Guest post by Dinova's director of strategic accounts, Janice McEachen.
Sunday is National Tequila Day…like we needed an excuse. I can’t tell you a quaint story like the one involving donut dollies as I’m uncertain of the origin, likely commercial. Much like Champagne and Marzano Tomatoes “tequila” is a protected term. Mexican law states that to earn the label, among other rules, tequila must be produced in the state of Jalisco (and a few other limited regions) and is made from the Tequila Agave ‘Weber Blue’ variety of agave, grown in that same region of Mexico. There is a code (NOM) on each bottle of tequila that indicates which distillery the liquor was produced in.
Don Cenobio Sauza was the first to export Tequila to the United States; his grandson Don Francisco Javier’s efforts led to the strict labeling requirements. However, it was Jose Antonio Cuervo that received the first license to commercially produce Tequila, granted to him by the King of Spain.
The tending and harvesting of the agave plant remains much as it always has, a manual process. The stalks grow several feet tall from the center of the plant and are trimmed regularly to keep the agave from flowering. This allows the core of the plant (piña) to fully ripen. It is from this piña that the agave juice is extracted. The giant plants are usually harvested between 8-10 years old. Think about it, grapes grow from the same vines year after year and wine is made with each harvest. One blue agave takes at least 8 years to get to maturity and is completely cut down when harvested. This is a long term process!
The extraction and fermentation process is similar for most producers. After the fermentation though several different versions are bottled. If distilled once the product is called “ordinario”, a second distillation produces clear “silver” or “blanco” tequila. From here the spirit can be bottled or aged in wooden barrels. The wood barrels impart the amber color you see in “reposado” (rested) which is in barrels for 2-12 months and “añejo” aged one to three years. In 2006 an additional category was added, “Extra Añejo”, which is aged over three years. If you see a gold tequila that does not carry any of these terms on the label, you are likely buying “joven” (young) or “oro” (gold) tequila. This is young silver tequila with the addition of caramel color and would fall into the category of “mixtos”, which can contain up to 49% additional sugars, think hangover. Made in a similar fashion but not to be confused with tequila, mezcal can be produced using any of 8 varieties of the agave plant.
As for the most popular cocktail made with tequila, no bottled margarita mix for me! Three ingredients, tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice and Cointreau, shaken with ice. Some margarita aficionados use agave nectar to sweeten the cocktail, but I prefer the orange flavored liqueur. There are countless ways to enjoy this complex spirit, neat for the purist, Paloma for grapefruit fans, and with Sunday Brunch how about a Bloody Maria?