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Tuning Into the History of Tequila

One of America’s favorite cocktails is the margarita. Since the end of Prohibition, this drink has been popular and one of the best ways to make a respectable margarita is by using tequila. Considered to be the national drink of Mexico, it is one of the only true “New World” spirits that is enjoyed by many from all over the world.

History of Tequila

Made from the agave plant, tequila has found its way into everything from cocktails to shot glasses. The agave plant has been harvested for millennia and has been used for everything from home building to serving as a food source. With more than 200 species, only certain types have been identified as making the great spirits. The agave plant, which is native to the Americas, has been used to make a fermented beverage known as pulque for more than 2,000 years. Technology and science ultimately paved the way for distilling pulque into a more powerful spirit with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s Modern Day Mexico. This new spirit was extremely popular and was given the name “Tequila” to reflect the village where it was most famously made.

Plant Used to Produce Tequila

Today, most tequilas are made from 100% Blue Weber Agave. Other agave plants may be used to make a spirit, but tequila may only be made from this variety. A producer may use up to 49% of other sugars to make their tequila but they are required to label it as a “Mixto” tequila. If you’re looking for high quality tequila, you’ll want to look for the 100% Agave on the label of the bottle.

Aging of Tequila

Depending on where the agave plants are located, it can take 8 to 12 years to grow and can all produce different flavors in the final tequila stage. Agave grown at higher altitudes tend to have more delicate and floral flavors, while those grown closer to sea level showcase earthier and more vegetal flavors. While many spirits age for years in barrels (most of the whiskey in Europe must be aged for a minimum of three years), tequila aging requirements are much shorter due to the maturation process taking place in the heat of Central Mexico. Unlike other types of spirits, tequila does not require years of maturation after distillation to showcase its best attributes.

Types of Tequila

Much of the tequila enjoyed is in the Blanco or “Silver” category, meaning the spirit has aged no longer than two months in a barrel before its release. Most “Gold Tequila” is a barely aged spirit with the addition of caramel coloring. The two types of tequilas frequently used in cocktails is the Reposado and Añejo. A reposado tequila has been aged in a barrel anywhere from 2 to 12 months. This resting period in the barrel helps to soften the spirit as well as deliver some additional flavor and complexity. Most barrels used to mature tequila are taken from the American Bourbon Industry, though some are sourced from the wine industry and other places. An Añejo tequila has been aged for at least 12 months and an Extra Añejo tequila has been aged for at least 26 months in a barrel before release. Both categories may have strong oak notes and sometimes come across tasting like a well-aged brandy, rum or whiskey more so than the tequila taste we know and love!

Tequila vs. Mezcal

While many other spirits are made from the agave plant, only tequila may be made from the Weber Blue. Mezcal is made in other parts of Mexico and is like tequila in terms of the base ingredient (the agave plant), but the production tends to be a bit more rustic. While agave plants used for tequila may be heated by steam in ovens during production, much of the agave used for mezcal is cooked over fire in underground pits. As a result, mezcal has a light, smoky flavor that tequila generally lacks.

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