other drink is surrounded by as many stories, myths, legends
and lore as tequila. They reach into the heart of Mexico,
past and present.
Where's the worm???
no worm in Mexican-bottled tequila! While some American-bottled
brand(s) put one in their bottle, it's only a marketing ploy
and not a Mexican tradition. There is a worm - called a
gusano, in some types of mezcal.
you're supposed to eat the worm in mezcal. Don't worry: they're
often raised just for use in mezcal, cooked and pickled in
alcohol for a year. Dispel any idea it has any magical or
psychotropic properties, that it's an aphrodisiac or the key
to an 'unseen world.' It's merely protein and alcohol - but
it's very rich in imagery.
Tequila, nectar of the cactus...
is made from distilled sap from hearts (piñas)
of the agave plant. This plant
is actually related to the lily and amaryllis. It is known
as a succulent and, while it shares a common habitat with
many cacti, it is not one itself and has a different life
cycle. A mature agave has leaves 5-8 feet tall, and is 7-12
feet in diameter. It has a lifespan of 8-15 years, depending
on species, growing conditions and climate. The name agave
comes from the Greek word for 'noble.'
are 136 species of agave in Mexico, of which the blue agave,
is the only one allowed for use in tequila production. Agave
has been cultivated on this continent for at least 9,000 years.
Tequila and mezcal, two names for the same thing...
Tequila is a type of mezcal, but mezcals are not tequilas.
They both derive from varieties of the plant known to the
natives as 'mexcalmetl.' Tequila is made from only agave tequilana
Weber, blue variety. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made
from five different varieties of agave - mostly espadin, but
including some wild varieties grown without pesticides.
is double distilled. Mezcal is often only distilled once.
Mezcal piñas - the sugar-rich heart of the agave -
are baked in a conical, rock-lined pit oven (palenque) over
charcoal, and covered with layers of palm-fiber mats and earth,
giving mezcal a strong, smoky flavor. Tequila piñas
are baked or steamed in aboveground ovens or autoclaves.
Tequila manufacture is tightly controlled by the Mexican government
and the Tequila Regulatory Council. Statements made on the
bottle about age, style and content have legal requirements.
Tequila is not moonshine: it is carefully distilled and aged.
Most manufacturers take considerable pride in their production,
especially of the limited quantity añejo varieties
that are carefully aged for up to four years in oak barrels.
are regional drinks and local home-brews distilled from agave
sap. These include sotol, bacanora and raicilla, as well as
some simply referred to by the traditional name of 'mezcal.'
Many of these regional drinks have only recently been legalized
for production in Mexico, and are gaining new acceptance,
although distribution is still very limited. Pulque is also
made from agave, but it is fermented without being distilled,
so has a low alcohol content.
is tequila any stronger than other liquors. Most tequilas
have the same liquor content - about the same as any other
hard liquor: 38-40%. However, the official norm allows a range
any story that tequila contains psychedelic drugs or has any
such effect. That myth came from people who assumed mezcal
meant mescaline and it applied to tequila too. The agave does
not contain psychotropic components.
Money isn't everything...
isn't always a good way to judge things. A lot of the cost
in more expensive brands may go to fancy packaging, designer
bottles, and large advertising campaigns.
a large market of excellent tequilas available in Mexico at
$20-$30 US, and a very good choice in the range from $30-$50
US. Under $20, most of the tequilas are mass produced for
the local market, and usually mixto (not 100% agave).
is the ultimate deciding factor. Some people prefer the rougher
edge of the young blanco tequilas with their more distinct
agave flavor. Others like the sharper, almost peppery flavour
of a reposado. And some may prefer the smooth, woody aroma
in an añejo.
Same tequila, different bottle...
vary according to the company making them, the process and
the growing environment. The temperature, soil, types of equipment,
age of the plants and the means by which the plants are baked
and aged all affect the flavor and body.
is a surprisingly wide variation in tequila flavors - especially
between styles like blanco, reposado and añejo. Tequilas
can accost you, confront you and challenge you - or they can
woo you ore seduce you with soft, subtle fragrances and dusky
techniques affect the taste. Generally traditional methods
produce much stronger agave flavour than modern, mass production.
Aging in barrels also affects the taste. Sometimes, the woody
flavour imparted by the oak can overpower the natural agave.
packaging, wooden boxes and elegant bottles - many handmade
or decorated by artisans - and are now common with premium
tequilas. They have become collector's items in their own
right. While they don't add to the basic quality of the drink
in the bottle, they do add to its charm and certainly its