Tequila — the spirit that has charmed palates and sparked countless celebrations across the globe — is one of the fastest growing in the world. With its recent surge in popularity, tequila has become a staple in many home bars and the star of numerous cocktail concoctions. Yet, despite its widespread fame, tequila remains shrouded in mystery for many.
Where does this enigmatic spirit originate?
How is tequila made?
What distinguishes its varying hues?
Continue reading as we pull back the curtain on tequila, answering your burning questions and helping you deepen your appreciation for this iconic Mexican spirit. Whether you’re a seasoned aficionado or a curious newcomer, there’s always something new to discover in the world of tequila.
What is Tequila Made From?
Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, scientifically known as Agave tequilana Weber Azul. Specifically, it is produced from the blue agave plant’s heart (or “piña”). This core contains sugars, primarily fructose, essential for the fermentation process that produces tequila. It’s important to note that while there are over 200 species of agave, only the blue agave is used for making authentic tequila.
Does Tequila Have to be Made in Mexico?
Absolutely, yes. Just as Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, genuine tequila must hail from specific regions in Mexico. According to the Denomination of Origin (DO) established for tequila, the spirit can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and in limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.
These regions’ unique climates, soil, and growing conditions influence the blue agave plants from which tequila is derived, imparting their distinct flavors and characteristics. Any “tequila” produced outside these regions or in Mexico cannot be labeled as tequila. Instead, they would be considered “agave spirits” or something similar, lacking authentic tequila’s official recognition.
How Long Does it Take to Make Tequila?
The process of making tequila, from planting the blue agave to bottling the final product, is a journey that spans several years.
- Growing the blue agave: The plant at the heart of tequila, the blue agave, takes 6 to 8 years to mature. During this time, it accumulates the sugars necessary for fermentation.
- Harvesting: Once matured, skilled jimadores begin the agave harvesting process by removing the piña from the agave’s central core
- Cooking the piñas: The piñas are then cooked to convert the starches into fermentable sugars. This process can take several days, especially if traditional brick ovens, or ‘hornos,’ are used.
- Extraction: Post-cooking, the juices (or ‘aguamiel’) are extracted from the piñas. This can be achieved using traditional methods like the Tahona stone or modern roller mills.
- Fermentation: The extracted juice undergoes fermentation, where yeast converts the sugars into alcohol. Depending on conditions and the yeast used, this can last a few days to weeks.
- Distillation: The fermented liquid is then distilled, often twice, to refine and concentrate the flavors and alcohol content.
- Aging: The final step in the production process is tequila aging. While Blanco tequila is bottled immediately after distillation, other variants like Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo are aged in oak barrels for several months to years. For instance, a Reposado might be aged for a few months, whereas an Extra Añejo could be aged up to 5 years or more.
In essence, while the actual production process post-harvesting can take a few weeks, the entire journey, from planting the blue agave to producing a bottle of tequila, can range from 7 to 12 years, depending on the variant and the aging process.
What Gives Different Tequilas Their Unique Colors?
The color variations in tequila come primarily from the aging process and the type of barrels used for that purpose. Here’s a breakdown:
- Blanco or Silver Tequila: This variant from Suavecito is clear, as it captures the essence of pure distilled agave without any aging. Bottled immediately after distillation or after a short rest in stainless steel tanks, it retains a crystalline appearance.
- Reposado (Rested) Tequila: While many brands age their Reposado for two months, Suavecito’s Reposado is allowed to mature in oak barrels for a full eight months. This longer rest imparts a pale golden hue to the tequila. The barrels add color and subtle flavors of the wood, melding beautifully with the inherent agave notes.
- Añejo (Aged) Tequila: Añejo tequilas generally have a richer golden-brown color from being aged for a minimum of one year. However, Suavecito’s Añejo stands out, as it luxuriates in oak barrels for two years. This extended contact with the wood results in a deeper hue and an enhanced flavor profile, with notes reminiscent of caramel, vanilla, and intricate wood characteristics.
- Extra Añejo (Extra Aged) Tequila: Representing the pinnacle of aged tequilas, Suavecito’s Extra Añejo matures for a remarkable five years. This duration, well beyond the industry standard of three years of barrel aging, leads to a deep amber or even mahogany shade and an exceptionally layered and rich flavor palette dominated by wood, spices, and occasional hints of dried fruits.
Overall, the distinct hue of each Suavecito tequila bottle tells a tale of its meticulous journey – from the highland agave fields through refined distillation and during its extended and thoughtful aging in oak barrels.
How is Tequila Different from Mezcal?
Tequila and mezcal, both iconic spirits from Mexico, derive from the agave plant but bear distinct differences.
Tequila is crafted solely from the blue agave plant and is primarily produced in the state of Jalisco, with a few other permitted regions like Nayarit and Guanajuato. Its production involves steaming the agave’s heart (piña) inside large ovens, leading to its smoother, sweeter profile, often imbued with flavors like citrus and pepper.
On the other hand, mezcal, primarily produced in Oaxaca, can be made from over 30 types of agave. Its hallmark smoky flavor arises from roasting the piñas in underground pits before distillation. This spirit also offers a diverse taste spectrum, from sweet and fruity to earthy, depending on the agave type and production techniques.
While tequila is recognized for its classifications based on aging, such as Blanco or Añejo, mezcal carries similar designations.
Why Is There a Worm in Tequila Bottles?
The idea of a worm in a tequila bottle is a widespread misconception. In reality, the “worm,” which is actually the larva of a type of moth that infests agave plants, is more commonly found in some bottles of mezcal, not tequila.
The inclusion of the “worm” or “gusano” in mezcal bottles began as a marketing gimmick in the mid-20th century. Some producers believed that the larva could enhance a mezcal’s flavor. However, many traditionalists and purists view the worm as a novelty that detracts from the authenticity of the spirit. It’s also worth noting that the presence of the worm isn’t an indicator of the drink’s quality.
How Should Premium Tequila be Enjoyed?
The ideal way to enjoy tequila often hinges on individual tastes and the type or grade of tequila.
Premium tequilas, especially the aged varieties like Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo, are best savored neat, echoing the manner of appreciating a refined whiskey or cognac. This method lets the drinker discern the delicate flavors and aromas nurtured during aging.
Beyond sipping, tequila gracefully takes center stage in iconic cocktails, with the Margarita being a universally celebrated example.
Ultimately, the most fulfilling way to appreciate tequila is the one that resonates with your palate. Experiment and find your niche in the vast landscape of this timeless spirit.
Why Does Tequila Cost More Than Other Types of Spirits?
That tequila’s pricing is often higher than other spirits can be attributed to its unique production process. The blue agave plant, tequila’s primary ingredient, requires 7 to 10 years of growth before it’s ready for harvesting. Comparatively, the grain used to craft spirits like whiskey, Bourbon, and vodka can be planted and harvested within a year. Harvesting agave is labor-intensive, necessitating skilled jimadores to hand-harvest the piña.
Higher tequila prices also stem from its aging and purity levels. Aged tequilas demand time, optimal storage conditions, and premium barrels, tying up inventory and elevating costs. Premium brands like Suavecito Tequila choose to produce 100% blue agave tequila, which pushes up production expenses. With global demand for quality tequila surging, blue agave prices can fluctuate, sometimes heightening costs.
This is to say that crafting a premium tequila takes time, effort, and hard work, which increases tequila’s price above other types of spirits.
The world of tequila is rich with tradition, meticulous craftsmanship, and a depth of flavor that’s captivated connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. While many relish the sip of a smooth tequila shot or the tangy refreshment of a margarita, exploring the intricacies behind this storied spirit reveals a tapestry of processes and decisions that contribute to its uniqueness.
We hope by unraveling some of the mysteries and nuances of tequila, we enhance your appreciation the next time you raise a glass. When the time comes to enjoy tequila, you can find Suavecito Tequila at Total Wine & More or wherever exceptional tequila is sold.