Why You Should Drink Tequila: A Primer for National Tequila Day

by The Drink Nation on Jul 24, 2013 in Liquor

Most alcoholic beverages are distilled from yearly-renewable fruits or grains, but tequila is different. Each drop of (good) tequila comes from a whole agave plant, which must be carefully tended for 8–10 years before it is ready to be harvested, by hand. This is not the case for barley used to make beer or the corn used to make bourbon, for example, and even grapes for wine and apples for brandy will appear in new crops each season, if well cared for.

When the agave plant is ready, trained farmers called jimadores harvest the succulent and chop off the leaves, living the “jima.” This central portion of the plant — similar to the heart of an artichoke, only much larger — is what is used to make the booze.

Mezcal & History

Tequila was the first-ever commercially produced liquor, and has a long history. The Aztecs created pulque from the agave plant many centuries ago, and Spanish Conquistadores observed these practices and began distilling mezcal in the 1400s. In 1758, thanks to a grant from the King of Spain, José Antonio Cuervo became the first officially licensed manufacturer of the spirit.

By 1873, when Don Cenobio Sauza founded his now-famous distillery, the agave spirit being sold and shipped around the world was still actual mezcal wine — defined by the use of below-ground pits filled with wood that were used to roast the jimas before extracting sugars, leading to mezcal’s defining smoky flavor.

To keep up with increased demand, Sauza switched to above-ground ovens powered by steam, and not wood directly, which led to an easier product, albeit with a slightly different taste. This is the tequila we know today.

Mixto vs. 100% Agave

Today, because of protective regulations, all tequila must originate in Mexico, but not all tequila is the same. In recent decades, international macro-brands bought into Mexican distilleries and have flooded the U.S. market with a product that is not made entirely from the special agave plant — this is the stuff that is notorious for causing hangovers, and gave tequila a bad rap.

If you’re buying a bottle tequila, look for “100% agave” on the label. If that designation is missing, there’s a good chance the agave spirit was first shipped out of Mexico and cut with other alcohol — distilled from cane sugar or other grains, for example — and then packaged and sold as tequila. While this “mixto tequila” is legal and makes for a cheap bottle, it does not make for a good morning after.

Blanco, Reposado, Añejo

Tequila comes in three main types, defined by how long the spirit has been aged with wood. Blanco (sometimes also called “silver”) is simply the raw product of the fermented, distilled agave. Along with a strong punch of alcohol, the agave flavor comes through (if it’s not mixto), and this is often the type used in margaritas or other mixed drinks.

Reposado has been aged between two months to a year, and has a more pronounced flavor and a light gold tint. Añejo tequila is aged 1–3 years, and provides a smoother sip, appropriate for drinking neat, with a strong woody character. Recently, a new designation of “extra añejo” has come into use for tequilas aged longer than three years.

Armed with this primer, it’s time for a drink! What’s your favorite way to sip tequila?

Recent Articles
spacer

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
Pedialyte Has a New Product That Might Help Cure Your Next Hangover

Pedialyte Has a New Product That Might Help Cure Your Next Hangover

If you've been picking up Pedialyte at the corner store after a long night of drinking, you're not alone — a...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Jan 4, 2019
Denver's Smok Serves Bold BBQ and Cocktails

Denver's Smok Serves Bold BBQ and Cocktails

Smok Bar Manager Alexis Osborne does things differently....read more ›

by Carrie Dow Dec 28, 2018
Experience Barrel Aged Beer and More at Denver's Banded Oak Brewing

Experience Barrel Aged Beer and More at Denver's Banded Oak Brewing

Founder Will Curtin had an idea for big flavorful barrel aged beers using mostly wine barrels....read more ›

by Carrie Dow Dec 21, 2018
SPONSORED
Drink Nation Store Rectangle
Amy Poehler Has Opened a Wine Store in Brooklyn

Amy Poehler Has Opened a Wine Store in Brooklyn

Amy Poehler has a new role - she has opened a wine store, Zula Wines & Spirits, in Brooklyn's Park Slope, according to Eater. ...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Dec 11, 2018
Denver's Most Festive Holiday Beverages

Denver's Most Festive Holiday Beverages

Here are some of Denver's most amazing beers, wines, and cocktails to enjoy this December. ...read more ›

by Carrie Dow Dec 11, 2018
A Taste of Maine Comes to Denver at Maine Shack Pop-up

A Taste of Maine Comes to Denver at Maine Shack Pop-up

Denver's culinary offerings will highlight tasty New England....read more ›

by Carrie Dow Nov 30, 2018
Red Spot Whiskey Has Returned after 50 Years Out of Production

Red Spot Whiskey Has Returned after 50 Years Out of Production

After 50 years out of production, Red Spot Whiskey has returned to join the Spot Whiskeys family once again....read more ›

by The Drink Nation Nov 26, 2018
Come to Call for Your Day Drinking Needs

Come to Call for Your Day Drinking Needs

DrinkDenver made a call on Call to try out the bar menu....read more ›

by Carrie Dow Nov 26, 2018
Miller High Life is Now Available in Champagne Bottles

Miller High Life is Now Available in Champagne Bottles

Miller High Life, commonly known as the 'Champagne of Beers,' is now available in actual champagne bottles for a limited run during the holiday season...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Nov 13, 2018
Jack Daniels is Making a Whiskey Advent Calendar For the Holiday Season

Jack Daniels is Making a Whiskey Advent Calendar For the Holiday Season

Jack Daniels has debuted a boozy advent calendar filled with, naturally, whiskey, just in time for the holiday...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Nov 13, 2018
SPONSORED
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close