Tequila is arguably one of Mexico’s greatest national treasures. It is made from the heart of the Weber azul agave plant and has been mass-produced since the 1600s. Tequila is one of the first indigenous distilled spirits of North America and remains popular to this day.
Since its creation, tequila has rapidly grown in popularity and is now one of the most consumed spirits in the US. This growth can be attributed to tequila’s reputation as a versatile, enjoyable, and (according to some) more health-conscious spirit.
Much like wine, the quality greatly depends on the agave plants it is made from. Post-distillation aging and blending often yield additional characteristic flavors, such as vanilla or honey.
What is tequila made from?
Authentic tequila must be composed of a minimum of 51 percent Weber azul agave. The Weber azul agave is a native succulent plant with long spiky leaves that grows well in the volcanic soils characteristic of the region where it originates. Tequila production is only authorized in five Mexican states: Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Jalisco – home to most large-scale tequila operations.
Other requirements for the alcohol include a minimum of 35 percent alcohol by volume (with a maximum of 110 proof) and a minimumos two rounds of distillation to help remove impurities and focus the amount ofalcohol in the final spirit.
Many people don’t know this, but there is a big distinction between premium tequila and regular tequila. To put it simply: regular tequilas are made purely from 100% Weber azul agave, while on the other hand,premium varieties might have dangerous additives like molasses or corn syrup instead of natural agave nectar. All mezcals come from distilled agave plants- however not all mezcals can be classified as “tequilas”. According to strict guidelines set out by Mexican law, in order for a spirit drinkto be called a “tequila”, it has to be produced using only Weber blue agaves that were grown in pre-approved regions located throughout Mexico.
The terms “tequila” and “mezcal” are used to refer to two different types of alcoholic beverages today. Tequila is made by steaming and pressing the heart of the agave plant, while mezcal goes through a roasting and fermentation process that gives it a smoky flavor profile.
Types of tequila
Blanco. Tequila in its purest form is typically clear and unaged. It’s usually bottled right after distillation. In the USA, this is the most commonly consumed category of tequila, often used in margaritas and other light, acidic drinks.
Joven. Young and pure, this is the term to describe a mix of blanco and more aged tequilas. It’s also becoming a popular way to describe a blend of 100 percent agave tequilas. An example is blending and bottling a 100 percent agave blanco with a 100 percent agave reposado.
Reposado. This is the most common type of tequila in Mexico. The name “reposado” means rested, because it was aged in oak containers for a minimum of two months. Most reposados are aged an average of six months in used bourbon barrels. This type of tequila has more flavor than a blanco or joven, and can be used similarly to bourbon or whiskey in cocktails.
Añejos and extra añejos. “Old” or “vintage” tequilas are matured for the longest amount of time. To be classified as an añejo, it must be aged in an oak container no larger than 600 liters for a minimum of one year. For extra añejos, the tequila must age for three years. These types of tequila are darker in color and have more intense flavors that are typically best savored slowly.
How is it made?
To make tequila, the process starts with agave farmers, called jimadores. They grow and trim the plants until they are ready to be harvested. Once the plant is between 7 and 14 years old, only the heart of the plant remains. This part of the plant is referred to as a piña.
The piñas are transferred to an oven where they steam for up to 56 hours, softening their cores. Once cooled, the piñas are then crushed and the liquid is fermented in steel or wooden vats. This process converts sugar into alcohol. After fermentation reaches around four to nine percent ABV, it is ready for distillation and transfer into a still.
Depending on the specific kind of Mexican alcohol, it must distilled a minimum of two times to ABV levels of 35 percent. From here, it can either be aged in oak barrels or blended/bottled without aging.
How does tequila differ from other types of liquor?
Tequila is unique among spirits in that the only way to produce its liquor is by killing the plant. The production of tequila from agave cultivation and harvesting to distillation and aging, therefore, requires not only a great deal of time, but also comparatively more land than other types of alcohol.
Often seen as a healthier choice because it not only has less sugar but also fewer calories. In addition, since it is minimally processed and comes from plants, it is deemed paleo-friendly by many.