Tequila – A Time-Honored Aspect of Mexicos Proud Heritage
There is a whole lot more to tequila than shooting Jose Cuervo off the belly of a girl at a frat party! The history of the spirit is as rich as the smooth flavor of a good tequila. In fact, special tequila glasses or brandy snifters are recommended in order to experience the full essence of this powerful elixir.
The story of tequila dates back nearly 1000 years, when Aztec’s discovered tequila’s ancestor, pulque. After being struck by lightning, someone noticed the inside of the agave plant had been cooked and had produced a sweet, mildly alcoholic juice. This syrup, usually reserved for high priests and royalty, was believed to be a gift from the gods. The Aztec people even went so far as to offer human sacrifices to ensure there would be a continuous supply!
The first actual factory to introduce the distilling process was established in the town of Tequila, Jalisco in the 1600s. It is in this region, with its rich, red volcanic soil, that the particular agave plant prefers to grow and thrive. Although, most of the production in Mexico occurs in Jalisco, four other states, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas, have been granted permission by the Mexican government (who holds the exclusive rights to the name “Tequila”) to produce and distribute the distinguished relative of Mezcal.
A typical growth cycle of a blue agave is seven years, after which farmers, known as “Jimadores”, strip the heart of the plant of its leaves. A mature heart, which resembles a pineapple and can weigh 80-200 pounds at harvest time, is minced and steamed. During the ancient distilling process, “Tahona,” (still used by some producers today), a two-ton volcanic stone wheel crushes the cooked agave. Next, the pressed fibers and juice are collected and placed inside pine wood casks in order to create “mosto” or a basic liquid. This fermented liquid is then distilled twice, once with the agave fibers and then again without. The remaining liquid is then filtered in the final stage before bottling. In some cases, the work of sixty or more sets of seasoned hands is necessary to cultivate and manufacture the finished product.
Just as true champagne comes from the Champagne region of France, in order to be labeled Tequila, it must be produced in Mexico. Contrary to popular myth, a bottle of quality tequila will not contain a worm at the bottom. The “gusano” is the larvae of the type of moth which resides on the agave plant, and the idea to put it inside the bottle was conceived as a marketing gimmick for mezcal. Tequila falls into two categories which are then divided into five classes. From 100% Blue Agave and Tequila Mixto (a mix that must contain 51% blue agave), comes:
- Tequila Blanco/Silver/White – clear tequila that has not been aged and is normally bottled immediately after being distilled.
- Tequila Joven/Gold – White tequila that has not been aged but to which colorants and flavorings such as oak tree extracts and sugar syrup have been added.
- Tequila Reposado/Rested or Aged – has been left to age in wood from a period of two-twelve months.
- Tequila Anejo/Extra-Aged or Vintage – mandates that the tequila has remained in oak barrels for a minimum of one year for a more sophisticated taste.
- Tequila Extra Anejo/Ultra-Aged – has been aged for a period of three years or more.
The Guiness World Record for most expensive bottle ever sold is held by a private collector who paid $225,000.00 for a Platinum and White-Gold Tequila.
Studies have shown that if consumed in moderation, tequila can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 30-40% and can cut the risk of dementia by 37%. Of course we know well that over-indulgence on Mexico’s beloved national drink can perhaps lead to temporary memory loss, so please drink responsibly.