A colorless or pale straw-colored liquor made by fermenting and distilling the sweet sap of the Agave plant. It originated in Tequila, Mexico, hence the name. Most tequila imported to the United States range from 80 to 86 Proof, although some versions are over 100 proof. Tequila is the base liquor in the popular Margarita cocktail.
Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the western Mexican state of Jalisco.
The blue volcanic soil in the surrounding region is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year. Agave tequila grows differently depending on the region. Blue agaves grown in the highlands region are larger in size and sweeter in aroma and taste. Agaves harvested in the lowlands, on the other hand, have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor.
Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mexico is granted international right to the word “tequila”. The United States officially recognizes that spirits called “tequila” can only be produced in Mexico, although by agreement bulk amounts can be shipped to be bottled in the U.S.
Tequila is most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 proof), but can be produced between 31–55% alcohol content (62–110 proof).
Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the city of Tequila, which was not officially established until 1666. The Aztec people had previously made a fermented beverage from the agave plant, which they called octli – later called pulque – long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill agave to produce one of North America’s first indigenous distilled spirits.
Some 80 years later, around 1600, Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira, began mass-producing tequila at the first factory in the territory of modern-day Jalisco. By 1608, the colonial governor of Nueva Galicia had begun to tax his products. Spain’s King Carlos IV granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make tequila.
The style of tequila that is popular today was first mass-produced in the early 19th century in Guadalajara, Mexico
Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila and Municipal President of the Village of Tequila from 1884–1885, was the first to export tequila to the United States, and shortened the name from “Tequila Extract” to just “Tequila” for the American markets. Don Cenobio’s grandson Don Francisco Javier gained international attention for insisting that “there cannot be tequila where there are no agaves!” His efforts led to the practice that real tequila can come only from the State of Jalisco.
There are two basic categories of tequila: mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos use no less than 51% agave, with other sugars making up the remainder. Mixtos use both glucose and fructose sugars.
Tequila is usually bottled in one of five categories:
Blanco [‘blaŋko] (“white”) or plata [‘plata] (“silver”): white spirit, un-aged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels;
Joven [‘xoβen] (“young”) or oro [‘oɾo] (“gold”)
Reposado [repo’saðo] (“rested”): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels of any size;
Añejo [a’ɲexo] (“aged” or “vintage”): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels;
Extra Añejo (“extra aged” or “ultra aged”): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels. This category was established in March 2006.
With 100% agave tequila, blanco or plata is harsher with the bold flavors of the distilled agave up front, while reposado and añejo are smoother, subtler, and more complex. As with other spirits that are aged in casks, tequila takes on the flavors of the wood, while the harshness of the alcohol mellows. The major flavor distinction with 100% agave tequila is the base ingredient, which is more vegetal than grain spirits (and often more complex).