Guide to tequila
Everything you ever wanted to know about tequila, from how it’s made to the different types and how best to enjoy the jugo from Jalisco.
April 28, 2021
¡Que viva tequila! Enjoying Mexico’s amazing national liquor
Few alcoholic beverages really speak loudly of a place the way tequila speaks of Mexico. It used to be that way for France and wine, but places like Italy, California and New Zealand changed the game. Even though vodka was once totally Russian, brands like Grey Goose have opened up the industry worldwide. “Good beer” is no longer just from Germany, thanks to the exploding international craft brew scene. Not so for the coveted jugo from Jalisco.
No other country in the world produces tequila. That is not only a matter of Mexican law; it’s built into the very origins of the liquor. Distilled only from the blue agave plant (whereas its cousin mezcal can be made from any agave), it was first created by 17th-century Spanish missionaries.
They got the idea from Mexican natives who fermented blue agave to make a drink called pulque. It’s like the difference between distilling cognac from grapes instead of fermenting them for wine. That same century, the Spanish crown granted the first mass-tequila producing license to the Cuervo family. Ever since, it has to be blue agave from Jalisco to call it tequila.
How is tequila made
The blue agave plant is carefully harvested, then mashed and slowly baked to activate the sugars within. Juice is extracted from the mash, then taken to be fermented for several days as a wort. From there, distillation takes place. Legally, there must be at least two distillations, producing what is known as silver tequila (also known as blanco tequila) which will be clear in appearance. But several other types of tequila will emerge should the distilled product be pumped into oak barrels, producing a wide array of aged tequilas.
Different types of tequila
There’s plenty of ways to enjoy tequila, but in Mexico, the go-to method is straight up, often with a lime chaser. If you want to enjoy the very best in the sipping tequila category, then be sure the label confirms it is 100% agave. By law, tequilas need to be 51% agave, and can use other sugars to make up the rest.
Tequila cocktails to try
Tequila lovers often enjoy Mexico’s finest as a mixed drink. Every bartender has their coveted recipes to serve up to thirsty patrons. Begin with the classic margarita. For this, it’s best to use a good reposado tequila, a type which is aged from two months to one year in oak barrels. The aging process rounds out the flavor, which balances the cocktail between adding just enough to the recipe without overpowering or getting lost in the glass. This doesn’t mean you can’t use silver tequilas in your mixed drinks, or even to enjoy on ice or as shots. In the end, it is a matter of taste and some folks like a little kick in their drinks!
A round for everybody
Being that all true tequilas come from only the state of Jalisco in Mexico, this liquor is extremely popular and ubiquitous around the world. There are thousands of bottles to sample. High-end drinkers can chase the artisanal and carefully aged producers—and expect to pay top dollar for them. But there are plenty of wonderful options for more casual fans.
Experiment with different tequila types. Select 100% agave when you can. As a rule of thumb, highland agave will be sweeter while lowland agave is more earthy. With just a little bit of information, you can guide your tongue to exactly the type of tequila your palate will love.