Before tequila was a drink, first, it was a town.
Unknown to many drinkers, tequila is a town in Jalisco, Mexico where this distilled beverage made from Blue Weber Agave (Agave Tequilana) was first made. Original makers of tequila named the drink after the place where it was created in the 16th century and made official in 1666. Besides Tequila, the Jaliscan Highlands of the central-western Mexican state of Jalisco also produces tequila. While tequila is synonymous with Mexico, production of tequila is allowed only in specific places according to Mexican law. Denomination of origin dictates that only the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas are allowed to produce tequila. If it is made from other types of agave besides blue agave, then it is not tequila but a mezcal. Tequila must have between 35 to 55 percent alcohol content, and it must contain at least 40 percent alcohol to be sold in the US and Canada.
Even during the pre-Columbian era, Mexicans were already using agave to make a drink called pulque. The Spanish conquistadors, after arriving, followed the same practice of distilling by the natives after their brandy went out of stock. But it wasn’t until 1600 when tequila was mass-produced – an enterprise of Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle. Cuervo – which is synonymous with tequila in modern times – is actually the family allowed by King Carlos IV to commercially produce tequila.
Tequila came to the United States because of the importation business of Don Cenobio Sauza, who shortened the term “tequila extract” to just “tequila.” Don Cenobio Sauza is not the only one in the family to make an important contribution to the history of tequila. His grandson Don Francisco Javier was the one who insisted that tequilas are made only from real agaves. It was the start of a stricter practice in producing and labeling tequila. It also influenced policies, laws, and agreements that limited the production of tequila only to places where there is blue agave growing, particularly in the State of Jalisco.
- The third Saturday of March is National Tequila Day.
- More than 300 million agave plants are harvested in Tequila, Jalisco every year because of the worldwide demand for tequila.
- The flavor of tequila varies depending on where the agave that was used was grown; highland agaves are sweeter while lowland agaves are herbaceous in aroma and flavor.
- The Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006 because of its historical and cultural importance.
Tequila Buying Guide
A bottle of tequila could be any of these five types: silver, gold, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo. What is the difference?
When going out to buy tequila, the first thing to consider is this: how do you plan to drink it? If you are doing cocktails, buy silver tequila because it has a sharp taste that does not wane or weaken when mixed with other liquids, and there is enough agave flavor to remind you it is an alcoholic beverage. If you are doing shots, buy gold tequila since this has a sweeter taste compared to silver tequila as a result of mixing silver tequila and reposado or adding caramel coloring to silver reposado to make gold tequila. For sipping, it is best to buy reposado, añejo, or extra añejo because the taste is very refined and it is best enjoyed pure and undiluted, full of flavor but without the sharp taste of silver tequila.
- Silver tequila – Also known as Blanco or platinum, this tequila is colorless like vodka or gin. Silver tequila is usually subjected to very little to no aging process at all. Silver is the first product of distillation. Tequila is bottled after distillation, with the aging process no longer than 60 days for those who prefer it to sit in stainless-steel containers first before being bottled. Because of this, silver tequila is often considered tequila in its purest form. It has a strong, sharp flavor.
- Gold tequila – Also known as joven or oro, this is usually a combination of silver tequila and brown coloring agent like caramel, or silver tequila and reposado. Do not confuse this with real reposado on the account of the same amber color. It shouldn’t be hard since tequilas are duly labeled as silver, gold, reposado, añejo, or extra añejo.
- Reposado – The term “reposado” means rested, in reference to the aging in wooden barrels which also explains why the color of tequila turns amber. Aging is between 60 days to one year.
- Añejo – The term means vintage. Añejo is one tier higher because the aging process is longer: one year at the very least, three years maximum.
- Extra Añejo – Up until 2005, there is no category as extra añejo. It only started when distillers started aging tequila for more than three years, hoping to improve the flavor further.
Tequila Production & Farming in Texas
Right now, there are several Texas tequila brands in the market. But if tequila is distilled exclusively in Mexico and anything distilled outside is not considered tequila, why do we have Texas tequila brands? Simple. Those who want to start a tequila business in the US can source tequila from Mexico, brand it, and sell it. Houston-based Pura Vida Tequila Company LLC took it one step further by acquiring a distillery in Mexico. This means they do not have to rely on a third party and they can now increase their production. Also, there are Texas companies producing spirits made from agave and agave nectar, and although they cannot label it as tequila; the main purpose is to have a Texas-made spirit that can be used as an alternative when making cocktails that require tequila.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Additives are not illegal, but purists believe it is not necessary. It is allowed if it comprises no more than 1% of the total liquid. There are many reasons why there are additives in tequila. The first reason is flavor. To achieve the desired flavor and flavor consistency, additives are used in tequila. Oak extract and sugar-based syrups are examples of additives used for this purpose. Fruit flavors are put in flavored tequilas. Some companies use glycerin for “mouthfeel”. Another reason for using additives is to achieve the desired color. Caramel coloring is commonly used in making gold tequila. Another additive in tequila is what manufacturers mix with agave when producing tequila. Many tequilas typically contain 51% agave and 49% cheap spirit.
Tequila is sold in a glass bottle sometimes placed inside a box or metal tin can. Tequila products vary in bottle shape, label design, and box design. When companies release special edition items, the design of the packaging is different from the design of the packaging of regular products. Some companies spend money to produce intricately-designed collectable packaging for their tequila products.
There are a lot of ways to drink tequila. Have it neat served on a shot glass. A tequila shot glass is usually narrow that can hold 2 ounces of liquid. It is called a caballito. Tequila connoisseurs would use the official tequila glass when drinking, made by Riedel called the Ouverture Tequila glass, given the stamp of approval by The Consejo Regulador del Tequila in 2002. This is a clear crystal glass stemware with a capacity of 190 ml. The bowl is designed in such a way that the tequila’s aroma and flavor are best enjoyed.
You can also drink tequila very casually and pour it in a regular glass and drink neat, on ice, or mixed with other liquids to make a cocktail. The Margarita is a mix of tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice. Just like other cocktails, other variations exist and are served in bars today. Paloma is another tequila cocktail, but this one is popular in Mexico. Martini variants include the use of tequila. Tequila Sunrise is another popular cocktail, as well as the Tequila Slammer.
The ideal storage for tequila is a cool, dry place at room temperature. An important consideration when it comes to the storage of tequila is making sure it is not accessible or within reach of children and minors. It is not necessary to refrigerate tequila. However, you can refrigerate or freeze it if you want to drink it cold but without the ice. It is ok to store a bottle of tequila that has been opened, so long as it is sealed with a cap to keep it free from impurities. Do not store it somewhere it is exposed to direct sunlight over a long time because this could affect the quality of the tequila.
Make your own Tequila Sunrise
Tequila sunrise is a popular cocktail. It traces its origins in Phoenix, Arizona in the 1930s as a creation of Gene Sulit, and in a bar called Trident in Sausalito, California in the 1970s created by Bobby Lozoff and Billy Rice. Tequila sunrise became popular when rock band Rolling Stones – who enjoyed the tequila sunrise served to them during a private party before the start of their American tour – dubbed their series of shows in the US as ‘cocaine and tequila sunrise tour’. Another rock band – the Eagles – helped promote tequila sunrise when they wrote a song of the same title.
This recipe yields one glass of tequila sunrise.
- Silver tequila (2 ounces)
- Orange juice (4 ounces)
- Grenadine (1/4 ounce)
- Cherry and orange slice to garnish
- Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour tequila and orange juice.
- Pour grenadine. It will sink to the bottom of the glass, creating two layers of color (orange and red).
- Add one orange slice and cherry to garnish.