Food and Drink

I’ll Just Have a Tequila Please: A Short History

September 2, 2015
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©istockphoto/igorr1

©istockphoto/igorr1

Once considered hard-core liquor by some, tequila has become all the rage these days. Once the Margarita became popular, with the infamous Tequila Sunrise before that, the fermented product of the agave plant took the drinking world by storm.

A Little History Lesson
Though the Aztecs originally made a fermented beverage from the agave plants, it was the Spanish conquistadors, after arriving in 1521, who figured a way to distill tequila from the abundant blue agave plants when their own brandy ran out. Originally made near the city of Tequila, this distilled marvel is now mainly made in the territory of Jalisco which is considered the only legitimate version. Around 1600, the first factory for mass-producing tequila was established and it was Spain’s King Carlos IV who granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make the stuff.

Pick a Number
As of 2013, the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (Tequila Regulatory Council) reported there were 1377 registered brands coming from 150 different producers. Not all brands are registered, as you will find if you visit Mexico, but the registered brands do follow the standard rules by using only blue agave and other requirements. All registered bottles come with a serial number (NOM) which tells what distillery it came from.

Where’s My Worm?
For years most of us expected a worm in our bottle of tequila. Actually, it is only mezcals, which are made from the heart of the maguey plant as opposed to the tequila’s blue agave, which would ever contain a worm. Only certain mezcals contain a worm in the bottle and this was done as a gimmick and not due to any tradition. The worm is the larval form of a moth which does live in the agave plant but serves no purpose other than for marketing. Another misconceptions persist that you will experience hallucinations from eating the worm. This also came about due to the similarity of the words mescaline and mezcal; mezcal does not contain mescaline or any psychedelic substances. You may also find mezcals with scorpions in the bottle. This is also a marketing gimmick, but one I had to try for myself once, just to make sure.

Training Wheels
If after ordering a shot of tequila, a bartender asks if you want training wheels, he or she is snidely commenting on your method of shooting tequila. Training wheels involves salt and lime. You lick the back of your hand below the index finger to moisten it and add salt. You then lick the salt, shoot the tequila and then bite into a lime wedge. This became very popular as a group activity years ago, but is now considered rather passé by snooty drinkers thus the “Training wheels” comment.

Cocktails Anyone?
Tequila was and is considered a liquor that should be drunk (pun intended) straight up. Certain cocktail concoctions have actually increased the popularity of the drink, even though connoisseurs may wince. The Tequila Sunrise was huge in the ’70s and ’80s, and the Margarita has been a mainstay of every Mexican restaurant since it’s invention in 1938 or 1941; its history, just like anything involving tequila, is a bit murky.

Decisions, Decisions
Tequilas come in two basic concoctions: 100% Agave or Mixtos which contains no less than 51% Agave and has added sugars. There are 5 basic categories to pick from. Blanco is also called white and is unaged or aged less than 2 months in either stainless steel or oak barrels. Joven or young tequila is unaged silver that may also be flavored or blended with aged tequila. Reposado is aged a minimum of two months but less than a year in oak while Anejo is aged a minimum of one year but less than three also in oak barrels. Extra Anejo is aged a minimum of three years in oak.

Whew, now that that’s done, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a shot—with no training wheels, thank you.

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