Is it the drink that made Mexico famous or did Mexico make this drink famous?
Good Tequila is a mix of art, patience and hard work. The “pineapple” of the Agave takes from 7 to 10 years to harvest. It grows to an average of 40kg – 80kg; though in some cases it has grown to weigh 120kg.
The Agave is a cactus, though only one specific one can be used to make tequila: blue Agave, and is the sugar source for the fermentation needed to produce alcohol. After the pineapple is cooked and ground, it is juiced and only 40% remains. The rest is used as compost. Or in some places to make biscuits. The juice is then fermented and distilled at least twice to raise the alcohol content. In Mexico, tequila can have 35-55% alcohol though the minimum alcohol content to export is 40%.
Tequila that is bottled after distillation is “white” tequila. Its flavour is raw and is truer to the fruit. Tequila can also be aged in barrels for different lengths of type to make “reposado” (2-11 months in barrel), “añejo” (1-3 years in barrels) or “extra-añejo” (3+ years in barrels). The barrels, as with wine, change the flavour of the drink. White oak is what is needed and it comes from USA or France. There used to be also Canadian oak used but our northern neighbours tore their business by raising their taxes in the transportation.
The cost of barrels drives decisions on the final product. French oak is generally used for the older tequilas. A barrel can cost between 1000-1500 usd. Whilst american oak is used for younger types of tequila as the barrel cost is between 300-500 usd. Barrels used to age wine and bourbon are also sometimes re-used for tequila. Barrels life is 8-10 years thus so is the aging period of the “oldest” tequila.
Tequila is produced world wide though the drink has denomination of origin, which means that to be called as such it has to come from this region where blue Agave shares the same altitude, weather and soil. Otherwise the drink can be called Agave liquor or distillation of agave.
Real tequila is elegant and must be had sip by sip, accompanied by a slice of lime or orange and possibly a cricket. So next time you try this drink, make sure you appreciate the art that goes behind its production.