Ah, the famous tequila shots. Which party or youngster’s night out is complete without a few tequila shots “thrown back”. So, what is this drink? Where is it made? What is it made from? How is it made? To get answers to these questions, read on.
Firstly, lets clear the most common misconception. Tequila is not made from a cactus. Tequila is derived from a plant known as the blue agave. The agave plan does not belong to the cactus family, and to be botanically correct, it belongs to the amaryllis family.
This is how the Mexican government defines and regulates Tequila:
“Tequila is the distilled product of the vino mezcal (pulque of the blue agave), which has been cultivated, fermented and distilled around the region of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco.”
Huh? Give me a minute to explain.
The blue agave has thick fruits that look like pineapples, only heavier. These 80 (to 120 pound) fruits contain a thick sweet sap called aguamiel or “honey water”. The pineapples are taken to the distillery, where they are heated to upto 94 C or around 200 F. This is done to release as much juice as possible. The remainder of the juice is extracted by pressing the fruit with the help of machinery. The sap is now collect in large vats, where they will be fermented. This liquid is now called “madre pulque” or “mother pulque”.
To begin the process of fermentation a bit of mast from the previous distillation is added. The fermentation process takes between 2 to 3 days. Once the fermentation is acceptable. The liquid is now distilled of at 28 proof. A second distillation at around 100 proof is then carried out. This double distilled liquid is now Tequila Blanca or Tequila White. By adding demineralized water it is ready to bottle at 40 % volume and be exported.
Certain Tequilas are allowed to age in the oak barrels for a period of time. It is known as oro or Golden Tequila. This is due to the fact that the oak has let some of its colour. This is not officially recognized by the Mexican Government, unless it is aged for a minimum period of 1 year. After which it is known as añejo Tequila.
The other thing about Tequila is that, since the blue agave plant takes almost 10 years to mature and bear fruit. The Mexican government has decreed that 51 % of blue agave plaque mixed with fermentable sugars is also sufficient for the product to be called Tequila. However, premium Tequilas may be made from 100% blue agave.
Tequila as we all know are had as shots. But, the interesting thing is that Tequila consumption was relatively low in the United States and around the world in the 1980s. It was not even drunk in other states of Mexico regularly. The invention of the Margarita however, changed the course of this humble Mexican concoction. This salt rimmed tequila based cocktail has captured the hearts of many a “sophisticated” drinkers as well.
However, Tequila has had a few sinister cousins to blemish its name. One such being mezcal. Mezcal is a rougher and single distilled product of the inferior agave. This product is not regulated and hence, manufacturers run rampid with the variations in formulae and processes. Some of them are also bottled with live worms within them. These are often confused with Tequila. Although, they both are made from agave, mezcal is made from the inferior agave, whereas Tequila can only be made from the blue agave Weber. Though they belong to the same family, there are marked differences in the two when it comes to their palatability and final products.
Photo by Marjory Franco