Tequila is a Mexican eau-de-vie and just like Cognac or Port wine has demarcated regions of production. Tequila may be legally produced in five distinct regions the major production areas being within the boundaries of the Jalisco state and some in the neighbouring states of Guanajuato, Nayarit, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas. Tequila was distilled for the first time first by the Spanish Conquistadores who may have distilled a beverage similar to "pulque" from the blue agave plant. Pulque, a low alcoholic fermented beverage (between 4 to 8%) rich in vitamins was consumed by the Aztecs at religious festivals is obtained from the sugary sap of the maguey or century plant, related to the agave plant.
At the time in Europe, wine was consumed with regularity at meal times but on arriving on the South American Continent the Spaniards where faced with a dilemma as they had no wine or grapes from which to make them. Pulque was to weak and just didn't satisfy their taste buds. So it was that they began to distil their own spirits from the sugary sap of the agave plant perhaps using as a base a fermented drink from the blue agave similar to pulque. From these shaky beginnings the first prototype tequila was born. It was a while before Tequila acquired International recognition and appreciation becoming a Mexican icon.
The blue agave needs to grow for10 to 12 years to reach full maturity weighing up to 50kg and may reach a height of 60cm with a diameter of 45cm. What is used is for Tequila is the core of the agave, harvested by removing the spiny leaves of the plant. Tequila must have a minimum of 51% Agave but may also contain distillate from corn or sugar cane. Some high quality Tequilas are distilled solely from the blue agave plant. All others blended Tequilas are known as "mixto".
There are various stages in Tequila production. Firstly The agave cores are carefully harvested when they reach full maturity. They are then cut up and steamed in large ovens for 48 hours. After this they are shredded and macerated, the resultant liquid being fermented for 2 days with the addition of yeasts, sugar and water. The fermentation takes place in open stainless steel tanks where the temperature is carefully monitored oscillating between 30°C and 42 ºC. The fermented juice is allowed to rest after this for the aromatic components to mingle.
A double distillation takes place in traditional alembic still (Soldered Union Alembic Still or Riveted Union Alembic Still). The distillate is carefully monitored with precise cutting points for heads hearts and tails (see Basic distillation rules).
Tequila is then aged in old white oak or holm oak barrels thus acquiring its distinctive taste, aroma and colour. The aging process is not always the same and may depend on the quality of tequila that is being produced. Blanco or Silver tequila for a few months, Reposado tequila up to one year, Anejo tequila from 1 to3 years, Oro (with a caramelised colour and taste) for up to 9 years. Reserve tequila may be aged for more than 10years and may rival the best cognacs n price.
Bottled tequila may have an alcoholic volume of between 38 and 45%.
Tequila is often served straight up. Firstly salt is licked off the back of the hand and the tequila is downed in one swig followed by a lemon wedge to suck on. In Mexico tequila is served with a chaser, the famous sangrita.