Sipped, blended, or pounded—there is no hard liquor more iconic or evocative than tequila. The earthy elixir is the national drink of México, a symbol of its people, pride, and heritage.
Previously dismissed as a cheap buzz or mere margarita ingredient, tequila has emerged in recent decades as a delicious sipping spirit and the star of new generation of cocktails. But despite the many extolments directed at this ambassador of all things Mexican, many of its greatest fans remain ignorant of its rich history and complexities.
With our primer on tequila, you have all the information you will need before heading to the next “It” bar or local liquor store.
What is it? A clear or straw-colored liquor that is made when the sweet sap of blue agave plants is fermented and distilled.
But what is agave? A large succulent native to México.
Where is it made? Tequila is made in and around its namesake town in the state of Jalisco.
Will any old agave plant do? Nope. According to Mexican law, in order to be certified as the real deal, tequila must be made from blue agaves grown in one of five states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas.
How can I recognize a better-than-average tequila? Mexican law requires all tequilas be at least 51 percent agave, but top-drawer tequilas are made with 100 percent agave.
What are the different types? Officially there are five types of tequila: blanco (also known as plata or silver), joven (or gold), reposado, añejo, and extra añejo. The designations refer to the length of the aging process. Blancos are the youngest, while an extra añejo is aged for at least three years in an oak container.
Who came up with it? Ingenious Aztecs would make fermented drinks from the sap of agave plants, and the Spaniards became big fans once they were introduced to it—so much so that they began distilling their own. Production of tequila as we know it became began in the 16th century. Read more about the history of tequila.
Is tequila the same thing as mezcal? Yes and no. While tequila must be produced from blue agaves, there are several types of agaves that can be used to make mezcal.
When did tequila come to the United States? José Cuervo was the first to ship the spirit to the States, sending three barrels to El Paso, Texas, in 1873.
Should I eat the worm? What worm? Despite what you may think—or have seen in movies—there is no worm in tequilas. Those creeping creatures are banished to mezcals.