Find happy hours and drink specials anywhere you are

Why You Should Drink Tequila: A Primer for National Tequila Day

by The Drink Nation on Jul 24, 2013 in Liquor

Most alcoholic beverages are distilled from yearly-renewable fruits or grains, but tequila is different. Each drop of (good) tequila comes from a whole agave plant, which must be carefully tended for 8–10 years before it is ready to be harvested, by hand. This is not the case for barley used to make beer or the corn used to make bourbon, for example, and even grapes for wine and apples for brandy will appear in new crops each season, if well cared for.

When the agave plant is ready, trained farmers called jimadores harvest the succulent and chop off the leaves, living the “jima.” This central portion of the plant — similar to the heart of an artichoke, only much larger — is what is used to make the booze.

Mezcal & History

Tequila was the first-ever commercially produced liquor, and has a long history. The Aztecs created pulque from the agave plant many centuries ago, and Spanish Conquistadores observed these practices and began distilling mezcal in the 1400s. In 1758, thanks to a grant from the King of Spain, José Antonio Cuervo became the first officially licensed manufacturer of the spirit.

By 1873, when Don Cenobio Sauza founded his now-famous distillery, the agave spirit being sold and shipped around the world was still actual mezcal wine — defined by the use of below-ground pits filled with wood that were used to roast the jimas before extracting sugars, leading to mezcal’s defining smoky flavor.

To keep up with increased demand, Sauza switched to above-ground ovens powered by steam, and not wood directly, which led to an easier product, albeit with a slightly different taste. This is the tequila we know today.

Mixto vs. 100% Agave

Today, because of protective regulations, all tequila must originate in Mexico, but not all tequila is the same. In recent decades, international macro-brands bought into Mexican distilleries and have flooded the U.S. market with a product that is not made entirely from the special agave plant — this is the stuff that is notorious for causing hangovers, and gave tequila a bad rap.

If you’re buying a bottle tequila, look for “100% agave” on the label. If that designation is missing, there’s a good chance the agave spirit was first shipped out of Mexico and cut with other alcohol — distilled from cane sugar or other grains, for example — and then packaged and sold as tequila. While this “mixto tequila” is legal and makes for a cheap bottle, it does not make for a good morning after.

Blanco, Reposado, Añejo

Tequila comes in three main types, defined by how long the spirit has been aged with wood. Blanco (sometimes also called “silver”) is simply the raw product of the fermented, distilled agave. Along with a strong punch of alcohol, the agave flavor comes through (if it’s not mixto), and this is often the type used in margaritas or other mixed drinks.

Reposado has been aged between two months to a year, and has a more pronounced flavor and a light gold tint. Añejo tequila is aged 1–3 years, and provides a smoother sip, appropriate for drinking neat, with a strong woody character. Recently, a new designation of “extra añejo” has come into use for tequilas aged longer than three years.

Armed with this primer, it’s time for a drink! What’s your favorite way to sip tequila?

Recent Articles
spacer

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
Behind the Bar: Tory Pratt of Pratt Standard

Behind the Bar: Tory Pratt of Pratt Standard

In this edition of Behind the Bar, we chatted with Tory Pratt, the founder of Pratt Standard....read more ›

by The Drink Nation Mar 7, 2019
D.C.'s Best Beer Bars

D.C.'s Best Beer Bars

Where's the best place to get your brew on? From beer gardens to bars, here are some of our favorite spots to knock back a few pints....read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Mar 5, 2019
Acclaimed Director Ridley Scott Has Made Seven Short Films for Hennessy X.O.

Acclaimed Director Ridley Scott Has Made Seven Short Films for Hennessy X.O.

Ridley Scott has directed a four-minute short film for Hennessy X.O. visualizing the seven flavors of the high...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Mar 4, 2019
SPONSORED
Drink Nation Store Rectangle
Behind the Bar: Chris Morris, Master Distiller of Woodford Reserve

Behind the Bar: Chris Morris, Master Distiller of Woodford Reserve

On this edition of Behind the Bar, we had the honor to sit down with Chris Morris, the master distiller at Woo...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Feb 28, 2019
Neighborhood Bar Crawl: H Street

Neighborhood Bar Crawl: H Street

From Asian street food and ramen to cocktail dens, H Street has a mix of it all. Check out some of our top spots to visit when dining and drinking at ...read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Feb 19, 2019
Haagen-Dazs is Making Booze-Infused Ice Cream

Haagen-Dazs is Making Booze-Infused Ice Cream

Step aside, after dinner drinks - Haagen-Dazs is releasing a line of spiked ice cream....read more ›

by The Drink Nation Feb 19, 2019
Take a Tequila Tour Through Mexico on Jose Cuervo's New 'Tequila Train'

Take a Tequila Tour Through Mexico on Jose Cuervo's New 'Tequila Train'

If you love tequila and traveling in style, you're in luck - Jose Cuervo has a new all-you-can-drink tequila t...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Feb 19, 2019
You Can Now Drink Wine Out of a 'Pringles Can' Tumbler

You Can Now Drink Wine Out of a 'Pringles Can' Tumbler

After a news story about a woman in Texas who was asked to leave Walmart for drinking wine out of an empty Pringles can went viral, one enterprising E...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Feb 5, 2019
Where to Grab a Drink After a Day of Ice Skating in D.C.

Where to Grab a Drink After a Day of Ice Skating in D.C.

Here are our top picks for where to warm up after getting your skate on....read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Feb 5, 2019
Detox With These Low-Alcohol Cocktails in D.C.

Detox With These Low-Alcohol Cocktails in D.C.

Lots of drinkers do dry months, but if you can't commit to doing a completely alcohol-free month, here are some great options for lower-alcohol conten...read more ›

by Lanna Nguyen Jan 22, 2019
SPONSORED
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close