Most know Tequila as something you shot before a wedge of lemon and salt but few realise that it’s also a scenic town in the Sierra Madre Mountains in western Mexico – 52kms out of Guadalajara.
Tequila is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and a Pueblo Mágico.
Mexico’s pueblos mágicos programme was developed by the tourist board in order to promote the rich cultural heritage and history of Mexico through smaller, once overlooked towns.
Read more about the program here.
So what is Tequila
Tequila – in order to be called tequila it has to be made from Agave Tequilana Azul Weber – the plant AND it has to come from a specific area of Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoacan, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas.
If it was made somewhere else, it’s not tequila.
Jalisco is the most important producer and the best tequila comes from the cities Los Altos de Jalisco, Tequila, Amatitlan, Arandas.
It also has to contain 35- and 55-percent alcohol.
To make tequila the agave has to grow for at least 5 years in order to produce enough sugar to produce fermentation on its own. If the plant produces enough sugars it will be called 100% Agave, if not it will be called Licor de Agave.
Once the plant is ready, a Jimador – the person that cuts the leaves, leaves what looks like a huge pineapple.
These pineapples are taken to huge steam ovens and are cooked and crushed to obtain the juice. The juice is then fermented and passed through two distillation processes before producing a final product. This is Tequila Blanco or white tequila. This is that the stuff that’s used in your margaritas – it’s not super high quality but good enough to mix.
To produce a higher quality, more flavoursome tequila, once it reaches Blanco point, rather than bottling it for sale it can pass through an aging process in oak barrels to make either:
- Tequila Reposado – aged between 2 – 10 months or
- Añejo (12 – 24 months),
- Extra Añejo (more than 2 years).
The wood gives the colouring that comes with añejo as well as a finer taste of course a higher price tag.
Ok so what about Mezcal?
The plant used in Mezcal is also an Agave, but a different variety. Mezcal is not limited to one type of agave like Tequila but the most common or the ones that produce the best Mezcales are Agave Espadin or Agave Weber.
Mezcal can also be produced in any state in Mexico but the most popular comes from Oaxaca and Tamaulipas.
The big difference between Tequila and Mezcal is its production, Mezcal is more of a craft drink – like the craft beer or tequila. In general Mezcal has a much greater range of possibilities because it’s not limited to one type of agave, it can be a blend.
Each Agave Plant has to obtain maturity for 6-8 years, then leaves are cut and it is cooked just like tequila. But other than the lifting of some of the restrictions that tequila has to be made under another major difference is the cooking of the pineapple. Using a large fire and volcanic rock, once there are only ashes and the rock has gotten hot enough temperature the pineapples are thrown into the fire to be cooked, that is where Mezcal gets its smoky flavours. Then the pinapples are crushed to obtain the juice and it is fermented and distilled just like tequila.
At the end of the day tequila is a variety of mezcal but there are some branding and legal aspects that say they are different. It sounds like Tequila lucked up and is the famous cousin but Mezcales is the more interesting in general.
Because of its handcraft process, Mezcal is a more refined and expensive drink in Mexico.
How to drink?
No, you don’t want to take a shot with lime and salt. This was a process that was sold to people to disguise the horrible taste of poorly produced, cheap tequila.
Good tequila can be sipped on its own and won’t give you a nasty hangover if you drink it straight but there is a technique – Tequila Yoga.
- Pour a small about into a glass, (by the stem), raise the glass to eye level and look at the tequila’s color. Is it white? Get your shaker you’re having margaritas!
- If it’s a light to deep brown give it a swirl, just like wine and look for the ‘legs’ or the ‘string of pearls’ AKA the liquid clinging to the walls of the glass. If it sticks you can proceed with your sipping.
- But first! Take a deep breath and exhale all the air out of your mouth, take a small sip, enjoy the flavours and then breath out.
- Pour about one ounce of tequila in a tequila glass or snifter. Hold the glass at the stem (not the bowl), raise the glass to eye level and look at the tequila’s color.
- Swirl the tequila gently in its glass. Note how the tequila clings to the walls of the glass, looking for the “string of pearls” effect.
- Take a small sip, swishing the tequila around in your mouth for about 10 seconds, letting the alcohol travel over different parts of your tongue.
- Swallow and repeat! Fancy, huh?