Tequila has attempted to shed its college rager reputation. It’s a treasured component in the rising artisan cocktail movement. This is the tequila guide.
Despite its popularity, tequila’s tastes may be as nuanced and varied as wine’s.
Tequila is solely produced in Mexico, it’s home country. Since 1821, when Mexico earned independence from Spain, it’s been a symbol of jubilation, used at weddings and quinceaneras.
The Aztecs employed agave sap (particularly maguey, a relative of blue agave) to make a drink called pulque thousands of years ago. Mayahuel, the maguey goddess, and Patel, the pulque deity, were adored by the Aztecs.
After the Spanish entered Mexico in the early 1500s, agave-based spirits were first distilled. After establishing colonies, Spain developed a Manila-Mexico commercial route. They traded Mexican silver for silk, spices, and coconut brandy, and stills. The brandy quickly gained popularity, and thirsty colonists distilled their version with agave instead of coconuts, creating North America’s first Indigenous-distilled liquor.
Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle, “the Father of Tequila,” created the first large-scale distillery in Tequila, Jalisco, in the early 1600s. Mezcal and tequila were once considered the same item. In the 1870s, Don Cenobio Sauza (of Sauza Tequila) brought distinctions. He determined that blue agave was ideal for tequila. Other distillers in Sauza’s region followed his lead, preferring blue agave to any other.
During Prohibition, when European spirits were unavailable and domestic options were bathtub gin and moonshine, tequila gained popularity. Tequila made its way into American glasses because of bootleggers and Tijuana’s closeness and bars.
In 1978, the Mexican government recognized “tequila” as their intellectual property, mandating it to be created and matured in particular regions. Other countries were forbidden from producing and selling “tequila.” To manufacture tequila, distillers were also required to use only blue agave hearts.
Tequila must be manufactured from at least 51% blue Weber agave and no more than 49% sugar, according to Mexican legislation. This creates 100% agave tequila and mixes with tequila with additional sugar. Mixto tequila contains glucose, fructose, caramel coloring, glycerin, and other flavorings. Choose 100% agave wherever possible.
After jimador (agave growers) harvests the plants, they trim the outer leaves. Slow-cooked agave hearts (or pias) are crushed using machinery or a big stone wheel called a tahona to obtain juice.
If making a mixofo tequila, the manufacturer now adds sugar to the juice. The distiller then ferments pure agave juice or sugared juice with yeast and water in a vat. The fermenting liquid is then distilled (typically twice) and diluted. Depending on the style, it’s then bottled or matured in oak barrels.
Top Tequila Cocktails
Margarita is one of the reasons tequila is so popular in the U.S. Citrusy, salty, and boozy, it can be sipped on the rocks or frozen.
Paloma is more popular in Mexico than Margarita
The Tequila Sunrise got its name from the sunrise-like layering created by pouring grenadine over tequila and orange juice.
Bloody Maria is great for Bloody Mary fans who want to taste the alcohol.
Siesta replaces rum with tequila and maraschino liqueur with Campari. Its vibrant, acidic taste comes from grapefruit and lime juices.
Baja Gold replaces lime juice with fresh pineapple juice. Reposado tequila adds caramelly richness and earthy undertones.
Compare Tequila With Mezcal
Mezcal’s flavor depends on the type of agave used, where it’s collected, and other factors.
Ivan Vasquez, who’s LA restaurant Madre has one of the greatest collections of mezcal in the US, all from small-batch producers, describes the spirit: “For me, mezcal is anything cooked underground, in a pit fire, regardless of the designation of origin.” The genuine origin is where mezcal has been made for three or five generations.
Mezcal, unlike tequila, may be manufactured from different varieties of agave. According to the Mexican government, it can also be manufactured in seven additional locations.
Sotol, bacanora, and raicilla are other famous Mexican agave-distilled spirits. As Mexico’s northern neighbor, America has early access to ancestral spirits before they become worldwide phenomena.