Tequila = crazy, wild parties, questionable judgment, a submerged worm and Pee Wee Herman — right? Sometimes, sure, in the US. Mexico, however, takes its famous liquor very seriously. Tequila, which comes from the blue agave plant, is the national drink of Mexico and a symbol of cultural pride.
In the early 1990s, the country established The Tequila Regulatory Council (El Consejo Regulador del Tequila.) Essentially “tequila” is trademarked and no other country can use the name or officially distill the blue agave beverage as tequila.
In fact, there is actually a town called Tequila, which, of course, is where the liquor comes from. And the central Mexican region that includes Tequila as well as Guadalajara is the only place 100 percent agave tequila can be officially produced.
Even adding flavor was a huge no-no in the eyes of the Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico, which put the hammer down for many years on flavoring tequila. Distillers who added flavor to tequila could not call it “tequila.” Recently, however, the council eased the restrictions, allowing the name “tequila” to be used for flavored tequilas (except for pure 100 percent agave tequila.)
A Very Brief History of Tequila
Mexico has reason to be protective of tequila since it has a long history. The Aztecs fermented and produced a mild blue agave beverage in ancient times.
When Spanish conquistadors took over, they made a version of tequila as a substitute for the European liquors they brought and finished off. Large quantities of the more modern version of tequila were first produced in Guadalajara in the 1800s.
Now tequila is famous and consumed around the world. In Mexico, people typically drink it straight. In the US, the most infamous way to drink a shot of tequila is to lick the back of the hand, sprinkle salt on the spot, lick the salt, down the shot and suck on a slice of lime. Seasoned tequila drinkers consider this to be a rookie move, however.
The Types of Tequila
Producers of tequila ferment the agave as part of the production, similar to wine. Unlike wine, however, the agave is distilled after it ferments.
Blanco — Bottled after it’s distilled, this tequila is not typically aged or aged for a short period of time. It lives up to its name and is white in appearance.
Reposado (which means “rested”) is ready when it’s oak barrel aged between two months and just less than one year.
Joven (which is “young” in Spanish) combines blanco and reposado tequila.
Añejo (which is “aged”) must remain in oak barrels for at least one year but less than three years.
Extra Añejo (as you may have guessed means “extra aged”) has to remain in oak barrels at least three years.
Again, don’t mess with Mexico on this. The Tequila Regulatory Council Officials inspect the barrels as well and make sure distilleries follow the process appropriately. By the way, worms (or the larvae that grows in infected agave plants) are never found in good tequila.