Ah, tequila. The source of so many questionable decisions, at the root of so much blame. Since my first visit to Mexico, in high school, I became enlightened about the varying grades of tequila and the sorry truth that, unless you’re willing to really shell out for it, most of the readily available tequila at home is utter trash. It also tends to make an appearance so far into the night, and after so many bottles of beer/wine/pre-mixed rye and cokes that the inevitable hangover that ensues is then blamed entirely on the tequila, and not the arsenal of liquors and sugars one had been consuming all night. I’ve always given tequila a fair go, so it seemed only right, upon learning of the existence of the town of tequila, to pay a visit.
Tequila is a couple of hours’ drive out of Guadalajara, accessible by bus from the old bus station in the city. As we drew nearer to the town, the prevalence of blue agave plants thickened. Tequila (and its closely related cousin, mezcal) are made from the blue agave plant. These spiky blue plants line the hillsides in neat, rolling rows, leaving the impression of a dusty blue hue as you scan the horizon. “Pineapples” are then harvested by jimadores, using primarily age-old techniques. These can weigh, on average, between 70 and 110 kilograms, depending on the region. These pineapples are then transported (now by front end loader, with questionable accuracy) into the ovens where they are slowly baked, and then crushed. The agave juice is what we are after, and the rest of it is waste or, depending on your particular distillery, recycled into feed, fuel, paper, or a myriad of other uses. Then the drink goes through the fermentation and ageing processes which, of course, vastly vary the product you get at the end.
What YOU Need to Know About Tequila:
There are two main types of tequila, which are then broken down into several categories. These types are the most important part. There is 100% agave tequila, and then there is tequila mixto. 100% agave is, as you could probably guess, made entirely of agave sugars. Mixtos are made up of no less than 51% agave, and then the rest are other sugars – generally cane. Mixtos are also permitted to contain additives such as flavour and colour, further increasing the impurities of your drink.
If the tequila you’re buying does not say 100% agave, then it is not. It is mixed. It tastes worse, contains more additives, and will make you feel worse the following morning. Yes, that bottle of gold Cuervo Especial falls into this category. Both of these types of tequila can be aged, with the older becoming more complex in flavour, deeper in colour, and expensive in price. Añejo and Extra Añejo are the oldest varieties of tequila, with Extra Añejo being aged in barrels for at least three years.
With any alcohol, quality certainly differs from distillery to distillery and with age, but the vast range of tequila – from terrible, artificially coloured gold tequila mixto (which you can buy in this bit of the world for a handful of pesos) to extra añejo, 100% agave tequila (which will still run you hundreds of dollars in Mexico) the taste, experience, and quality is almost of another world. Not that I have personally had many (ahem, any) bottles of extra añejo, extra expensive tequila, but I have had some reasonably good stuff, and I can tell you that it does not even come close to that shocker of a drink I’d been exposed to for so long. Anyone in Mexico will tell you that tequila mixto is to be used for margaritas and margaritas alone, and even that can be questionable.
And if you’re not convinced that tequila doesn’t have to be a golden, liquid, hangover, come to Tequila. They will do their very best to convert you.