Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tequila 101

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor! I can’t say I love that part about tequila, but I do love its taste. So a little more today about the infamous Tequila (which is pronounced: teˈkila in Spanish). Tequila is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made from the blue agave plant. Many people mistake agave as a form of cactus, but it’s actually looks more like a like a large Aloe Vera plant.

So how exactly is tequila made? Harvesters cut off the leaves of the blue agave plant stripping it to the heart of plant (kind of like a pineapple) and they press out their juices, and place them into fermentation tanks and vats. The agave juice is then allowed to ferment in either wood or stainless steel vats for several months so they can convert the sugars into alcohol.

The quality of tequila is reliant on it being made from 100% agave, and if it is the label will say so. The best tequila makers take pride in delivering quality tequila. Most tequila brands are 80 proof, many distillers will distill to 100 proof and then dilute it with water to reduce its harshness. Some of the more respected brands distill the alcohol to 80 proof without using additional water as dilutants.

You may often see the terms “gold”, “silver”, or “platinum” on tequila brand labels. They mean nothing about the quality of the tequila. Non-100% agave tequilas may contain agave sugars but more so they contain other sugars that they caramelize into alcohol, which adds a brownish (gold as they would say it) color to make it look like it was aged for longer than it really is.

Joven Abogado:  It is not 100% agave, and has not been aged. This kind of tequila is often called mixto, meaning it’s a mixture of agave and other sugars.

Blanco:  meaning white, has not color at all, it’s crystal clear. It is diluted with water to bring the alcohol down to 80 proof. Many tequila drinkers prefer blano tequilas as they fill they are the closest to the purity of the Agave plant.

Reposado, meaning rested, have been aged in oak containers for at least 60 days; some are distilled for up to a year. However there is no limit on the size of the oak container. Better tequilas are aged in smaller 55 gallon barrels, like the size used for aging wine. Really good tequila is aged for at least 6 to 9 months, allowing tequila a mellow bit and adding color naturally.

Añejo meaning aged tequila must be aged for at least 12 months. Higher quality tequilas are aged for 18 months. Añejo tequilas are almost always the most expensive, because of its quality. The best premium tequilas are añejos’ such as Herradura’s Seleccion Suprema, Cuervo’s Reserva de Familia, or San Matias’ Rey Sol and are aged at for least 3 years. Extra-añejos are aged in oak barrels for at least 5-6 years. In blind tastings, they are often taken for whiskies or brandies.

Ever heard of Mezcal, or mescal? It is most commonly mistaken for tequila. It is definitely a relative. It’s made from the maguey plant, but most importantly it is most known for the worm like creature. Most people are led to believe it’s a worm but it’s actually larva such as a moth or butterfly, as Mexican Laws prohibits the placement of “Worms” in distilled beverages. The larva is often found in the heart of the agave plant. So it became a tradition to add it to the Mezcal because it contained so much of the agave sugars. It’s supposed to be a component ingredient essential to the liquor’s flavor and color, but the worm and larva is also a delicacy in Mexico.

So how will you take your tequila; on the rocks, straight up, neat, in a tequila sunrise or margarita? However you chose to drink yours, make it memorable, and choose wisely, as cheap tequila hangovers are the worst!