AHHHH, TEQUILA! The national drink
of Mexico which is now enjoyed around the world has
it’s heart near Puerto Vallarta. The name ‘Tequila’
comes from the name of the town where it was first made,
which in turn is named after a mountain peak which rises
above the town. The town of Tequila is near Guadalajra
and resides in the state of Jalisco, which produces
more Tequila than any other state.
source of this legendary drink is not a type of cactus
(a common misconception), but rather the blue agave plant,
which has long bluish green spiny leaves with sharp points
and a large heart from which the juices are extracted
and then distilled twice. The heart of the plant is called
a ‘pina’ (Spanish for ‘pineapple), because
that’s exactly what it looks like after the leaves
have been cut off. By federal law, Tequila may only be
brewed in a few states, and only from blue agave grown
in those areas. The “Denomination of Origin”
law has defined the area and includes the state of Jalisco
and some regions in the states of Guanajuato, Nayarit,
Michoacán, and Tamaulipas all of which have similar
reddish volcanic soil and climate.
HISTORY OF TEQUILA begins in the 16th century, when Spanish
Conquistadors brought the process of distillation to Mexico.
The people of the town of Tequila were willing to put
this information to good use, and began experimenting
with the blue agave plant which they knew contained fermentable
sugars. For many years tequila was a made locally, in
small batches, and it was relatively unknown outside of
a few states and Mexico City. Don Jose Guadalupe Cuervo
was the first to receive permission to produce tequila
in 1765. In 1873, Don Cenobio Suaza exported the product
to the United States. In 1950 technology began to take
a leading role. The best creators of the famous brew were
even more advanced and with the new technology, tequila
could be distributed on a much larger scale. The development
of the Mexican tourism industry during the 1980’s,
however, exposed tequila to a wider international audience,
and it’s growth in popularity around the world has
boomed ever since. Tequila is now one of the 3 top selling
liquors in the entire world!
IS A JIMADOR?
This figure is well-known; nonetheless, few know
that his name is the JIMADOR. He is the artisan
that cuts the leaves of the agave plant; it is this
man who leaves behind the piña or heart of
the agave. He also cuts the stalk below the ground
using his simple tool, a long-handled cutting instrument.
The art of a good jimador includes only striking
once to separate the agave’s leaves. Those
who know say that the separation must be made in
a single blow and always at the same height.
THE PROCESS OF DISTILLING
TEQUILA begins with the harvesting of the blue agave,
which by this time will typically be 9 or 10 years old.
The spikey leaves are sheared off, leaving the large ‘piña’
which averages about 50 to 60 pounds (but can grow as
large as 200 pounds!). The piñas are roasted in
an oven, where the heat will convert starches to fermentable
sugars, then pressed to release the sweet juices. The
juices are fermented with each distiller’s secret
yeast for a couple of days, distilled twice, then bottled,
aged, or blended. A typical ‘piña’
will produce an average of 3 to 4 liters/quarts of tequila.
At this point the tequila
is clear, but many different aging techniques are employed
to produce different subtle flavors and colors, similar
to the way winemakers may choose one type of wood or another
for lending distinctive aromas and tastes. This type of
tequila is called “añejo”, the Spanish
word for ‘aged’. Tequila quality is observed
by the government, which allows up to 49% other (non-agave)
sugars to be used; however only tequila made only from
blue agave may be certified and labeled as “100%
pure blue agave”. The end result is a firey liquor
ranging from 70 to 110 proof (35-55% alcohol content).
Tequila is usually bottled in one of
• plata or blanca ("silver" – aged
no more than a couple of months)
• oro or joven abocado ("gold" or "bottled
when young" – "silver" tequila colored
to resemble aged tequila)
• reposado ("rested" – aged about
• añejo ("aged" or "vintage"
– aged from 1 to 3 years)
The aging process changes the color of tequila, but the
liquid can sometimes be colored with caramel to show a
darker color, indicative of a longer aging process; añejos
tend to be darker, the reposados slightly less dark, while
the platas are not colored at all.
you’re drinking tequila ‘straight’,
your shot glass may come with a slice of lime and a bit
of salt. Hardly anybody (except tourists) does the lick-the-salt-from-your-hand
and bite-the-lime thing, but many prefer to squeeze a
few drops of lime juice into their shot or around the
rim. Order a ‘bandera’ (Spanish for ‘flag’),
and your tequila will be served with a lime and another
shot glass with ‘sangrita’, a tasty blend
of tomato and citrus juice. (The combination is red, white,
and green…the colors of the Mexican flag.) And of
course the ever-popular margarita requires tequila (and
lime juice) to give it its unique place in the world of
cocktails, either blended or ‘on the rocks’,
with or without salt on the rim. Whichever way you drink
it, imbibe with moderation…tequila is for enjoying,
There are now over 100 distilleries making
over six hundred brands of tequila in Mexico and over
2,000 brand names have been registered.
FEW FINAL NOTES: ‘Mezcal’ is not tequila,
but rather a similar product from a similar plant. There
is never a worm at the bottom of a bottle of tequila,
but some advertising genius decided this would be a good
way to promote certain brands of mezcal. 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 Hipopta agavis that lives on the agave plant.
Finding one in the plant during processing indicates an
infestation and, correspondingly, a lower quality product.
Eating the worm will NOT induce hallucinations, no matter
what your old college buddies swear. Some people who appreciate
the effects of tequila more than its unique taste ‘straight’
will enjoy it mixed with a bit of the juice of orange,
grapefruit, lime, or tomato.
TEQUILA NEWS: 2006 Tequila Trade
On January 17, 2006 the United States
and Mexico singed an agreement allowing the continued
bulk import of Tequila into the United States. Without
this agreement all tequila would have had to be bottled
in Mexico. In addition to allowing bulk import, the agreement
also created a “tequila bottlers registry”
that identifies approved bottlers of tequila.
Other key elements of the agreement include:
• A prohibition on restrictions of bulk tequila
exports to the United States;
• A prohibition on Mexican regulation of tequila
labeling or marketing, as well as the labeling, formulation,
and marketing of distilled spirits specialty products
outside of Mexico;
• Continuation of current practice with respect
to addressing Mexican concerns regarding the manufacturing
of tequila in the United States; and
• Establishment of a working group to monitor the
implementation of the agreement.