By Jimmy Quaile, Certified Sommelier
July 24th is National Tequila Day. Thatâ€™s right, an entire day celebrated across the country honoring a fermented drink. Not just ANY fermented drink you understand ~ A drink that which dates back to the Aztecs in 1000 B.C. A drink which uses a prehistoric plant that is actually a member of the Lily family. A plant that can weigh over 100 pounds before being peeled, roasted and crushed. A plant that is pollinated by bats as opposed to insects or birds (you can look it up). Yeah...THAT drink! Astonishing facts aside, tequila is the national spirit of Mexico, which is logical enough since it is the only country that can produce the stuff. Like Champagne, if itâ€™s not produced in the region itâ€™s not the real thing. The real thing is produced using the blue Weber agave plant, which takes between eight and twelve years before reaching the necessary maturity for harvesting. According to Mexican law, all tequila must contain at least 51 percent Weber blue agave (Mixto).Â Premium tequila is 100% Weber blue agave.
Tequila versus Mezcal
In technical terms, tequila is mezcal, but mezcal is not tequila.Â For over 200 years mezcal and tequila were arguably the same product. It wasnâ€™t until Don Cenubio Souza came into the picture in the 1870s that distinctions started to appear. It was he who made the determination that blue agave was the best agave for tequila production. Unlike tequila mezcal can use any of eight approved varieties of the agave plant, principally a variety called Espadin, and made in a region known as Oaxaca. It uses the â€œheartâ€ of the agave plant, called the piÃ±a which is cooked underground in pits over three days adding that distinctive smoky aroma. By the way, not all bottles of mezcal contain a "worm" (which is actually the larva of a moth). There are conflicting stories as to why it is added. Some believe it is there to prove that the mezcal is fit to drink, others believe it imparts flavor. Some say that it is pure and simple marketing.
Types of Tequila
There are five main categories. While younger tequilas provide bold, earthy flavors, age increases their smoothness and complexity.
Silver, Plata, or Blanco:Â Aged for a maximum of two months (and often not aged at all), this clear tequila provides the raw agave taste. It is great for mixing in cocktails or taking shots and offers the lowest price point.
Gold:Â Often a mixto that has been dyed to appear aged. Again, it can be the perfect choice for shots or cocktails but isnâ€™t ideal for sipping.
Reposado:Â This â€œrestedâ€ tequila is aged anywhere from two months to a full year in an oak cask or, in an increasingly popular trend, in an old bourbon barrel. The mild oak flavor makes it great for cocktails or for sipping.
AÃ±ejo:Â Translating to â€œagedâ€ tequila, this variety spends one to three years in a wooden barrel, resulting in a smooth balance of agave and oak flavors. Itâ€™s another great choice for sipping or for special cocktails.
Extra-AÃ±ejo:Â A newer addition to the tequila family, this variety is aged for three or more years and is recommended for sipping only.
Odd Facts: Physicists from the University of Mexico have figured out a way to capture the vapor from heated tequila to make synthetic, impurity-free diamonds. The SONG Tequila was recorded by The Champs in 1958. It was their one and only hit for Champion Records, a label owned by Gene Autry. The song was made as a sort of B-side joke inspired by the name of Autryâ€™s horse. It won a Grammy award in 1959, the first Grammy given to a â€œrock â€˜n rollâ€ song.