Tequila is a distilled spirit from Mexico, produced from the cooked and fermented juice of the agave plant. Famous for its bite, strength and role in many popular cocktails, many people are still in the dark about exactly what it is and where it comes from. We’re here to give you the lowdown on the spicy spirit of Mexico…
What is Tequila and how is it made?
Tequila is made from the agave, a plant native to Mexico, with a spiky appearance, much like a cactus, but which is, in fact, a member of the lily family. Although there are a few hundred varieties of agave, only one can be used to produce tequila. This is known as the Blue Weber Agave (named after a European botanist).
Once the agave has reached maturity – usually between 5 and 8 years after planting, depending on how ripe the distillers wish the fruit to be to create a unique flavor – harvesters called ‘jimadors’ use long handed knives to expose the pina, or the heart of the plant. And it’s this that’s used for the tequila production.
Tequila aficionados sip tequila from a special tequila glass or brandy snifter. That way, the agave flavors and aromas can be properly enjoyed.
The pinas are then cooked into ovens where they are steam baked for about 2 days, then cooled and crushed to release the juice. Traditionally, this process is completed in an ancient style of circular mill called a ‘Tahona’ using horses to pull the millstones and squeeze out the sugary sap.
Then, depending on which type of tequila is to be produced, cane or corn sugar is added along with yeast to kick-start fermentation. Distillation follows. Tequila must be distilled at least twice. Traditionally, copper pot stills are used for this process. The product, once it’s completed its second distillation is then legally allowed to be classed as tequila.
Maturation of the tequila happens when certain variants are being produced (such as anejo or reposado). Tequila is aged in oak casks. These can either be new or used, but most commonly used American whiskey casks are employed for this job.
Once this is complete, the tequila is filtered and in some cases, diluted with demineralised water to bring the spirit to bottling strength.
In the mid-20th century, tequila sales spiked after California residents thought it was a psychedelic. They were wrong, confusing mezcal with mescaline!
Types of Tequila
Silver tequila is the Blue Agave spirit in its purest form. It’s clear and typically un-aged spirit, showcasing the flavors and the intensity of the Agave at their highest, as well as its natural sweetness. Silver tequila can be bottled directly after distillation, or stored in stainless steel tanks to settle for up to a month. Frootbat recommends the following Silver tequilas to get you started: Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Silver Tequila, Patron Silver Tequila and Revolucion Silver Tequila 100 Proof.
Gold Tequila is typically a Mixto, where colorings and flavors are added just before bottling. Tis young and flavoured type of tequila tends to be less expensive and used in many bars and restaurants for cocktails ‘Gold’ or ‘Joven’ Tequila can, however, also be a blend of Silver Tequila with a Reposado or Añejo Tequila.
Meaning ‘rested’, Reposado tequila is an aged variant, stored in American or French oak barrels for between 2 and 11 months. Golden in color it offers a pleasant balance between Anejo and Silver variants. Some beautiful examples of Reposado tequila are: Patron Reposado Tequila and Siete 7 Leguas Reposado Tequila
Aged for a least a year in oak barrels, Anejo tequila is a darker variant with deeper and richer flavors gained from the chatacter of the barrels in which it has sat. These barrels can either be used or new, but mist be oak. Some anejo tequilas are aged in ex Bourbon, wine or cognac barrels to add an element of the previous spirits to their bouquet. Try Rey Sol Anejo Tequila or Riazul Anejo Tequila for your introduction to the aged version of this delicious spirit.
A classification only added in 2006, Extra Anejo, or ‘extra aged’ tequila sits in oak barrels for over 3 years before bottling. It is much darker than the other tequila variants and holds a great depth of flavour and aroma with a smoothness and complexity the other variants lack. Qui Platinum Extra Anejo Tequila and San Matias Gran Reserva Extra Anejo Tequila are a couple of the Extra Anejo tequilas we know.
With over 1000 brands to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start with tequila. We hope that our recommendations help you on your way and into a thorough enjoyment of this beautiful Mexican spirit!