Tequila: History, Variations & the Mezcal ‘Worm’

Tequila: History, Variations & the Mezcal ‘Worm’

Written by
Liquorland
August 1, 2018
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There’s perhaps no other spirit that’s more misunderstood than tequila. Over the years, it’s garnered a reputation for being more of a party accoutrement than something to savour. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve collected everything you need to know about this veritable vegetal spirit. Because there’s a lot more to appreciating a good tequila than just a wedge of lime and a pinch of salt.

History

Tequila’s historical roots run deep, with both Aztecs and Mayans in the Mesoamerican period producing and consuming ‘pulque’ – an alcohol made from agave plants that’s a precursor to the tequilas of today – over 1000 years ago.

But the spirit that we know (and love) dates back to the 16th century when Spanish settlers in Mexico started to distil agave to create alcohol.

In fact, the first commercial licence to produce tequila was granted by Spain’s King Carlos IV to the Cuervo family in the early-1600s – and they’re still in business! For a taste of tequila history, we recommend trying the Jose Cuervo Especial.

50 Shades of Agave

So, what exactly is agave? Great question. It’s an edible plant that’s native to Mexico, the heart of which can be distilled into what we know as mezcal.

Tequila can only be produced by distilling a particular variety of the plant – specifically, blue agave. Confused? Don’t be! Just remember that while all tequilas are technically mezcals, the reverse isn’t necessarily true.

Variations

Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. When it comes to tequila, there are four broad categories that you should be aware of:

• Blanco – ‘white’ tequila that’s either bottled immediately after distillation or aged for a maximum of two months. This is the spirit in its purest form. You should be able to taste the natural sweetness of agave in a blanco tequila.

• Reposado – ‘rested’ tequila aged between two months and a year in oak barrels. During this process, the tequila will take on a natural golden colour and you’ll be able to taste notes of the oak in the final product – like those present in the delicious Espolōn Tequila Reposado.

• Añejo – ‘aged’ tequila that’s been kept in small oak barrels for at least one year, but less than three. These tequilas have a deep honey colour and a rich, complex flavour.

• Extra añejo – ‘extra aged’ tequila that’s been kept in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. These are dark in appearance, and their flavour profiles are complex yet smooth.

A word to the wise on the tequila worm

First things first, the ‘worm’ associated with tequila isn’t actually a worm – it’s a caterpillar. Second, it’s typically only found in certain mezcals, not tequila, and it’s more of a novelty than an indicator of authenticity.

If eating bugs is your thing, far be it from us to judge, but don’t rely on the presence of creepy-crawlies in your bottle as an indicator of quality spirits.

What to mix with tequila

There are many ways to enjoy this spirit! With something like El Jimador’s Reposado Tequila, we’d suggest sipping it neat to allow the full depth of flavour to shine.

Alternatively, try your hand at making a classic tequila cocktail – the Margarita. Ditch the mix and whip up your own with a good quality blanco like Sierra Tequila Silver, Cointreau, ice, lime and salt. A classic Margarita doesn’t need anything else, as the natural sweetness of agave will perfectly complement the zesty lime citrus. Although, if you do want to add a little flair – feel free to dress your Margarita up with tropical fruits like strawberry, mango or watermelon.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you don’t even need to drink your tequila. The coffee-infused Patron XO Café lends itself perfectly to cooking. Try it in a chocolate-based dessert – the cacao will naturally amplify the tequila’s coffee flavour.

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