Chances are that you've enjoyed a tequila-based drink such as a margarita, at some point or another. In fact, many folks know that tequila is as emblematic to Mexico as vodka is to Russia. But being not only in Mexico, but in Jalisco, the state where it was originally created, the question "is there more to tequila?" is inevitable. The answer is a resounding "Yes!"
There are as many legends about tequila as there are flavorful ways to enjoy it. It has been immortalized in dozens of popular songs, from Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” to The Champs’ number one Billboard hit and 1959 Rhythm and Blues Grammy winner, “Tequila!”
Considered North America’s first indigenous distilled spirit, tequila production originated in the 16th century near the town of Tequila, Jalisco. It is made from agave, a plant considered sacred by the Aztec, who used it to produce octly, a fermented beverage now known as pulque.
Commercial production was begun in 1795 by Spanish Don Jose Maria Guadalupe Cuervo, whose Jose Cuervo brand continues to be one of the most popular. The second distillery, Herradura, began production in 1870, followed by Sauza in 1873.
And here’s something to toast about: Researchers from the Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Mexico’s second most important public university, published findings in early 2010 that the blue agave plant used to produce tequila has specific fructose molecules that help prevent obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes.
Tequila’s popularity is on the rise, with an average annual production of 309 million liters, four times as much as was produced two decades ago. A popular drink worldwide, 48.5 percent of all tequila produced in 2008 was exported from Mexico, with 72 percent being sent to the United States.
There are five officially sanctioned varieties of tequila, and each has its own, distinctive flavor, something to keep in mind next time you find yourself in a fiesta mood.
- Blanco or Silver - Of clear and transparent appearance and strong in flavor, it has not been left to rest and is usually bottled right after the distillation process.
- Oro or Gold - Unaged tequila, not as strong as blanco, with flavorings and colorants often added prior to bottling.
- Reposado or Rested - Blanco tequila that has been left to mature in oak barrels for two months to one year, acquiring a unique bouquet and a mellower taste.
- Añejo or Aged - Tequila with a woody flavor that has been left to mature for one to three years.
- Maduro or Extra-Aged - Also referred to as de reserva, this tequila is añejo that has been left to mature more than three years. Very flavorful and expensive.
- While a legend about adding a worm to tequila bottles persists, its use is exclusive to mezcal. Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM), the Mexican standards authority, prohibits adding larvae or insects to tequila.
- Sipping down a tequila shot in one gulp is, in fact, the worst way to savor tequila—that is, if you are actually curious about its flavor, for it takes a while for your taste buds to get used to it. It is best sipped in small amounts at a time to get the tongue and mouth ready for it. Once you are there, tequila shot at your leisure!