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.
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 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 proof), but can be
produced between 35–55% alcohol content (70–110 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
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
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
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
In Mexico, tequila is often drunk straight. It is
popular in some regions to drink fine tequila with a side of sangrita—a
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
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,
most common tequila-based cocktail in the United States.