Tequila. The Mexican drink actually gets its name from the city of Tequila which has been the traditional center of tequila production.
Mexico is famous for its tequila! This spirit is drunk throughout the world and there are many different types and brands of tequila but they are all made, more or less, the same way. Tequila comes from a plant, the blue agave, which grows in the north of Mexico. However the drink actually gets its name from the city of Tequila which has been the traditional center of tequila production.
The flavor of tequila can change significantly depending upon how it is made. In part this is because the blue agave plant has a different taste depending upon where it is grown. Agave plants which are grown higher in the mountains produce plants which are both bigger in size and a bit sweeter than those which are grown at lower altitudes. However the taste also changes depending upon the production process.
There are two types of tequila, Mixto and 100% pure agave. Mixto tequila uses at least 51% agave with the rest of the mix comprising of sugars (glucose and/or fructose). When tequila is ready to be consumed, after distillation and aging in oak barrels, both types of tequila can either be had straight or served in a mixed drink. The aging process is key in the final result of a tequila since this stage of the process determines the flavor of the tequila.
Different types of barrels can be used, with oak the preferred material. Most barrels come from the US, France and Canada with many barrels coming from other distillers like Jack Daniels. New barrels are used often in the production of repsosados (rested or aged) but before they are filled the interior is charred to impart a smoky wood flavor. Depending on the tequila, it may be aged for a few months or for many years.
With all this variety there is a classification system in place that categorizes each tequila according to its production and aging process.
- Blanco (white) tequila is a tequila that has not been aged (or aged less than two months) in wood barrels. This category of tequila is often used for mixed drinks.
- Joven or Oro (young or gold) is unaged tequila that has been colored and flavored with caramel.
- Reposado (rested) is aged from two months to one year in oak barrels.
- Añejo (aged) spends from one to three years in oak barrels.
- Extra Añejo (extra aged) is a category that was introduced in 2006 and signifies a tequila that has been aged for a minimum of three years.
Interestingly Tequila can only be legally produced in certain areas of Mexico. It can be made throughout Jalisco and in some parts of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. Mexico has gone to great lengths protect the production of Tequila through international agreements and an internal NOM (Official Mexican Rule) that creates an Appellation of Origin meaning that liquor branded as Tequila can only come the areas that have been established by the government as certified growing areas.
History of Tequila
Tequila is currently produced by distillation, a process brought by the Spaniards. However, the natives were already familiar with the agave plant and its uses. They would ferment its sap to produce Octli or Pulque, an alcohol that is still produced in some parts of Mexico. Today there is an effort to revive and popularize this drink again.
Tequila was first mass produced around 1600 by Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle after seeing Spanish soldiers distill pulque in an effort replace the stores of consumed brandy. At the end of the 19th century, tequila was first exported to the United States by Don Cenobio Sauza whose own tequila brand was called Sauza Tequila. It was Sauza´s grandson who began to insist that real tequila had to come from places where agaves were grown, meaning that it had to come from Mexico and, more precisely, the state of Jalisco.
Tequila's popularity has grown since the 1990s. Some of the most famous tequila brands like Sauza tequila and El Tesoro were bought by the American company Beam Inc. Nowadays many brands of tequila are owned by international companies, though there remain tequila brands which continue to be family run.