Many spirits conquer up feelings of seasonal memories such as bourbon, brandy, or Gran Marnier in the cold weather months; the versatile vodka, bright gin, or tequila in spring and in warm weather months. These days we hear a lot more about specialty tequila, or mezcal–this liquor has more history and flavor, beyond the standard margarita.
Where Tequila Comes From
Distilled from agave plants in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, mezcal, a grandparent to tequila, was first distilled in the 1500-1600s. The agave plant has gained a lot attention lately and if often confused for a cactus. In fact, the agave plant is a relative to the lily family. The plant used for tequila is the Weber’s Blue Agave. It takes eight to ten years for the plant to reach maturity. The plant has long been known for its uses in making clothing, rope, and baskets. The heart of the agave plant can be boiled down to make the now popular sweetener, agave nectar. In the early uses of the plant, this syrup was thought to have medicinal uses as well. This syrup was also used to make a fermented beer-like drink. When the Spanish arrived with their distillation techniques, the agave was finally made into mezcal and turned into tequila.
To be classified as tequila, the spirit must contain at least 51% blue agave. These blends are called mixto, though tequila purists insist on 100% blue agave.
Whiskey shortages in the U.S. have often led to increased demand for tequila and its sister spirit mezcal, as was the case during the Civil War, Prohibition, and World War II.
Types of Tequila
Tequila can be split into two categories: 100% blue agave and Tequila Mixto (mixed). Mixto agave is just 51% agave with the other 49% containing other cane sugars, added caramel color, oak flavoring, and glycerin. Mixto tequila can also be distilled anywhere outside of the official tequila territory. In short, for the real deal look for 100% blue agave when purchasing tequila!
From these two categories tequila is labeled into five types staring with the purest, Tequila silver. Also called blanco, white, or platinum. This is the purest form of tequila and known to have an agave sweetness flavor. This is best for sipping neat.
Many of us are used to the Tequila gold, used most in bars and restaurants for mixed drinks, and shooters. These tequilas are typically from Mixto bottles and known for their wild effects and killer hangovers–ouch!
Reposado Tequila has flavor profiles comparative to whiskey, or cognac. This is because the spirit is “rested and aged” in American or French oak barrels for two to eleven months. The spirit takes on a lighter honey color and the taste becomes a good balance between sweet Agave and smoky wood flavors.
Tequila Añejo, or extra aged, is aged at least one year in small batches of containers that cannot exceed 600 liters. It takes on a darker reddish caramel color and has a complex flavor.
Newest to the tequila classification is Tequila Extra Añejo, or ultra aged. This was added in 2006 to classify any tequila aged for over three years. Also aged in a container that cannot exceed 600 liters along with the prolonged aging, this tequila becomes a dark rich color, with a high alcohol content that has to be diluted with distilled water. This is an ideal spirit for connoisseurs to savor.
While many of us know tequila best as the alcoholic kick in our margaritas, there are many other lively cocktails and unusual recipes to try!