A Brief Guide to Tequila
- POPULAR SPIRITS
You can purchase a variety of ranges of Tequila by clicking here.
Tequila is a Blue Agave-based spirit made primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 kilometres (40 mi) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the western Mexican state of Jalisco. The red volcanic soil in the region surrounding Tequila is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year.
Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word "tequila", threatening legal actions against manufacturers in other countries. After one such dispute, California agave beverage producer JB Wagoner backed away from using even a similar name ('Temequila' since the company is in Temecula), now simply calling its product "spirits". The product is the same.
Tequila is most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 proof), but can be produced between 35–55% alcohol content (70–110 proof). Though most tequilas are 80 proof, many distillers will distill to 100 proof and then cut it down with water to reduce its harshness. Some of the more well respected brands distill the alcohol to 80 proof without using additional water as a diluter.
Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the city of Tequila, which was not officially established until 1656. The Aztec people had previously made a fermented beverage from the agave plant, which they called octli (later, and more popularly called pulque), long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill this agave drink to produce North America's first indigenous distilled spirit.
Some 80 years later, around 1600, Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira, began mass-producing tequila at the first factory in the territory of modern-day Jalisco. By 1608, the colonial governor of Nueva Galicia had begun to tax his products.
The tequila that is popular today was first mass-produced in the early 1800s in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila and Municipal President of the Village of Tequila from 1884–1885, was the first to export tequila to the United States, and shortened the name from "Tequila Extract" to just "Tequila" for the Amercian markets. Don Cenobio's grandson Don Francisco Javier gained international attention for insisting that "there cannot be tequila where there are no agaves!" His efforts led to the practice that real tequila can only come from the State of Jalisco.
There are two basic categories of tequila: mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos use no less than 51% agave, with other sugars making up the remainder. Mixtos use both glucose and fructose sugars.
With 100% agave tequila, blanco or plata is harsher with the bold flavors of the distilled agave up front, while reposado and añejo are smoother, subtler, and more complex. As with other spirits that are aged in casks, tequila takes on the flavors of the wood, while the harshness of the alcohol mellows. The major flavor distinction with 100% agave tequila is the base ingredient, which is more vegetal than grain spirits (and often more complex).
Tequila is usually bottled in one of five categories:
- Blanco ("white") or plata ("silver"): white spirit, un-aged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels;
- Joven ("young") or oro ("gold"): is the result of blending Silver Tequila with Reposado and/or Añejo and/or extra Añejo Tequila;
- Reposado ("rested"): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels;
- Añejo ("aged" or "vintage"): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in oak barrels;
- Extra Añejo ("extra aged" or "ultra aged"): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels. This category was established in March 2006.
It is a common misconception that some tequilas contain a "worm" in the bottle. Only certain mezcals, usually from the state of Oaxaca, are ever sold con gusano, and that only began as a marketing gimmick in the 1940s. The worm is actually the larval form of the moth Hypopta agavis, which lives on the agave plant. Finding one in the plant during processing indicates an infestation and, correspondingly, a lower quality product. However this misconception continues, and even with all the effort and marketing to represent tequila as a premium liquor—similar to the way Cognac is viewed in relation to brandy—there are some opportunist producers for the shooters-and-fun market who blur these boundaries.
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