Everyone has heard of it, and our clients sure enjoy it on our culinary vacations to Mexico, but what exactly goes into making a tequila? What is the difference between tequila and mezcal? And are there other ways to drink it besides tequila shots or margaritas?
Tequila is a region-specific name, sort of like Champagne, meaning that it’s a particular type of spirit hailing from the area surrounding the city of Tequila, Mexico. Tequila, which harkens back to 16th-century Mexico, is distilled from the blue agave plant, which is a type of succulent (cactus) that produces a high amount of fructose in its core. Supposedly the soil around Tequila makes it particularly suited for growing these plants. As a spirit, tequila is pretty alcoholic, ranging from around 40 percent alcohol to over 50 percent.
So what exactly is mezcal, which seems a lot like tequila? Mezcal is also a distilled spirit made from a type of agave plant (the maguey). (Tequila is considered a sub-category of mezcal, as it has to be made from a specific plant in a specific geographical area.) Mezcal is perhaps best known for some of its varieties (particularly from Oaxaca) having a worm added during the bottling process. (Why, you might ask? Marketing!) Tequila, despite popular belief, never has a worm.
Types of Tequila
You might have noticed that tequila these days comes in a variety of categories, but you might not have realized that they relate to the aging process:
- Blanco (white) or Plata (platimum/silver) is, as you might guess, clear in color, bottled immediately or aged for a very short time (less than 2 months)
- Joven (young) or Oro (gold) is simply Blanco tequila that has had caramel added to it for color and flavor
- Reposado (rested) has been aged between 2 and 12 months in oak
- Añejo (aged) has rested 1-3 years in small oak barrels
- Extra Añejo (extra aged) has spent at least 3 years in small oak barrels
So, how do Mexicans drink tequila? Usually neat, as you would drink a fine whiskey, and with no salt or lime, although sometimes with a chaser called sangrita, which is a spicy, fruity, tomato drink. Although margaritas can be found in Mexico (lime variety only, please, no strawberries!), you are more likely to enjoy tequila in a cocktail called a Paloma (“dove”), which is a mix of tequila and a grapefruit-based soda, served on the rocks with a wedge of lime. Of course, if you prefer to “shoot” yours with salt and lime, you would not be the first!
P.S. Want to try savoring tequila with a sangrita chaser? Mix equal parts tomato juice and orange juice, add fresh lemon or lime juice, a pinch of salt and couple dashes of tabasco. Sip—do not shoot—alternating between the two.
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