No other drink is surrounded by as many stories, myths, legends and lore as tequila and its companion, mezcal
Tequila Myth #1: There's a worm in tequila.
Tequila Myth #2: All tequilas are the same.
Tequila Myth #3: Tequila is made from cactus.
TEQUILA: An introduction to the SPIRIT of the agave!
What is tequila?
A liquor made by fermenting and distilling the aguamiel (sap) of the blue agave plant. It originated around the town of Tequila, in Jalisco state, hence the name. The word has several meanings, including: "wild herb place" (lugar de hierbas silvestres, "Place where people cut" (lugar donde se corta), or " place where people work" (lugar donde se trabaja).
Tequila is a Mexican product with Denomination of Origin, which means that no other country is allowed to produce it.
History of Tequila:
Tequila is an alcoholic drink made in the arid highlands of central Mexico, from fermented and distilled sap of the agave (also called a maguey), an indigenous plant (a succulent, not a cactus). Archeologists say the agave has been cultivated for at least 9,000 years. 'Tequila wine' was first made by the Conquistadors, who distilled a native drink called pulque into a stronger spirit. In the 400 years following the Conquest, tequila has become an icon of Mexican nationality, pride and culture, recognized worldwide. Today, most of it is made in Jalisco state around the town of Tequila.
What is Mezcal?
Mezcal is a related drink and is the older form of the name for tequila as well.
The name for the product made in Jalisco state was adopted in the late 19th century. Technically, all tequilas are mezcals, which were also known as mezcal wines and mezcal brandies before the name tequila became common. Today they are distinct products, differentiated by production process and taste, much the same way rye whisky and Scotch whiskey differ. Most mezcal is made in Oaxaca state today, although some is also made in Guerrero and other states.
A mature agave has leaves 5-8 feet tall, and is 7-12 feet in diameter. It has a lifespan of 8-15 years, depending on species, growing conditions and climate. The name agave comes from the Greek word for 'noble.' There are 136 species of agave in Mexico, of which the blue agave - agave tequilana weber azul - is the only one allowed for use in tequila production.
Several different species of agave are allowed for use in mezcal, including a rare wild species, tobala. Other agave plants are used for the production of various regional drinks like sotol, raicilla, bacanora and pulque. Agave has been cultivated on this continent for at least 9,000 years.
Tasting and drinking Tequila
Tequilas vary in taste considerably.
There is a very real difference between, say, the reposados of Hussong's - very strong agave flavour - and El Tesoro - solid body and mellow aromas - and Hornitos - peppery bite and long finish - and Herradura - mellow, back-of-the-palate smoothness. You will have to sample many brands before you find the one(s) that suit you best. Mezcals differ even more between brands - and are very distinct compared with tequilas (mezcal is well worth exploring more seriously if you have never experienced a premium brand).
How to drink tequila:
The traditional way is to use a tall, narrow shot glass called a caballito ('little horse', or pony, also called a tequilito). Some aficionados claim añejos are perhaps better served in a brandy snifter so you can appreciate their nose, but I prefer the traditional approach for all types. The caballito, with its narrow base and wider mouth, is said to be modelled after the original bull's horn, from which tequila was drunk. The bottom was cut flat so it could rest on a table. It's a perfect size and shape.
Sip it. Eschew the lime and the salt. Forget the margarita mix.Don't even add ice. If you want to taste it, drink it neat. Some people like it served cold, especially the blanco variety. But try it at room temperature if you want to appreciate the full bouquet and body. Afterwards, once you've appreciated its character, you can always put out a plate of lime slices and salt.
Choosing a Tequila:
The best advice is to try several brands and several types to find the taste you like. Some distilleries have reputations for making mild, spicy or earthy brands, others for strong alcohol finish or other tastes. A good way to introduce yourself to tequila is to find a bar which specializes in it, and a bartender who understands the differences between them. Although some companies age their premium añejo tequilas for seven-eight years, tequila doesn't benefit from extensive aging the same way that other spirits or wines may.
The most important identifier on the label is "100% agave" or "100% agave azul" - cien por ciento de agave azul. This means it is made only from the blue agave plant, and was approved by a government inspector to ensure purity. If it doesn't say this, it legally can be mixed up to 49 per cent with other ingredients