Here at Shaker BarSchool we are celebrating National Tequila Day! So we thought we’d share with you a little bit of Tequila knowledge…
Tequila and Mezcal
The origins of tequila date back to 250-300 AD, when Aztec Indians first fermented the juice from the heart of Agave plants to make a wine, referred to as pulque or agua miel.
Over time the techniques of tequila production have improved and modernised with new laws governing the production and labeling of tequila, protecting the national spirit of Mexico. Those distilleries that adhere to the production regulations are given a NOM number (Norma Oficial Mexicana de Calidad), which is printed on each bottle. All brands of 100% blue Agave tequila will have a NOM on the label; however, this is not a guarantee of quality, only of authenticity.
The raw ingredient used in the production of tequila is taken from the blue Agave; however Mezcal can be made using any type of Agave plant, of which there are over 200 types. The Agave is a member of the lily (amaryllis) family and is often mistaken for a cactus. Firstly the hearts of the Agave, which look a lot like giant pineapples and weigh between 70 and 200 lb, are harvested by hand. They are then cooked in an autoclave for 8-14 hours or in a steam oven for 72 hours. The hearts are then left to cool for about 24 hours in a traditional stone mill called a Chilean mill and then pressed to extract the sugary sap (known as agua miel) and mixed with water to form the basis for fermentation.
Similarly to the sour mash fermentation of bourbon, juice from the previous batch is mixed in to give a consistency of flavour, which takes between 36 and 72 hours. This results in the beer, known as mostoâ, which has an approximate ABV of 5.7%. The mostoâ has to be distilled a minimum of two times to be classified as tequila, generally in copper pot stills, and a handful of distillers distill a third time.
If the pure distillate is then used to make tequila it is referred to as 100% agave, or this distillate can be blended with other raw spirits, most often from sugar cane, to produce mixtoâ tequila. At this stage the spirit can be reduced with water to a minimum of 35% ABV and bottled, producing a blanco or silver tequila.
Other than the percentage of Agave spirit used, tequila is also categorised according to the length of time it has spent in a cask, of which the most popular type used is old bourbon casks. Reposado (meaning rested) and AÃ±ejo (aged) tequilas are aged for 60 days to one year, and upwards of one year respectively, mellowing and imparting some of the aged notes found in some whiskies. Some producers then bottle the liquid straight from the cask, but more often water is added to reduce to bottling strength, which is generally around 35-40% ABV.
As with cognac, tequila by law can only originate from within five designated regions of Mexico (their ruling is not dissimilar to that of the French appellation contre).
Categories and Styles
Tequila is categorised according to both the percentage of agave spirit it contains and the period of maturation it undergoes:
Mixto: Contains at least 51% blue agave distillate, the rest being made up of industrial spirit or spirit made from molasses, brown sugar or any other sugar type.
Pura: 100% agave distillate.
White (blanco/plata/silver/platino): Clear/white tequila, aged for a maximum of 60 days.
Gold (Oro): Made in the same way as white but with the addition of flavouring and colouring, usually caramel.
Reposado (rested): Means rested in Spanish. Must be aged in oak for a minimum of 60 days and a maximum of one year. Size of oak container not specified. Does not have to be a barrel.
Aged (AÃ±ejo): Mexican law states that for tequila to be given the title of aged it must be sealed in government oak barrels for over one year which must be no larger than 600 litres.
Tequila and tonic is a surprisingly refreshing alternative to the popular G&T. Orange and cola are also served with tequila as a long drink. The most famous cocktail to include tequila is the Margarita, using Cointreau and fresh lime, and serving it straight up or on the rocks with a salt rim.
Each distillery will have its own unique brands that are bottled at varying ages and are generally bottled between 35% – 40% ABV. Here are some of the more popular international brands although there are hundreds available in Mexico.
Classic Tequila Cocktails
A classic twist on the bloody mary
Fresh Tomato Juice
Salt and Pepper
5-15ml Worcestershire Sauce
2-6 dashes Tabasco Sauce
10mlLemon or Lime Juice
Add condiments to glass, then tequila , fill with ice. Then pour tomato juice 3cm below top of glass. Stir gently, add more ice if required. This drink should not really be watered down and should be served as a thick soup-like drink, so be sure only to mix the ingredients gently with your stir. Garnish with a celery stick, wedge of lime or lemon and add a long straw.
Pineapple and Black Pepper Margarita
25ml Triple Sec
Fresh lime juice
Freshly ground black pepper