We are enthusiastic about tequila and have created this library to share our knowledge and showcase the fantastic history and proud story of Tequila. A long history followed by how its made and the many types tequila comes in.
A bit about the tasty history of Tequila
Legend has it that Tequila was first discovered during a thunderstorm. Lightning struck a crop of agaves and caused a fire due to its intensity. The vapours that resulted, heated the plant, and it produced a pleasant aroma and a sweet taste which caught the natives’ attention. The Aztecs also discovered that once it was fermented, on drinking it produced effects of euphoria and had relaxing powers. The Aztecs thus considered this beverage to be a gift from the Bacchus, the god of wine, this probably being the reason that God Bacchus is featured in many of the paintings which make reference to Tequila.
The history of Tequila goes way back to the age of the Aztec Indians which dates back to around 250 – 300 A.D. The Aztecs discovered that they could produce a drink by fermenting the heart of the blue agave plant in order to produce their ceremonial wine, which was called ‘pulque’. It had a milky appearance due to the unrefined fermentation methods that were used back then. Pulque and Mezcal are beverages distilled from other species of the plant, which would be the main difference between pulque, mescal, and tequila. There are 295 different species of the blue variety of a plant named Agave, which belongs to the Agavaceae family. Only one of these may be used for this drink.
It continued being produced for several decades, with the drink remaining strictly local to the Aztecs. The Agave was an important plant in their culture and had a prominent place in the lives of the Mexican Indians which they personified through the goddess of fertility named Mayahuel.
The word tequila is of Nahuatl origin (tequitl: work or trade; tlan: place) refers to a place of work. However, another version says that the word tequila means ‘rock that cuts’ or ‘volcanic rock’ in the local Nahuatl language and makes reference to obsidian, which is the rock that is typical to that region. The rocks were used as tools and known as tecatlis, while the person who handled them was referred to as tecuilo. Thus, it became habitual to initially call this place Tecuila and in time, Tequila.
When Spanish conquistadores invaded Mexico in 1519, one of their first stops was the town of Tequila. They established a colony there, and in time their alcohol stocks of whiskey and brandy began to run low. They then set about making wine from the native plants and discovered that fermented agave could be distilled to make ‘Vino de Mezcal’. Within a decade of their arrival, they were likely to be distilling something close to tequila. The Spanish taught the people of Tequila a technique that produced a clear spirit as compared to the milky drink that Aztecs used to make. The Spanish were overjoyed with the result and took the drink to North America, where they went next.
The interesting story of how Tequila is made
Tequila is produced exclusively in Mexico, from juice extracted from the heart of the Agave plant. Its production must comply with the stringent regulations put forth by the Mexican government.
The production of Tequila is divided into harvesting, cooking, extraction, fermenting, distillation, aging, and bottling.
The Agave planting, tending, and harvesting is a manual effort, relying on know-how that is centuries old, passed down from generation to generation. Tequila is made with ripe blue agave plants which take 8 to 10 years to mature. When the plants have fully ripened, their 200 plus leaves are stripped off by the harvester, leaving the core, which can weigh between 40 and 300 lbs. Only the heart or ‘piña’ is used to produce the tequila. 7 kilos of Agave hearts are required to produce 1 liter of tequila.
The pinas are taken to the distillery and cut up for roasting in special furnaces, where the starch in the core turns into sugar. After baking, they are shredded, put through a press that squeezes the juices, and placed in fermentation tanks.
Through the fermentation process, sugars of the roasted pulp are transformed into alcohol within stainless steel tanks or large wooden vats. The yeast that naturally grows on the agave leaves was traditionally used to accelerate or control fermentation. Depending on the method used, fermentation usually takes 7 to 12 days.
Distillation is the next step, during which most tequilas are distilled twice, while some are distilled three times.
- The first distillation is known as “smashing” takes a couple of hours to yield a liquid with an alcohol level of around 20%.
- The second tequila which is known as “rectification,” yields an alcohol level near 55%. It is then considered your basic silver or Blanco Tequila.
- Oro or gold tequila takes 2 months of aging in oak barrels.
- Premium tequila needs to be aged in oak for at least a year.
Many producers age it for many years, which is then considered to be the best tequila and is very expensive. Distillers ultimately desire to create a result that captures the aroma of the agave, tasting as pure as possible, with an alcohol content between 70 to 110.
Almost all the containers that are used in aging tequila are American or French white oak barrels that have been previously used in the aging bourbon. The longer the tequila ages, the condition of the barrels and their interiors, will affect the taste of the Tequila.
The Consejo Regulador de Tequila regulates every step and ensures that general guidelines are followed to guarantee maximum quality. Mexican government guidelines require that all tequilas require to age for between 14 to 21 days. It must be manufactured from 100% natural ingredients and contain at least 38% alcohol. It should most importantly be made from the blue agave only cultivated and harvested in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan, or Tamaulipas.
A combination of many factors, both human and environmental, takes place to give each brand of tequila its delicious and distinctive flavor.
The different types of Tequila you can enjoy
There are two categories of tequila 100% de Agave, and Mixed (Mixto). Tequila that is 100% de Agave is made with only the sugars of the Blue Agave while Tequila Mixed (Mixto) is made using 51% of Agave sugars and 49% of other sugars.
There are five registered age classifications for tequila which have been defined and are enforced by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila.
- Blanco (Silver, Platinum, White or Plata)
- Joven (Gold or in Mexico as Oro)
- Repasado (Aged)
- Añejo (Extra aged)
- Extra Añejo (Ultra-aged)
This is clear, unaged tequila in its purest form, and is bottled immediately after being distilled. There are some Blanco products that are aged for up to two months to provide a suave or smoother spirit.
This is Blanco Tequila that has not been left to mature, but to which flavors and colors such as caramel coloring, glycerin, sugar syrup, or oak tree extracts have been added before bottling. These are referred to as Joven, suave, abocado, or gold, which implies smoothness and youth. These Tequilas are cheaper and are used in many restaurants and bars for ‘mixed drinks. This can be produced from 100 Agave but is usually made with 51% mixed tequila. Blending of silver tequila with aged or extra-aged tequila is considered Joven or gold tequila. There are some exceptions which can be the result of blending Silver tequila with Añejo and/or Reposado tequila while keeping the 100% Agave classification.
Tequila Reposado (aged or Rested)
A Reposado Tequila is the first stage of “rested and aged”. The Tequila is required to be aged in wood barrels or storage tanks between 2 months and 12 months. The spirit takes on a golden hue from the wood and the taste becomes a good balance between the Agave and wood flavors. Many different types of wood barrels are used for aging, with the most common being American or French oak. Some Tequilas are aged in used bourbon/whiskey, cognac, or wine barrels, and will inherit unique flavors from the previous spirit.
Tequila añejo – Extra Aged or Vintage
Añejo means vintage and can only appear in bottles containing tequila aged in oak barrels for a minimum of one year, with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. This produces a smoother and more sophisticated taste. French oak casks, cognac barrels, or American whiskey barrels are usually used for aging this tequila. Añejos are usually aged between one and three years, are more complex in flavor, darker in color, and smoother than reposado tequila. The commercial alcohol volume should be adjusted by the addition of distilled water for each type of tequila.
Tequila Extra Añejo – Ultra Aged
This, as defined in a report from the October 28th, 2005 meeting of the National Committee on Standardization, is the newest classification of Tequila. It must be aged for a period of a minimum of 3 years, without specifying the age in the label, in direct contact with oak or Encino oak wood containers, with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. Its commercial content of alcohol should be adjusted by dilution water.