Guide to Tequila
Tequila is distilled in Mexico and must be at least 51 percent from the blue agave plant (agave azul tequilana weber)—the best tequila being 100 percent blue agave. Many people mistakenly believe that tequila is made from a cactus. The confusion is common because various agave species look like cacti.
About 125 years ago, several of the distillers around the town of Tequila in the central Mexican state of Jalisco began making a superior form of mezcal. They used the heart of a specific variety of agave indigenous to the region, the blue agave. Today, only spirits made within the confines of this region can bear the name tequila. If produced elsewhere they must be called mezcal.
These days, the blue agave has become a carefully cultivated species upon which the local economy depends. The juicy core of the plant (called the piña because it resembles a large pineapple) is harvested, trimmed, cut into chunks and then baked in huge steam ovens. A sweet juice (aguamiel or honey juice) is extracted by steaming and compressing the piña. The juice is fermented for several days and then distilled at low proof. It is then double distilled to a powerful 110-degree proof. Tequila is reduced to 80-degree proof with water before bottling for export. The best types of tequila are made from 100-percent blue agave. These types are most suitable for sipping and elegant cocktails. Tequilas labeled Gold are usually not 100-percent blue agave and often are colored with caramel. There are three types of 100 percent Agave Tequila: Blanco (silver), Reposado (rested) and Añejo (aged).
Blanco (silver) – Not usually aged, but the best are true expressions of the blue agave- spicy and pungent, with notes of citrus.
Reposado (rested) – Must be aged for a minimum of two months in oak and are mellower than silver tequila, with elegant and restrained floral, spice and citrus flavors.
Añejo (aged) – Must be aged in oak for a minimum of one year and develops considerable complexity with vanilla and nutty overtones.