A majority of tequilas do not need to be aged.

There are four different kinds of Tequila:

White/Silver or Blanco Tequila

Silver Tequila is a type of clear spirit.  It may be either mixto or 100% agave.  The tequila is aged in a stainless steel tank for a maximum of 60 days.  However, aging is not always used.  Silver tequila is mainly used as a mixer, particularly in Brave Bulls and fruit-based drinks.

Joven or Gold Tequila

This is a silver tequila that is unaged and flavored and colored with caramel.  These mixtos or tequila blends are very smooth and sweet.  They are ideal for Frozen Maragaritas and shots.

Reposado Tequila

Resposado (“rested”) Tequila is aged in wood casks or tanks for at least two months.  The aging process for higher-quality Reposados is 3 to 9 months.  This type has a very robust flavor.  It is Mexico’s best-selling tequila and it can be either mixto or 100% agave.  Quality Añejo and Reposado tequilas are excellent for sipping.

Añejo Tequila

This is an “old” tequila.  It is aged in French oak (frequently Bourbon barrels) or white barrels for 1 year at least.  The aging process produces a very robust and dark spirit.  The finest añejos are aged 18 months to 3 years.  The aging process for the finest 100% agave tequilas can be as long as 4 years.  Many distillers think that aging tequila for more than 4 years can ruin its earthy flavor tones.  In order to appreciate its aroma, a snifter should be used to enjoy Añejo.

Note: Tequila that is aged for over 3 years is considered to be Extra Añejo.

Mezcal

There are 8 approved agave plant varieties that can be used to make Mezcal, as opposed to tequila which must be made with blue agave.  Mezcal has a distinct smoky flavor.

This is where the worm part of the story comes in.  According to one version, a worm was put into the bottles to prove there was a high enough alcohol content to preserve the worm in one piece.  The worm is larva from a moth that lives on agave plants.  It is safe to consume, which has been proven by many frat boys.  High high quality Mezcal does not include a worm.




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