Tequila is the product of the distillation of the ferment of the blue agave plant. The full plant name is Agave tequiliana Weber var. azul, and tequila enthusiasts would want you to know that it is not a cactus.

The source of the sugar to be fermented is the piña, or pineapple, so named because it looks like one. A jimador harvests the piña and it is cooked in an horno, a type of oven. It is then crushed on a tahoma, yielding aguamiel, the unfermented juice of the cooked agave.

After fermentation and distillation, a blanco, or silver, plata, or plato tequila exists. This young alcohol is now aged in wood.

A reposado tequila has been aged on wood for at least two months but not more than one year.

An añejo tequila has been aged on wood for at least one year in oak barrels.

Tequila comes only from the region in Mexico called Tequila. Agave distillates from other regions (such as Oaxaca) are not tequila, but are rather other products, such as mezcal, sotol, bacanora, or others.

Since we are at it, if it has a worm at the bottom it is not tequila. The little worm (gusano de maguey, a creature happily living inside the fleshy leaves of the agave) is found in mezcal.

Notice that Tequila José Cuervo sucks royally. Good brands are Herradura, Centenario, Cazadores y Don Julio.

Of course if you only have José Cuervo on hand, you might as well use it to make yourself a margarita, since what is bad cannot be spoiled.Forget the salt-and-lemon on back of hand routine: Mexicans don't do that. Good tequila should be drunk in a small cylinder shaped glass, at room temperature, and in small sips. Treat it like a good cognac, at tequila will be nice to you.

More amusing details: the glass is called a caballito, meaning "little horse". Maybe in ancient Mexico horses were small and cylindrical. The practice of aging tequila in wooden casks is a rather recent one; in the past tequila was drunk almost exclusively in its blanco condition.

It is also interesting to observe that tequila in Mexico used to have rather low-class connotation; fashionable and rich people would drink imported (and expensive) liquor, like whisky or cognac or vodka. Thanks to an effective marketing campaign, tequila managed to refine its public image from drain-cleaner to fine spirit; a similar transformation happened recently to grappa. The success of tequila outside Mexico has been so impressive that the tequila distillers have reported increasing difficulties with procuring the the required blue agave (maguey azul).

Tequila is made in and around the small town of Tequila, in Mexico's Jalisco province. Mexico has decreed that, in order to be classified as tequila, distilled spirits must be produced from blue agave plants grown in a precisely delineated area in the five Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Tequila must comprise at least 51 percent blue agave; the most common ingredient utilized for the remaining 49 percent is sugarcane, although other raw products may be used. Tequilas labeled "100% Blue Agave" are generally the best. The blue agave, which is genetically closer to a lily than a cactus, can take 8 to 12 years to mature. At that point the plants are cut off at the root and trimmed to remove the outer leaves, exposing the heart (called piña by the Mexicans after the fruit is resembles), which weighs 50 to 150 pounds and contains a sweet juice called aguamiel. These huge agave hearts are transported to the distillery, where they are steamed or roasted to extract their sugars. After the cooked agave is shredded, it is fermented for several days before being distilled twice in pot stills (a process similar to that for cognac) to about 150 proof. Tequila is generally bottled at 80 proof, although some of the aged versions are bottled at high alcohol levels.

By Mexican law, there are four categories of tequila: blanco, joven abacado, reposado, and añejo. Tequila blanco, also known as white, silver or plata, is bottled soon after distillation. Its flavor is smooth and fresh with an herbaceous, peppery quality. Tequila joven abocado, also called gold, is tequila blanco with flavoring and coloring added, typically through the addition of caramel. Legally it does not have to be aged. Tequila reposado, which may also have flavoring and coloring added, must be aged a minimum of 2 months, and can be aged for up to a year. Wood aging (usually in oak, sometimes redwood) endows reposados with hints of vanilla and spice and produces a mellower character than that of tequila blanco. Some reposados also use the word "gold" on their label, which has promoted the impression that all golds have been aged, although there's no legal requirement as such. Tequila añejo is aged for at least 1 year, and often 2 to 3 years. The best añejo (which some liken to fine cognacs) have a smooth, elegant, complex flavor, the result of a perfect marriage between wood aging and the intrinsically sweet agave. Popular brands of tequila include Herradura, José Cuervo, Patrón, Pepe Lopez, Porfidio, Sauza, El Tersoro de Don Felipe, Torada and El Viejito.

How to drink tequila like a happy partygoer:

Most people drink it with salt and a slice of lime, or sometimes lemon. Purists may poo-poo the idea but this has never diminished the power of a game or tradition over partially drunk people.

You will need:
One Shot of tequila.
One Slice of Lime.
Some salt.

Lick the side of your right hand, the fleshy part between the thumb and first finger. It'll be upright when holding the shot glass and that's important. Pour some salt onto the wet patch, it'll stick there. Then pick up the shot in your right hand and the lime slice in your left. Then quickly:
Lick the salt, down the shot and bite into the lime slice.

This should preferably be done in a group of three or more people all at once with much cheering and grinning.

Te*qui"la (?), n.

An intoxicating liquor made from the maguey in the district of Tequila, Mexico.


© Webster 1913.

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