You probably, like many other people do, think that Tequila
is just another fashionable and cheap spirit from an exotic
country which is just intended to get you drunk and of course
give you a really bad headache. Well, unfortunately you are
right and wrong.
Right because, yes if you drink it excessively you will certainly
loose it and have a hangover, pretty much like you would do
with any other spirit, but mostly right because it has been
labeled with the wrong image largely due to abuse from non
Wrong because it is definitely not another cheap & fashionable
spirit. Yes it has slowly invaded the US market in recent
years, but thank god quality products have mostly done it.
It is also not cheap, even back in Mexico, Tequila is not
a cheap product as it reflects a lot of hard work and ancestral
Behind all those nice bottles and funny names, is a 3-century-old
industry that is narrowly linked to the country's culture
and ancestors. What it takes? How is it done?
Real Tequila can only come from Mexico. Like a Cognac, it
has a denomination of origin that clearly states among other
rules, that it can only be produced and bottled in Mexico.
Furthermore, Tequila can only be done with the Blue Agave
Tequilana Weber plant, which is only found in Mexican territory.
So if you find yourself a bottle of Tequila which doesn't
state that it comes from Mexico and doesn't bear the CRT seal,
you are better off not drinking it!
It takes a long time to produce Tequila, and that is because
a Blue Agave plant takes anywhere from 8 to 10 years to reach
maturity. The plants are harvested by theses "Jimadores" or
"groaners" who are responsible of selecting the plants and
cutting the leaves from the head. They are called like that
because the cutting of the leaves makes a sound resembling
a groan. The pineapple shaped like heads are then cut in pieces
and cooked in large ovens for over 18 hrs. The resulting is
a sweet sugar cane like product that is then shredded. It
used to be done with a large stone wheel pulled by a horse
called the "Tahona", which would crush the heads. Water is
then added with some of the magical yeasts. Fermentation is
underway then, it will take 72 hrs for the fermentation process
to be completed. The Juice is then send to the distillation
room. This will be done twice in order to get rid of impurities
and any water residue. Tequila is then ready to rest for a
while, before it's alcohol content is reduced from 55% to
the standard 38 or 40 % and then bottled.
There are 3 kinds of Tequila: "Blanco" or silver, which doesn't
undergo any aging. "Reposado" or middle aged, which rests
on white oak barrels for 6 to 12 months and "Aņejo" or aged
which must have at least 12 months of aging in those white
oak barrels. Just like a fine Armagnac or Spanish brandy would,
this aging process will smooth the product and give certain
type of characteristics to it.
What you need to remember to get a good tequila is that it
must bear the "100% Agave" wording on the label. You will
then obtain a pure product that is done accordingly to the
best traditional methods. Of course you can have true Tequilas
that are not 100%, as the regulation only states that it must
have at least 51% of the Blue Agave plant, but then again
you are not getting the best product available.
I recommend "Reposados" or "Aņejos" best. "Blancos" are a
real man's drink and if you ask a true tequila drinker he
will say that tequila should only be "Blanco" and that the
other stuff is not for men. However I find that the true flavors
of the plant come out better in the aged versions.
How to drink it? Well here is where the major misunderstanding
lies. You wouldn't do a shot of Cognac, would you? Then why
do it with Tequila? It is intended to be savored and enjoyed
slowly so that the characteristics of the product are appreciated.
Have a slice of lime and some salt if you want. Put some salt
in the back to the hand, suck it and then have a sip of tequila.
Finish by biting the lime wedge. This is the right "every
day" way. But if you want to enjoy the product, then just
taste it before you add more flavors to it.
You will find in Mexico that there is a loyal companion to
Tequila. It is always there when you get one and it is called
"Sangrita" or little blood. It's a mix based out of orange
and tomato juice with spices and lime that goes beautifully
with it, much better than the lime and salt. However it seems
to have lost its way and Tequila is mostly found alone when
Finally, when would you have one? Tequila is a great aperitif
as it really opens the appetite. Some of the more aged bottling
like the "Reserva de la Familia Cuervo" are great after dinner
drinks since they have gone through long aging. It goes marvelously
well with condimented food and citrus based preparations like
a nice Ceviche.
There are many more things to say about this beverage of the
gods according to the pre-Hispanic cultures, but here is a
base from which to start digging more.
Written By Patrick Pollak
Patrick Pollak is a native of Mexico & the Assistant Director
of Food & Beverage at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Chicago.