The History of Tequila

Tequila is undoubtedly the national drink of Mexico. The history of the beginnings of El Cristiano Tequila is a symbol of a rich heritage that dates back 900 years. The ancient Aztecs used a variation of tequila that was consumed during religious ceremonies and celebrations. Further variations of tequila have been produced in central Mexico over hundreds of years.

The source of tequila is the agave plant. It is a member of the lily family and has long spiky leaves and a pineapple like center (often referred to as the piña). The pulp from the center is used in the production of various fermented spirits. Aztecs made a sweet beverage from the center of the agave plant that made a libation that they called Pulpe (named from the pulp made from the agave plant). This drink is believed to be the first fermented drink in North America. Archeologist s and historians have found evidence that the agave plant was used by ancient peoples, and had been cultivated in Mexico for thousands of years.

Tequila was initially produced sometime in the 16th century in central Mexico. When the Spanish arrived in 1521, and ran out of their brandy, they utilized the agave and distilled the first agave plant drink. This laid the foundation for modern tequila making.

Modern day tequila was first mass-produced in the 1800’s in Guadalajara, Mexico.

1800 Tequila is promoted these days in celebration of the year that aged tequila was produced.

In 1873, the first load of tequila was imported to the United States to El Paso, Texas. One hundred years later, case sales topped one million in the U.S. alone. Today, studies by Research International find that revenue from U.S. tequila sales last year rose by 11% to $1.06 billion, according to figures from the Distilled Spirits Council. More tellingly, while overall sales by volume were up by 20.6% for the last two years, sales of high-end premium brands have grown by a whopping 51% in the same period.

Tequila aficionados are buying and collecting premium brand tequilas in the same way people buy and collect single malt scotches. The Tequila connoisseurs of today will spend upwards of 100 dollars U.S. for a single bottle of tequila. America’s perception of tequila is changing as the popularity of this spirit continues to grow. No longer is tequila relegated to drunken nights or Mexican restaurants. The demand for premium tequila will continue to grow as consumers become more educated about this historic beverage that was the first spirit made in North America.\

To begin the process of fermentation a bit of mast from the previous distillation is added. The fermentation process takes between 2 to 3 days. Once the fermentation is acceptable. The liquid is now distilled of at 28 proof. A second distillation at around 100 proof is then carried out. This double distilled liquid is now Tequila Blanca or Tequila White. By adding demineralized water it is ready to bottle at 40 % volume and be exported.

Certain Tequilas are allowed to age in the oak barrels for a period of time. It is known as oro or Golden Tequila. This is due to the fact that the oak has let some of its colour. This is not officially recognized by the Mexican Government, unless it is aged for a minimum period of 1 year. After which it is known as añejo Tequila.

The other thing about Tequila is that, since the blue agave plant takes almost 10 years to mature and bear fruit. The Mexican government has decreed that 51 % of blue agave plaque mixed with fermentable sugars is also sufficient for the product to be called Tequila. However, premium Tequilas may be made from 100% blue agave.

Tequila as we all know are had as shots. But, the interesting thing is that Tequila consumption was relatively low in the United States and around the world in the 1980s. It was not even drunk in other states of Mexico regularly. The invention of the Margarita however, changed the course of this humble Mexican concoction. This salt rimmed tequila based cocktail has captured the hearts of many a “sophisticated” drinkers as well.

However, Tequila has had a few sinister cousins to blemish its name. One such being mezcal. Mezcal is a rougher and single distilled product of the inferior agave. This product is not regulated and hence, manufacturers run rapid with the variations in formulae and processes. Some of them are also bottled with live worms within them. These are often confused with Tequila. Although they both are made from agave, mezcal is made from the inferior agave, whereas tequila can only be made from the blue agave Weber. Though they belong to the same family, there are marked differences in the two when it comes to their palatability and final products.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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