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Tequilas of Various Styles

Tequila is an agave-based spirit made primarily in the area surrounding Tequila, 65 kilometres (40 mi) in the northwest of Guadalajara and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the western Mexican state of Jalisco. The volcanic soil in the region surrounding Tequila is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year.[1]Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco, anywhere else it is called mescal. [2]

Tequila is most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 proof), but there are also several varieties of tequila produced with 43–50% alcohol content (86–100 proof).[3]


[edit] History

A distillery oven loaded with agave "piñas" or "pineapples", the first step in the production of tequila.

Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the city of Tequila, which was not officially established until 1656. The Aztec people had previously made a fermented beverage from the agave plant, which they called octli (later, and more popularly called pulque), long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill this agave drink to produce North America's first indigenous distilled spirit.[4]

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.

The tequila that is popular today was first mass-produced in the early 1800s 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. 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 only come from the State of Jalisco.

[edit] Recent history

Blue agave fields and ancient distilleries near Tequila are recognized as part of the World Heritage List.

Since 2002, sales of high priced tequilas, called "ultra-premium" and "super-premium" by marketeers, have increased 28 percent. That is an average growth rate of 8.6 percent per year, as reported by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Sales exceeded expectations by reaching well over 10 million cases as shown in the 2007 report by IWSR based on Adams Liquor Handbook. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, increasing worldwide popularity of tequila drove corporate interest in the drink. Notable developments as a result included:

  • The purchase of Herradura by Brown-Forman for $776 million in September 2006.[5]
  • A new NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana) for tequila (NOM-006-SCFI-2005) was issued in 2006, and among other changes, introduced a category of tequila called "extra añejo" or "ultra-aged" which must be aged a minimum of 3 years.[6]
  • The purchase of the Sauza and El Tesoro brands by massive holding company Fortune Brands.[7]

Although some tequilas have remained as family owned brands, most well-known tequila brands are owned by large multinational corporations. However, there are over 100 distilleries making over six hundred brands of tequila in Mexico and over 2,000 brand names have been registered. Due to this, each bottle of tequila contains a serial number depicting which distillery the tequila was brewed and bottled in. Because there are only so many distilleries, multiple brands of tequila come from the same place.[6]

The Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico originally did not permit flavored tequila to carry the tequila name.[8] In 2004, the Council decided to allow flavored tequila to be called tequila, with the exception of pure agave tequila, which still could not be flavored.[8]

A one-liter bottle of limited-edition premium tequila was sold for $225,000 in July 2006 in Tequila, Jalisco, by the company Tequila Ley .925. The bottle which contains the tequila is a two-kilo display of platinum and gold. The manufacturer has received the Certificate from Guinness World Records for the most expensive bottle of spirit ever sold.[9]

In 2008, Mexican scientists discovered a method to transform 80-proof (40% alcohol) tequila into diamonds. This process involves heating the tequila to over 800 degrees C (1,400 degrees F) to vaporize the tequila. The tequila particles are cooled, and settle upon steel or silicon trays in an even, pure layer. The results are hoped to have numerous commercial and industrial applications, but are far too small (100–400 nm diameter) for use in jewelry.[10]

[edit] 2006 Tequila Trade Agreement


In 2003, Mexico issued a proposal that would require all Mexican-made tequila be bottled in Mexico before being exported to other countries.[11] The Mexican government said that bottling tequila in Mexico would guarantee its quality.[11] Liquor companies in the United States said that Mexico just wanted to create bottling jobs in their own country.[11] Liquor companies in the United States also claimed this rule would violate international trade agreements and was in discord with usual exporting practices worldwide.[12] The proposal might have resulted in the loss of jobs at plants in California, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky, because Mexican tequila exported in bulk to the United States is bottled in those plants.[12] On January 17, 2006, the United States and Mexico signed an agreement allowing the continued bulk import of tequila into the United States.[12][13][14] The agreement also created a "tequila bottlers registry" to identify approved bottlers of tequila and created an agency to monitor the registry.[12]

[edit] NOM

All 100% agave tequilas must have a NOM identifier on the bottle. The important laws since 1990 were NOM-006-SCFI-1993 and the later update NOM-006-SCFI-1994 and the most recent revision in late 2005, NOM-006-SCFI-2005.

The number after NOM is the distillery number, assigned by the government. NOM does not indicate the location of the distillery, merely the parent company or - in the case where a company leases space in a plant - the physical plant where the tequila was manufactured.

[edit] TMA

For more detail on TMA, see the entry in Tequila agave

TMA ("tristeza y muerte de agave") is a blight that has reduced the production of the agave grown to produce tequila. This has resulted in lower production and higher prices throughout the early 2000s, and due to the long maturation of the plant, will likely continue to affect prices for years to come.[15]

[edit] Production

Production of tequila and agave in 2008. Dark green for tequila and light green for agave

Harvesting the agave plant remains a manual effort, unchanged by modern farming technologies, and stretching back hundreds of years. The agave is planted, tended, and harvested by hand.[16] The men who harvest it, the "jimadors", contain generations of knowledge about the plants and the ways in which they need to be harvested.[16] The Jimadors must be able to work swiftly in the tight rows, pull out the pups without damaging the mother plant, clear the piñas (for its resemblance to a pine cone when the blades have been removed), and decide when and if each plant is ready to be harvested . Too soon and there are not enough sugars, too late and the plant will have used its sugars to grow a quiote (20-40 foot high stem), with seeds on the top that are then scattered by the wind . The piñas, weighing 40 to 70 pounds, are cut away with a special knife called a coa. [17] They are then shredded, their juices pressed out and put into fermentation tanks and vats. Some tequila companies still use the traditional method (artesian tequila) in which the pinas are crushed with a stone wheel. The final process is to add a yeast to the vats to convert the sugars into alcohol. Each company keeps their own yeast a tight secret.[16]

There is a clear difference in taste between tequila that is made from lowland or highland agave plants. Agave plants that are grown in the highlands often have more fruit tastes due to the growing process. The plants are grown on the western side of the hills, allowing the plants to receive the most amount of sunlight throughout the day. These plants are taller, wider, and juicier. Agave that are grown in the lowlands have more earth tastes, and are typically on the smaller side.[citation needed]

[edit] Types of Tequila

There are two basic categories of tequila: mixtos and 100% Agave. Mixtos use up to 49% of other sugars in the fermentation process, which affect the flavor of the spirit, with Agave taking up the remainder. Mixtos use both glucose and fructose sugars. 100% Agave tequila is produced wholly from agave.

The longer tequila is aged in wood, the more smooth its flavor becomes, due to the oxidation of the alcohol (decreasing the alcohol 'kick'), the sweeter it becomes, and the more secondary flavors it develops apart from the flavor of agave (from tannins in the wood and from the development of the alcohol molecules during the aging process). The trade-off is that the tequila loses much of its initial agave flavor the longer it is aged. Aging also changes the color of tequila from its initial, clear color (like unaged vodka) to a honey color (like aged whisky).

Tequila is usually bottled in one of five categories:[6]

  • Blanco ("white") or plata ("silver") – white spirit, un-aged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in oak barrels, this category has the purest agave taste and dryest flavor;
  • Joven ("young") or oro ("gold") – un-aged "blanco" tequila, blended with rested or aged tequilas, and often with caramel coloring, sugar-based syrup, glycerin, and/or oak extract added so as to resemble aged tequila;
  • Reposado ("rested") – aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels, this tequila fits a Goldilocks standard - it is aged long enough to develop some sweetness and smoothness, but not long enough to lose the primacy of the agave flavor;
  • Añejo ("aged" or "vintage") – aged a minimum of one year, but less than 3 years in oak barrels, in this category of tequila the sweet and secondary wood flavors are generally stronger than the agave, which becomes a sort of background flavor;
  • Extra Añejo ("extra aged" or "ultra aged") – aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels. This category was established in March 2006, and the flavor of this type of tequila is the furthest removed from the original flavor of the agave.

[edit] Aging process

Tequila being rested or aged in oak barrels

Reposado may be rested in barrels or casks as large as 20,000 litres, allowing for richer and more complex flavors. The preferred oak comes from US, France or Canada, and while they are usually white oak, some companies choose to char the wood for a smokey flavor, or use barrels that were previously used to hold a different kind of alcohol ( i.e. whiskey, scotch, or wine in the case of Asombroso). Some reposados can also be aged in new wood barrels to achieve the same wood flavor and smoothness, but in less time.[18]

Añejos are often rested in barrels that have been previously used to rest reposados. The barrels cannot be more than 600 liters, although most are stored in barrels of about 200 liters. Many of the barrels used are from whiskey or bourbon distilleries in America, France, or Canada (the most popular being Jack Daniels),[19] resulting in the dark color and more complex flavors of the añejo tequila. Since most people[who?] agree that after 4 years of aging the tequila is at its best, the añejo can be removed from the wood barrels and placed in stainless steel tanks to reduce the amount of evaporation that can occur in the barrels.[18]

It is a common misconception that some tequilas contain a 'worm' in the bottle. Only certain mezcals, usually from the state of Oaxaca, are ever sold con gusano, and that only began as a marketing gimmick in the 1940s. The worm is actually the larval form of the moth Hypopta agavis that lives on the agave plant. Finding one in the plant during processing indicates an infestation and, correspondingly, a lower quality product. (Note: for more information on how tequila is made, see mezcal.) However this misconception continues, and even with all the effort and marketing to represent tequila as a premium—similar to the way Cognac is viewed in relation to brandy—there are some opportunist producers for the shooters-and-fun market who blur these boundaries.[20]

[edit] Brands

There are many brands of tequila; the Consejo Regulador del Tequila reports 901 registered brands from 128 producers for the year 2008.[21]

[edit] Drinking tequila

In Mexico, tequila is drunk straight, without salt and lime. It is popular in some regions to drink fine tequila with a side of sangrita—a sweet, sour and spicy drink typically made from orange juice, grenadine (or tomato juice) and hot chilies. Equal-sized shots of tequila and sangrita are sipped alternately, without salt or lime.[22]

Outside Mexico, a single shot of tequila is often served with salt and a slice of lime. This is called "tequila cruda" and is sometimes referred to as "training wheels," "lick-sip-suck," or "lick-shoot-suck" (referring to the way in which the combination of ingredients is imbibed). The drinker moistens the back of their hand below the index finger (usually by licking) and pours on the salt. Then the salt is licked off the hand, the tequila is then drunk and the fruit slice is quickly bitten. It is common for groups of drinkers to do this simultaneously. Drinking tequila in this way is often erroneously called a Tequila Slammer, but this is a mixed tequila and carbonated drink. Though the traditional Mexican shot is straight tequila, lime is the fruit of choice when a chaser must be used.[23] It is believed that the salt lessens the "burn" of the tequila and the sour fruit balances and enhances the flavor. In Germany and some other countries, tequila oro (gold) is often consumed with cinnamon before and slices of orange after, while tequila blanco (silver) is consumed with salt and lime. Finally, as with other popular liquors, there exist a number of shot-related drinking games and "stunt" drinks such as body shots and the tequila stuntman.

It should be noted that drinking higher-quality, 100% agave tequila with salt and lime is likely to remove much of the flavor.

[edit] Tequila glasses

A margarita glass

When served neat (without any additional ingredients), tequila is most often served in a narrow shot glass called a caballito ("Little Horse" in Spanish),[24] but can often be found in anything from a snifter to a tumbler.

The Consejo Regulador del Tequila (Tequila Regulatory Council) approved an "official tequila glass" in 2002 called the Ouverture Tequila glass, made by Riedel.[25]

The margarita glass, rimmed with salt, sugar, or plain, is a staple for the entire tequila/fruit mixed drink genre, including the margarita itself.

[edit] Other drinks

There are an endless variety of drinks that involve tequila, relying only on the imagination of the preparer. As with most of the hard liquors, there is a martini variant that involves tequila as well as a large number of tequila drinks made by adding a fruit juice such as the Tequila Sunrise and Matador. Sodas and other carbonated drinks are a common mixer, as in the Tequila Slammer.

[edit] Popular culture

It is a common misconception that tequila is fermented from cactus. Agaves and cacti are unrelated, though both are succulents.

Tequila is a common topic of popular culture, ranging from films that simply use the name, such as Tequila Sunrise (1988) to songs about the drink. According to Tom Robbins's book Still Life with Woodpecker tequila is the preferred drink of outlaws. Sandra Lee of the Food Network refers to tequila as "her friend." In song, tequila is diversely portrayed, ranging from Jimmy Buffett's semi-serious Margaritaville to The Eagles' maudlin Tequila Sunrise.

Tequila even enters the popular news media. For example, Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic outburst when arrested for drunk driving was attributed to tequila consumption.[26] Sammy Hagar, rock star (singer of the bar anthem "Mas Tequila"[27]) and owner of Cabo Wabo Tequila described tequila's stigma as, "the stuff that you go, 'I will never drink that as long as I live,' and you have gotten sick in college on rot-gut tequila." This image of tequila as the instigator of particularly egregious intoxication and hangovers is pervasive in references to the drink in popular culture.[28]

In music, singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette wrote an ode to tequila entitled "On The Tequila" for the Flavors of Entanglement sessions, and says tequila has helped her balance things out in her life.[29] The English rock band Terrorvision had a UK No. 2 hit in 1999 with their song Tequila.

Tequila plays a role in the climactic scene of "Funhouse", the season two finale of the HBO TV series The Sopranos. In this episode, the character Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero asks several members of the crew if there is any good tequila available, knowing that he is about to be killed and wanting a final drink with his longtime friends.[30]

In the United States, National Tequila Day is July 24.[31]

In the Mexican telenovela, Destilando Amor, the production of Tequila, and how it is made, plays a role of the storyline. Part of the show takes place on agave fields.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ http://www.ianchadwick.com/tequila/jalisco.htm
  2. ^ Standard of Identity of Tequila. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. 1975-09-08.
  3. ^ "The Best Tequilas". http://www.itequila.org/besttequilas.htm. 
  4. ^ Chadwick, Ian (2004). "In Search of the Blue Agave: History and Culture". http://www.ianchadwick.com/tequila/history.htm. 
  5. ^ "Brown-Forman Completes Casa Herradura Acquisition for $776 Million (Brown-Forman press release)". Brown-Forman Corporation. 2006. http://www.brown-forman.com/news/releases/714.aspx. 
  6. ^ a b c Romo, Miguel Aguilar - El Director General de Normas (2006). "NORMA OFICIAL MEXICANA NOM-006-SCFI-2005, BEBIDAS ALCOHÓLICAS-TEQUILA-ESPECIFICACIONES." (PDF). http://www.ordenjuridico.gob.mx/Federal/PE/APF/APC/SE/Normas/Oficiales/NOM-006-SCFI-2005.pdf. 
  7. ^ "Fortune Brands: Our Brands". Fortune Brands. 2005. http://www.fortunebrands.com/brands/spirits.cfm. 
  8. ^ a b Arias, Guillermo. Tequila struggles to define itself in Mexico. Associated Press. USA Today. 2004-11-28.
  9. ^ "Bottle of Tequila Sold for $225,000". Associated Press Online. July 23, 2006. 
  10. ^ Jiwatram, Jaya (2008-11-10). "Creating Diamonds from Tequila". Popular Science. http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2008-11/creating-diamonds-tequila. Retrieved on 2008-11-15. 
  11. ^ a b c Tequila Sparks U.S.-Mexico Flap. Associated Press. CBS News. 2003-09-25.
  12. ^ a b c d Salt, tequila, trade agreement. MSNBC News Services. MSNBC. 2006-01-17.
  13. ^ Viva Margarita! US, Mexico Ink New Tequila Agreement. CalTrade Report. 2006-01-23.
  14. ^ Agreement Between the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the Secretaría de Economía of the United Mexican States on Trade in Tequila (pdf). 2006-01-17.
  15. ^ Chadwick, Ian (2004). "In Search of the Blue Agave: Industry News & Information". http://www.ianchadwick.com/tequila/news.htm. 
  16. ^ a b c http://www.ianchadwick.com/tequila/cultivation.htm
  17. ^ http://www.itequila.org/made.htm
  18. ^ a b http://www.ianchadwick.com/tequila/types.htm
  19. ^ http://www.ianchadwick.com/tequila/aging.htm
  20. ^ Waller, James (2003). Drinkology: The Art and Science of the Cocktail. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. pp. 224. ISBN 1-58479-304-X. "Let's get the whole worm thing straight right now, muchachos. If there's a worm at the bottom of your tequila bottle, you've either purchased gag-inducing hooch aimed at gullible gringos, or your top-shelf booze is infested by some kind of alcohol-breathing, alien bug." 
  21. ^ "Marcas de Tequila de Envasado Nacional" (in Spanish) (Microsoft Excel). Consejo Regulador del Tequila A.C.. 2008-11-03. http://crtnew.crt.org.mx/images/Documentos/marcas%20certificadas%20vigentes.xls. Retrieved on 2008-11-12. 
  22. ^ "Recipe: Mexican Sangrita & Tequila "Completo"". http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/kgk/2000/0500/completo.html. Retrieved on 2008-04-25. 
  23. ^ "How To Drink Tequila". http://www.itequila.org/drink.htm. Retrieved on 2008-04-25. 
  24. ^ Chadwick, Ian (2004). "In search of the blue agave Part 7 of 14". http://www.ianchadwick.com/tequila/buying.html. 
  25. ^ "RIEDEL INTRODUCES OFFICIAL TEQUILA GLASS". Atlanta's Finest Dining.com. 2002-04-12. http://www.atlantasfinestdining.com/hardware/reidel/index.html. 
  26. ^ Popkin, Helen A.S. (2006-08-16). "Mel Gibson didn’t mean what he said: ‘Road Warrior’ continues to blame tequila, not himself, for bigoted rant". MSNBC. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15235573/. 
  27. ^ "Mas Tequila lyrics". http://www.sing365.com/music/Lyric.nsf/Mas-Tequila-lyrics-Sammy-Hagar/61E79E2880E2A15148256EDE000F957A. 
  28. ^ "Interview with Sammy Hagar from Cabo Wabo Tequila". Tequila Aficionado Magazine. 2006. http://www.tequilaaficionado.com/article.php?sid=133. 
  29. ^ Pop Music | Tampabay.com - St. Petersburg Times: Archives
  30. ^ HBO: The Sopranos: Episode Guide: Summary: Season 2: Episode 26
  31. ^ 2008 Occasion Calendar

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