Tequila is a highly regulated, exclusively Mexican spirit with an official Denomination of Origin like those of Cognac, Armagnac, and Champagne, and it is in the midst of a renaissance. No longer is it considered merely a cheap way to get drunk, nor is it the headache/hangover/party drink that causes you one bad experience to be sworn off forever.
When you sip 100% Blue Agave tequila from a Cognac snifter or Riedel flute, you connect with the jimadores who harvest the agave at 8-12 years of age and remove the long, spiny blue-green pencas from the heart or piña of the plant. You become one with the tequileros who have created this, the national Spirit of Mexico, through the process of slow-roasting of the agaves in brick hornos, the crushing of the agave pulp to extract the sweet, baked caramel goodness of the agave aguamiel (“honey water”) for fermentation and later double (or triple) distillation into a vegetal, peppery, and citrus-noted Blanco tequila.
More into aged spirits? If so, you can experience all of the above plus the vanilla and coconut aromas of American oak barrels or the more reserved smoothing characteristics of French oak barrels offering just the right amount of woody aromas and flavours in a Reposado tequila aged from two to twelve months. Perhaps you’re a Scotch or Cognac aficionado who appreciates the sweet cinnamon, cloves, and strong oak flavor notes in an Añejo tequila, aged from one to three years. Or maybe you seek the ultimate connection with the master distiller and the cool yet humid barrel room, the deeply woody Extra Añejo tequila, aged more than three years and developing notes of tobacco leaf, spice, and hints of smoke. Whatever your palate preferences, 100% agave tequila can offer you a profound sensorial experience that will connect you to hundreds of years of tradition across the agave landscapes of Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas.
Seven Tequila Myths Debunked
1. Tequila is made from a cactus (a.k.a. Agave is a type of cactus).
Nope, not true. Tequila and mezcal are made from a number of different agaves. Agaves and cacti are, in the words of Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara agave botanist Iván Saldaña, about as similar as birds and butterflies. Which is to say, they have evolved convergently from very different ancestors to adapt to similar environments - and that has, unsurprisingly, led to similar adaptations to defend against water loss, avoid getting eaten, and the like. Not only are agaves and cacti not even from the same genus or family, agaves are monocotyledons while cacti are dicotyledons. Can't remember taxonomy from high school biology? Here's a refresher of many of the different taxonomic levels:kingdom, phylum, class, subclass, order, family, subfamily, genus, species. Agave and cactus differ at the subclass level, and the family Agavaceae is in the order containing lilies, tulips, trillium and many others.
2. "Gold" tequila is the best kind.
Well, this really depends upon your definition of "best". If you prefer tequila that is made from only 51% cooked agave, and 49% other (unknown!!) fermentable sugars and then has caramel coloring added for the purpose of implying that it has been aged in wood, then sure, "Gold" is the best.** If you want to know a little bit more about what you're consuming, then perhaps 100% agave tequila is the choice for you.
3. "Tequila" is the same as "100% Agave Tequila".
This could not be further from the truth. As noted above, one of these is only required to be 51% agave, and the other is required to be 100% agave as advertised. Unfortunately, confusion has prevailed outside the hotbeds of tequila aficionados (places like San Diego, San Francisco, and even Austin and Houston to an extent) on this topic. The best way to know the difference? Look at the bottle. If it does not say 100% agave, then it isn't! Some writers have suggested the two are frankly different spirits entirely.
4. Tequila has a worm in the bottle.
Also not true. Some mezcals, and mainly value-priced mezcals at that, have a worm in the bottle. These are usually also mezcals with added caramel coloring, similar to those in the "Gold" category of tequila.
5. Tequila can be either Mexican or American, right?
Uh, no. A tequila brand can be owned by anyone, anywhere, but it has to be made in Mexico. Even 51% agave tequila has to be 100% fermented and distilled in Mexico - but it can be shipped in bulk tankers and bottled outside Mexico. 100% agave tequila has to be both produced and bottled in Mexico. Specifically, it's produced in five states: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, Najarít, & Michoacan - with Jalisco producing 97% of all tequila. Not only that, it's protected by a Denomination of Origin, just like Mezcal, Cognac, Armagnac, Bordeaux & Burgundy wines, Grappa, and...well, you get the idea.
6. Blanco tequila is only for shooting and mixing, and añejo tequila is only for sipping.
There is no need to deal in absolutes like this. If you like sipping a 100% agave blanco with notes of white pepper and citrus, then sip it! And if you want to put a more caramelly, oaky 100% agave añejo tequila in a cocktail (I recommend it in a tequila old-fashioned, in fact) then get down with your bad self and do it! Heck, I used to make Waboritas with Cabo Wabo Añejo in those early days (ah, the 1990s) after Sammy Hagar turned me on to tequila. The point is, learn from others about spirits, but don't let anyone tell you what to do or not to do with them.
7. The proper way to drink tequila is with lime and salt, right?
That depends: are you drinking a quality spirit, one that you want to taste? Or are you drinking something that offends your taste buds so much that you want to cover up the taste of it? If the latter, the follow-up question is: Why are you drinking it at all? Just to get drunk? If so, tequila is hardly the cheapest option out there (not in Canada at least). As you can tell, the Vancouver International Tequila Expo was founded in order to suggest that there is a different approach than covering up the taste of tequila. Come join us on Saturday, May 28, 2016 and taste for yourself!
*Reprinted by permission from Canada's National Tequila Examiner. For the full article, click here.
**It should be noted, for the true tequila nerds out there, that a very, very few "Gold" tequilas have ever been produced (less than 10 out of the 1600+ tequilas that have existed) which were 100% agave with coloring added only from a small amount of aged tequila.