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Tequila

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Tequila is a Blue Agave-based spirit made primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the western Mexican state of Jalisco.

Left: Tequilas of various styles.

 
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The red volcanic soil in the region surrounding Tequila is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year. Tequila is not fermented from cactus. Agaves and cacti are unrelated, though both are succulents.

Left: An Agave plant ready for harvest.

Tequila is most often made at a 3840% alcohol content (7680 proof), but can be produced between 3555% alcohol content (70110 proof). Though most tequilas are 80 proof, many distillers will distill to 100 proof and then cut it down with water to reduce its harshness. Some of the more well respected brands distill the alcohol to 80 proof without using additional water as a diluter.

There are two basic categories of tequila: mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos use up to 49% of other sugars in the fermentation process, with agave taking up the remainder. Mixtos use both glucose and fructose sugars.

With 100% agave tequila, blanco or plata is harsher with the bold flavors of the distilled agave up front, while reposado and añejo are smoother, subtler, and more complex. As with other spirits that are aged in casks, tequila takes on the flavors of the wood, while the harshness of the alcohol mellows.

Tequila is usually bottled in one of five categories:

  • Blanco ("white") or plata ("silver") white spirit, un-aged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels;
  • Joven ("young") or oro ("gold") is the result of blending Silver Tequila with Reposado and/or Añejo and/or extra Añejo Tequila;
  • Reposado ("rested") aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels;
  • Añejo ("aged" or "vintage") aged a minimum of one year, but less than 3 years in oak barrels;
  • Extra Añejo ("extra aged" or "ultra aged") aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels.

In Mexico, tequila is often drunk straight. It is popular in some regions to drink fine tequila with a side of sangritaa sweet, sour and spicy drink typically made from orange juice, grenadine (or tomato juice) and hot chilies. Equal-sized shots of tequila and sangrita are sipped alternately, without salt or lime.

Outside Mexico, a single shot of tequila is often served with salt and a slice of lime. This is called "tequila cruda" and is sometimes referred to as "training wheels," "lick-sip-suck," or "lick-shoot-suck" (referring to the way in which the combination of ingredients is imbibed). The drinker moistens the back of their hand below the index finger (usually by licking) and pours on the salt. Then the salt is licked off the hand, the tequila is then drunk and the fruit slice is quickly bitten. It is common for groups of drinkers to do this simultaneously.

It is believed that the salt lessens the "burn" of the tequila and the sour fruit balances and enhances the flavor. In Germany and some other countries, tequila oro (gold) is often consumed with cinnamon before and slices of orange after, while tequila blanco (silver) is consumed with salt and lime.

It should be noted that many of the higher-quality, 100% agave tequilas do not impart significant alcohol burn, and drinking them with salt and lime is likely to remove much of the flavor. These tequilas are usually drunk from a snifter glass, instead of a shot glass, and savoured, instead of quickly gulped. 

There is an almost endless variety of drinks that involve tequila, including margaritathe most common tequila-based cocktail in the United States.

 

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