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.
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 only come from the State of Jalisco.
Tequila Recent history
Since 2002, sales of high priced tequilas, called "ultra-premium" and "super-premium" by marketeers and top-shelf by the general public, have increased 28%. That is an average growth rate of 8.6% 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 21st century, increasing worldwide popularity of tequila drove corporate interest in tequila. Notable developments as a result included:
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 nine hundred brands of tequila in Mexico and over 2,000 brand names have been registered (2009 Statistics). Due to this, each bottle of tequila contains a serial number (NOM) depicting which distillery the tequila was produced in. Because there are only so many distilleries, multiple brands of tequila come from the same location.
The Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico originally did not permit flavored tequila to carry the tequila name. 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.
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.
In 2008, Mexican scientists discovered a method to produce tiny, nanometric size, synthetic diamonds from 80-proof (40% alcohol) tequila. This process involves heating the tequila to over 800 degrees C (1,400 degrees F) to break its molecular structure and be vaporised. The tequila particles are then settled upon steel or silicon trays to form a thin and pure uniform layer. Extremely cheap to produce and far too small for jewels, the results are hoped to have numerous commercial and industrial applications such as in computer chips or cutting instruments.
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. The Mexican government said that bottling tequila in Mexico would guarantee its quality. Liquor companies in the United States said that Mexico just wanted to create bottling jobs in their own country. Liquor companies in the United States also claimed this rule would violate international trade agreements and was in discord with usual exporting practices worldwide. 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. On January 17, 2006, the United States and Mexico signed an agreement allowing the continued bulk import of tequila into the United States. The agreement also created a "tequila bottlers registry" to identify approved bottlers of tequila and created an agency to monitor the registry.
The NOM applies to all processes and activities related to the supply of agave, production, bottling, marketing, information and business practices linked to the distilled alcoholic beverage known as Tequila. Tequila must be produced using Agave of the species Tequilana Weber Blue variety, grown in the federal states and municipalities indicated in the Declaration. Furthermore, the NOM establishes the technical specifications and legal requirements for the protection of the Appellation of Origin of "Tequila," in accordance with the current General Declaration of Protection of the Appellation of Origin of "Tequila," the Law, the Industrial Property Law, the Federal Consumer Protection Law and other related legal provisions.
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.
National Tequila Day
In the United States, July 24 is National Tequila Day.
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. The men who harvest it, the "jimadores", possess generations of knowledge about the plants and the ways in which they need to be harvested. The jimadores must be able to work swiftly in the tight rows, pull out the hijuelos (Agave offspring) without damaging the mother plant, clear the piñas (Spanish for pineapples), and decide when 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.
They are then shredded, their juices pressed out and put into fermentation tanks and vats. Some tequila companies still use the traditional method (artisanal) in which the piñas are crushed with a Tahona (stone wheel). The musto, (Agave juice, and sometimes the fiber) is then allowed to ferment in either wood or stainless steel vats for several days to convert the sugars into alcohol. Each company keeps its own yeast a closely guarded secret.
The fermented product is then distilled once to produce what is called "ordinario", a cloudy or milky liquid, and then distilled for a second time to produce a clear, silver Tequila. Some distilleries distill the product again to produce a triple distilled product. However, true tequila experts consider triple distilling of tequila flawed and believe that it removes too many flavor elements from the liquid. From there the Tequila is diluted and bottled as a "silver Tequila", or it is pumped into barrels to begin the aging process.
Usually, there is a clear difference in taste between tequila that is made from lowland and highland agave plants. Agave plants that are grown in the highlands often have more sweet fruit flavor, but also more vegan notes due to the growing process. The distinction has become blurred recently due to the agave shortage that arose in 1999-2000. Since then, many of the larger lowland producers have rented property in the highlands and relied on agave from both areas to produce their tequila.
Nevertheless, most agave plants are grown on west-facing slopes, allowing them to receive the most amount of sunlight throughout the day. These plants are taller, wider, and juicier. Agave grown in the lowlands have more earthy, fiberish flavors, and are typically on the smaller side.
Types of Tequila
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.
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).
Tequila is usually bottled in one of five categories:
Tequila Aging process
Reposado may be rested in oak 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 is usually white oak. Some companies char the wood to impart a smoky flavor, or use barrels that were previously used with different kinds of alcohol (e.g. whiskey, scotch, or wine). Some reposados can also be aged in new wood barrels to achieve the same woody flavor and smoothness, but in less time.
Añejos are often rested in barrels that have been previously used to rest reposados. The barrels cannot be more than 600 liters, and most are in the 200-liter range. Many of the barrels used are from whiskey or bourbon distilleries in America, France, or Canada, and Jack Daniels barrels are especially popular. This treatment creates many of the aspects of the dark color and more complex flavors of the añejo tequila. After aging of at least one year, 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.
The worm in mezcal
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, which lives on the agave plant. Finding one in the plant during processing indicates an infestation and, correspondingly, a lower quality product. However this misconception continues, and even with all the effort and marketing to represent tequila as a premium liquor—similar to the way Cognac is viewed in relation to other brandies—there are some opportunist producers for the shooters-and-fun market who blur these boundaries.
Ways to drink
In Mexico, the most traditional way to drink tequila is with salt and lemon, not 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 chillies. Equal-sized shots of tequila and sangrita are sipped alternately, without salt or lime. Another popular drink in Mexico is the "bandera" (or Flag, in Spanish), named after the Flag of Mexico, it consists of three shot glasses, filled with lime juice (for the green), white tequila, and sangrita (for the red). They can be sipped or drunk straight.
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 drunk, and the fruit slice is quickly bitten. Groups of drinkers often do this simultaneously. Drinking tequila in this way is often erroneously called a Tequila Slammer, which is in fact a mix of tequila and carbonated drink. Though the traditional Mexican shot is straight tequila, lime is the fruit of choice when a chaser must be used. 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 (white) 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.
If the bottle of tequila does not state on the label that it is manufactured from 100% blue agave (no sugars added), then, by default, that tequlia is a mixto, (manufactured from 51% blue agave). Some tequila distilleries label their tequila as "made with blue agave" or "made from blue agave." However, the Tequila Regulatory Council has stated that only tequilas distilled with 100% blue agave can designate that the tequila is "100% blue agave."
Some distillers of lower-quality tequila have marketed their product to be served "ice-cold chilled" when used as a shot. Chilling any alcohol can be used to reduce the smell or flavors associated with a lower-quality product. Any alcoholic product, when served as a chilled shot, may be more palatable to the consumer.
It should be noted that many of the higher-quality, 100% agave tequilas do not impart significant alcohol burn, and drinking them with salt and lime is likely to remove much of the flavor. These tequilas are usually drunk from a snifter glass instead of a shot glass, and savoured instead of quickly gulped.
When served neat (without any additional ingredients), tequila is most often served in a narrow shot glass called a caballito ("Little Horse" in Spanish), 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.
The margarita glass, frequently rimmed with salt or sugar, is a staple for the entire genre of tequila mixed drinks, including the margarita itself.
There are an almost endless variety of drinks that involve tequila, relying only on the imagination of the preparer. As with most of the hard liquors, there are a number of martini variants that involve tequila, as well as a large number of tequila drinks made by adding a fruit juice, such as the Tequila Sunrise and the Matador. Sodas and other carbonated drinks are a common mixer, as in the Tequila Slammer.
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 has claimed the exclusive international right to the word "tequila", threatening legal actions against manufacturers in other countries.
Tequila is most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 proof), but can be produced between 35–55% alcohol content (70–110 proof). Though most tequilas are 80 proof, many distillers will distill to 100 proof and then dilute it with water to reduce its harshness. Some of the more well respected brands distill the alcohol to 80 proof without using additional water as a diluent.
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 agave to produce North America's first indigenous distilled spirit.