Did you know the Tequila was North America’s first distilled beverage and also its first commercially produced alcohol?
Tequila was first produced in the 15th century near the location of the city of Tequila, which was not officially established until 1666. The Aztec people had previously made a fermented beverage from the agave plant, which they called octli – later called pulque – long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill agave to produce one of North America’s first indigenous distilled spirits (1).
By Mexican law, Tequila can be produced only in specifically designated geographic areas, primarily the state of Jalisco in west-central Mexico, and must be produced from only the Blue Agave (Weber Blue Agave, Agave Tequilana). Similar Agave spirits are produced from other regions and from other species of Agave. These other types of Agave are known locally as Maguey. Spirits made from Maguey outside of the appellation of origin are known as Mezcal. All Tequila is Mezcal, but not all Mezcal is Tequila. As an analogy, Champagne is a sparkling wine but not all sparkling wines are Champagne. In order to be Champagne, the sparkling wine must be made from a specific grape within the appellation of origin in France.
Agave must mature for 6 or 7 years before its sugar contents peak, making it ripe for harvest for tequila. Tequila is made of only the sweet heart of the agave, called the piña. The piña is harvested by skilled workers called “jimadores.” Expertise in harvesting is passed down from father to son. The sharp, long-handled tool used by the jimador to harvest is called a “coa.” The bitter sprouts are removed by hand to reveal the sweet piña of the agave plant. Only the agave with the right balance of sugar and acid are selected.
There are two basic categories of tequila: mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos use no less than 51% agave, with other sugars making up the remainder. Mixtos use both glucose and fructose sugars.
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”): usually a mixto (rarely 100% agave) with added coloring.
- Reposado (“rested”): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels of any size.
- Añejo (“aged” or “vintage”): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels.
- Extra Añejo (“extra aged” or “ultra aged”): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels.
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. The major flavor distinction with 100% agave tequila is the base ingredient, which is more vegetal than grain spirits (and often more complex).
At the Beloved Hotel Playa Mujeres, we are very proud of our culture and we want to share with you a little bit of it through our Tequila Tastings. Every Monday at 6pm.
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