Nothing starts a party quite like tequila. Transporting you to a Mexican fiesta, lively tequila is famous for its refreshing yet complex taste, tequila worms and poor life decisions.
Tequila is a kind of mezcal, which is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant. Specifically, modern Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, which is grown in the region surrounding the city of Tequila, Mexico. Tequila is a protected destination of origin product and must also be produced in this region to earn its title. The flavour of tequila can vary greatly depending on the region where the agave plants are grown. Agave grown in the highlands is larger and sweeter, while those grown in the lowlands are more herbaceous.
The Aztecs had long made a fermented beverage from the agave plant, but it wasn’t until the 16th century when the Spanish conquistadors ran out of brandy that they began to make distilled tequila. Some 80 years later Don Pedro Sánches de Tagle began mass production and exportation.
Despite the enormous technological advancement since Tequila was first produced, the process of planting, tending and harvesting agave plants is still done primarily by hand. The Jimadores, or harvesters, use a special knife called a coa to carefully cut away the agave leaves from the succulent core of the plant known as the piñas.
The piñas are placed in ovens where they are baked to release sugars and then shredded or crushed to extract the juice. This juice is then poured into wooden or stainless steel vats, and left to ferment for several days, resulting in a wort with low alcohol content. The wort is generally distilled twice to produce a clear tequila which can then be bottled and sold, or aged to develop a mellower flavour and amber colour.
The flavour of Tequila differs depending on the producer and the region it is from, but generally you can detect notes of cucumber, pepper, florals, honey and vanilla. As it ages the flavour becomes smoother, subtler and more complex, often taking on the flavours of the wooden barrels.
One of the greatest myths of Tequila is the infamous tequila worm, which is meant to sit at the bottom of a bottle and is said to have aphrodisiac or even magical qualities. This tradition actually started as a marketing gimmick and real tequila is not allowed to have worms, scorpions, or any type of creepy crawly in it.
Traditionally, Tequila is sipped neat, often alongside a sweet and sour drink called Sangrita, which is made from tomato and citrus. Another tradition is to pair tequila with salt and lime, and outside of Mexico this is often enjoyed as the ritual of licking the salt off the hand, drinking the tequila and then sucking on a slice of lime. Tequila is also a staple ingredient in the ever-popular margarita, tequila sunrise and the Paloma, which mixes tequila with grapefruit soda and lime for a refreshing accompaniment to warm summer nights and Mexican fiestas.