¡Feliz Día Nacional del Tequila! It’s time to celebrate that most infamous of spirits, tequila (responsibly, of course). We understand that the mere mention of tequila creates images of shooters in most people’s heads but today, just once, just for us, try sipping and actually tasting great tequila. Today is a holiday – you deserve it. Not only that, it’s a holiday that falls on a Friday this year. It doesn’t get much better than that!
So, what exactly is tequila, other than the catalyst of either a great night or brutal hangover? Technically, tequila is actually a type of mezcal which is produced using only the blue agave plant. Tequila is made primarily in the surrounding lowlands area of Tequila, although it’s also produced in the highlands, also known as Los Altos. Both areas are located in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Agaves that are grown in Los Altos tend to be larger than their lowlands counterparts and are also sweeter in flavor and aroma while the lowlands agaves tend to be herbaceous. Legally, tequila is only permitted to be produced in the state of Jalisco and in certain municipalities in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. In fact, both the United States of America and Canada recognize tequila as a protected product of Mexico via NAFTA.
Tequila is truly a handcrafted spirit. For the most part, planting and harvesting the blue agaves is manual labor. The harvesters, known as jimadores, have learned their craft through centuries – literally – of know-how passed down over generations. The jimadores know how to keep agaves from flowering and dying before they’re fully ripe and also how to skillfully cut away the leaves from the succulent core, called the piña. The piñas are then taken to ovens and baked slowly before being mashed or shredded by a large stone wheel called a tahona. The agave juice, now extracted, is poured into either stainless steel or wooden vats to ferment over several days which results in a wort (mosto in Spanish), liquid that contains the sugars that will eventually produce alcohol. The wort is then distilled one time to create what is called ordinario. A second distillation produces silver, plata or blanco tequila, the clear version of this Mexican spirit. After the second distillation producers can either distill a third time (which many connoisseurs feel is a mistake as it can remove flavor), bottle the silver tequila or age the liquid in wooden barrels.
Blanco, plata or silver tequila is just one type. There is also golden, or joven or oro, which is simply unaged tequila that has been flavored with caramel coloring, oak extract, sugar-based syrup or glycerin. Golden tequila can also be made by blending a clear tequila with an aged version of the liquid. There’s also reposado tequila. Reposado means “rested” and must be aged a minimum of two months but less than one year and aged in oak barrels of any size. Añejo means “vintage” or “aged” and must be aged at least one year but less than three in small oak barrels. Finally, there is the category of extra añejo, introduced in March 2006. These products must be aged for at least three years in oak barrels.
Before we let you go to head to your favorite Mexican restaurant, tequila bar or friends’ place to celebrate National Tequila Day, we feel we must address the elephant in the room. Or, more accurately, the worm (or scorpion) in the bottle. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the worm (or gusano) is simply a marketing gimmick that has permeated popular culture. The worm is not a Mexican tradition and, in fact, it’s the larval form of a moth known as Hyopta agavis. These insects live in agave plants and are actually a bad sign: they indicate an infestation and low quality tequila. Neither worms nor scorpions are permitted by the tequila regulatory council to be inserted into tequila or mezcal bottles. If you want a worm for some reason, only specific mezcals produced in the Mexican state of Oaxaca are permitted to be sold con gusano, or “with worm.” Now you know!
Now that you know more than you may have ever wondered about tequila, it’s time for you to go out and celebrate National Tequila Day. Order up a fantastic reposado or anejo, ask if the bar or restaurant can make you a sangrita (a traditional palate cleanser that translates to “little blood”) and sip your way through the holiday. Authentic sangrita, by the way, consists of Seville orange, lime and pomegranate juices combined with chili powder or hot sauce. Some believe that tomato juice should take the place of chili powder but that isn’t the authentic version. ¡Salud!
National Tequila Day Recipes
Sure, you could order yet another margarita or throw back a shooter but where’s the fun in doing the expected? Try one of these instead!
The Mexican Martini developed by Garrett Flanagan for El Original
Shake 3.0 ounces of tequila, 1.5 ounces of lime juice, 1.5 ounces of simple syrup and a half-ounce of olive juice with ice, pour into a martini glass and garnish with olives.
Añejo Old Fashioned by Tequila Herradura
Muddle 2 orange slices, 2 scoops of sugar and 3 drops of Angostura Bitters in an Old Fashioned glass. Add an ice sphere to the glass. Add a half-ounce of Herradura Añejo and garnish with brandied cherries.
Peach Colored Glasses by Meaghan Montagano
Shake 1.5 ounces of DeLeón Platinum Tequila, 1 ounce of Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach, 0.75 ounces spiced honey syrup, a half-ounce of lemon juice and a half-ounce of peach puree over ice. Top with a splash of sparkling brut rosé.
Mile High by Avión Tequila
Lightly muddle 2 jalapeño wheels and a half-ounce of agave nectar in a shaker. Add 2 ounces of Tequila Avión Silver, 1 ounce pineapple juice and a half-ounce of fresh lime juice to shaker and fill with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a large rocks rimmed with a mixture of salt and chili powder. Garnish with either a lime wheel or pineapple wedge.