As Mississaugans get ready to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on May 5—a day that, ironically, isn’t widely celebrated in Mexico—our thoughts turn naturally to that potent white elixir known as tequila… and to the shots that will be inevitably served all day.
“One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor…”
It’s too bad that all tequila stories are associated with the decidedly inelegant floor ending, because the truth is, whatever tequila you’re shooting, even tequila cruda (that salt + lime + shot) actually took a minimum of eight years to get to the glass.
In fact, all the agave-based distilled spirits from Mexico offer so much more than a shot, a nasty worm and a burn. Poured over ice on a hot day, few spirits are more aromatic and flavourful. Cucumber, pepper, florals, honey and vanilla are just a few of the notes that you’ll find in a well-crafted tequila.
Indeed, Canada’s tequila love has skyrocketed in the past few years, enjoying a 10.6 per cent volume increase in 2018. And worldwide, in the super premium tequila market, volume has increased a whopping 568 percent since 2002. That’s thanks, in no small part, to celebrities like Sean Combs, Justin Timberlake and George Clooney getting in on the high-end tequila game, coming out with their own brands.
Let’s learn a little bit more about the surprisingly sophisticated liquor otherwise known as ‘Vitamin T’.
- Tequila was originally used during rituals beginning 2,000 years ago;
- The town of Tequila was founded in 1656 in what is now the Mexican state of Jalisco. It didn’t take long for tequila to be produced throughout the country. Jose Cuervo was the first to commercialize the product;
- Tequila can only be made within particular regions of certain Mexican states. They include 124 municipalities of Jalisco (including the town of Tequila).
How it’s made
Tequila is the opportunistic product of the life cycle of the blue weber agave plant, a succulent, not a cactus, that defies desert temperatures to mature, after eight years, into a giant, spiky beast. Unlike a grapevine, agave are one-time use plants: the massive heart, or pina, is cut out and processed by hand, to make tequila. The pinas are then team-cooked. While tequila, like vodka and gin, is a clear spirit, it is actually pot-distilled, usually at least twice.
Once it’s been distilled to strength, it’s either bottled (for a blanco/joven) or aged for a period of time in any variety of wooden barrels or casks. Younger tequilas will have more of a green, earthy heat while aged tequilas will be mellower and increasingly rich and complex as time increases.
Other agave-based liquors, such as mezcal, are gaining a renewed notoriety. Unlike tequila, mezcal can use any of eight approved varieties of the agave plant and it has a noticeably smoky flavour. Technically tequila is a mezcal, but all mezcals are not tequila.
This is also where the tequila worm of legend comes into the story. While the reason is obscure, one version says that the worm was placed in the bottles to prove that the alcohol is high enough to preserve a worm intact. The worm itself is the larva of two moths that live on the agave plant and, as many frat boys have proven, they are safe to consume.
FUN FACT: Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s underdog victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. The victory was galvanizing for the Mexican forces—and for those supporting them from afar—but it was short-lived, as France later occupied Mexico for a few years. Still, Cinco de Mayo continued to be celebrated in Mexico and, perhaps more significantly, by Americans and Canadians north of the border.
BEWARE: Of “mixto,” tequila made with only 51 per cent agave, and the remainder made from a neutral spirit made from cane sugar—hence the nasty hangover. Only 100 per cent Weber blue agave tequilas will reward with more complexity.
BY KRISTY EILK
Border MX Mexican Grill
El Mariachi Tacos and Churros