Tequila history starts with the indigenous Aztec peoples of Mexico, the Chichimecans, Otomies, Toltecans and Nahuatls who made a beverage from the agave plant long before the Spaniards arrived in a village called Tequila in the shade of a dormant volcano named Tequila in a land they called Techinchan.
Tequila was first distilled in the 1500-1600’s in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Guadalajara is the capital of Jalisco and the city of Tequila was established in about 1656. This is where the agave plant grows best. The agave is not a cactus as rumored, but belongs to the lily family and has long spiny leaves (pincas). The specific plant that is used to make tequila is the Weber blue agave. It takes 8-12 years for the agave to reach maturity. During harvest, the leaves are cut off leaving the heart of the plant or pina which looks like a large pineapple when the jimadors are done. The harvested pina may weigh 200 pounds or more and is chopped into smaller pieces for cooking at the distillery.
There are two basic types of tequila, 100% blue agave (cien porciento de agave) tequila and mixto. The 100% blue agave tequilas are distilled entirely from the fermented juice of the agave. All 100% agave tequilas have to be distilled and bottled in Mexico. If the bottle does not say 100% blue agave, the tequila is mixto and may have been distilled from as little as 60% agave juice with other sugars. Grades of Tequila:
Tequila can only be produced in Mexico, in the Tequila Region, and must comply with strict Mexican government regulations. In order to satisfy an ever-growing demand and a multitude of consumer’s preferences and tastes, tequila is produced in two general categories and four different types in three of those categories. The two categories are defined by the percentage of juices coming from the blue agave: Tequila 100% Agave. Must be made with 100% blue agave juices and must be bottled at the distillery in Mexico. It may be Blanco, Reposado, or Añejo.
Tequila. Must be made with at least 51% blue agave juices. This tequila may be exported in bulk to be bottled in other countries following the NOM standard. It may be Blanco, Gold, Reposado, or Añejo.
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The NOM standard defines four types of Tequila: Blanco or Silver This is the traditional tequila that started it all. Clear and transparent, fresh from the still tequila is called Blanco (white or silver) and must be bottled immediately after the distillation process. It has the true bouquet and flavor of the blue agave. It is usually strong and is traditionally enjoyed in a “caballito” (2 oz small glass).
Oro or Gold It is Tequila Blanco mellowed by the addition of colorants and flavorings, caramel being the most common. It is the tequila of choice for frozen Margaritas.
Reposado or Rested It is Blanco that has been kept (or rested) in white oak casks or vats called “pipones” for more than two months and up to one year. The oak barrels give Reposado a mellowed taste, pleasing bouquet, and its pale color. Reposado keeps the blue agave taste and is gentler to the palate. These tequilas have experienced exponential demand and high prices.
Añejo or Aged It is Blanco tequila aged in white oak casks for more than a year. Maximum capacity of the casks should not exceed 600 liters (159 gallons). The amber color and woody flavor are picked up from the oak, and the oxidation that takes place through the porous wood develops the unique bouquet and taste.
Reserva Although not a category in itself, it is a special Añejo that certain distillers keep in oak casks for up to 8 years. Reserva enters the big leagues of liquor both in taste and in price.
As the tequila is aged in wooden barrels, usually oak, it becomes smoother, with a woody taste and golden color. Aging may disguise the agave flavor and few tequilas are aged longer than three to four years. Each distillery in Mexico is assigned a NOM number that shows which company made or bottled the tequila. Tequila is not hallucinogenic. It is not Mexican moonshine. Tequila does not have a maggot or some other worm in the bottle. Tequila is not made from cactus.
Tequila was first imported into the United States in 1873 when the first load was transported to El Paso, Texas