It’s not a fiesta without tequila shots and margaritas! We have the region of Jalisco, Mexico to thank for this particular party essential. Today, we consume tequila in a shot with salt and lime, but this liquor has actually existed since the time of the Aztec civilization. Can you imagine the way they used to down this drink back in the day? As time went by, production methods as well as the quality of ingredients continued to improve and evolve into the tequila we know today. Whether tequila is your liquor of choice, or if you’re just here to learn more, here’s a deep dive into the history and production process of this Mexican drink.
So what exactly is tequila? Well, it’s a liquor, which means it’s produced by first fermenting ingredients and then distilling them. The base ingredient for tequila is native to Mexico. It’s a succulent called agave, often mistaken for cactus. There are many varieties of agave, usually differing in colors. For the production of tequila, distillers only use the heart of the plant, known as piña, which can also be eaten as is.
How did tequila come about?
As previously mentioned, tequila is believed to have existed in the time of the Aztecs. This was around 1000BC. The civilization was situated in what we now know as northern Mexico.
While producers today use only the heart of the agave to make tequila, the Aztecs initially made use of the plant’s sap instead. They would ferment sap to create a final product called pulque.
This tradition was carried forward until the 1500’s, when the Spanish invaded the Aztecs and brought methods of distillation with them. As there was a shortage of brandy in the area, the colonizers began distilling agave instead.
Two hundred years later, the Cuervo family became the first to distill and sell tequila commercially under their own brand Jose Cuervo, which has continued to thrive throughout centuries. Tequila rose to popularity soon after, and the rest is history!
Tequila production process
A lot of care goes into producing a bottle of tequila. It all begins as harvesters reap specifically blue agave plants using a special knife called a coa. The shape of the knife allows them to cut through the thick succulent leaves and into the core to retrieve the piña.
After harvest, the piña is baked in order for it to release all its sugars. Today, infrastructure and technology allows for baking in brick ovens. However, the traditional method is to bake them in pits in the ground.
The next step is to shred the baked piña and extract the agave juice by crushing. Distilleries today use a mechanical shredder for this process, but this traditionally involves crushing using a stone wheel. This results in a juice called mosto, which is then fermented in either steel tanks or wooden barrels.
Once mosto is fermented, it then goes through distillation, which often occurs twice. The first distillation produces a cloudy liquid, and the second distillation refines and clears it up. The final result is tequila.
Finally, the tequila is aged in tanks or barrels. Depending on the duration of aging and the casks used, it will be classified as a different kind of tequila.
Types of tequila
There are five types of tequila, each categorized based on how its aged.
The Spanish word for “white,” blanco is a clear tequila. Distillers may choose to either age or immediately bottle their blanco after distillation. Blanco is normally aged in steel tanks and is the tequila that’s most commonly used in shots.
Blanco available at minuman.com:
Reposado means “rested,” and is named so because it’s commonly aged in oak casks for at least two months. This results in a light golden brown colour.
Reposado available at minuman.com:
To be considered añejo, the tequila needs to be aged in bourbon or French white oak barrels for at least a year. Its name is the Spanish word for “old,” having spent some time in the barrel. The aging results in a dark-coloured drink with slight oaky notes.
Añejo available at minuman.com:
The extra old variant of añejo is aged for over 3 years in the same types of casks. This produces a richer flavour profile.
Extra Añejo available at minuman.com:
As opposed to añejo, joven means “young.” However, this isn’t because it’s only aged for a short period of time. Joven is actually a blend of blanco tequila with an aged tequila. Joven also often includes additional flavours such as caramel.
Joven available at minuman.com: