Tequila is made from the agave, a plant which resembles a cactus, but is actually related to the lily. An average mature agave plant can grow up to eight feet tall, up to 11 feet in diameter, and takes over a decade to mature. Tequila is produced by removing the heart (piña) of the plant in its twelfth year. There are 136 species of agave in Mexico alone but the blue agave (Agave tequilana) is renowned for producing the finest tequila and is, therefore, treasured by growers. In fact, Don Cenobio Sauza, the man who first singled out the blue agave as best suited for tequila production, once had to personally defend his agave plantation against a hoard of bandits.
Tequila is one of the oldest distilled drinks in North America. The Olmecs had a form of fermented agave which they described as ‘a delight for the gods and priests’. The Aztecs also produced a milky agave spirit called pulque. However, tequila, as we know it, dates from the late 16th century when the Spanish traded coconut brandy between Mexico and the Philippines. When the Mexicans ran out of the liquor, they experimented with Agave, and tequila was born.
The Aztecs had a goddess of tequila, Mayahuel, who was followed around by her children - a bunch of 400 drunk rabbits.
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.
Over 300 million agave plants are harvested every year for tequila.
Like champagne, Cornish pasties and Arbroath smokies, tequila may only be named as such if it is made in a certain region. In tequila’s case it is the Mexican state of Jalisco (where the city of Tequila lies) and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Producers outside the official tequila region make ‘agave liquor’.
In 2012, the National Chamber of the Tequila Industry tried to ban distillers outside the five-state boundary from using the word ‘agave’ to describe their drinks. A letter from 343 experts, from biologists to sociologists, expressed ‘forthright opposition’ to the proposal.
In Mexico, tequila production has increased every time the country has been at war.
A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history, with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.
Contrary to popular practice, tequila should be drunk the way the Mexicans do – by sipping. It was never traditional in Mexico to ‘slam’ it i.e. throw it down your throat in one gulp.
Lime and salt is also an unnecessary tequila condiment; the practice of including these with a tequila shot was invented by marketers who claimed that salt lessens the burn of the tequila and lime ‘balances and enhances the flavour’. As tequila experts will tell you, good tequila doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’ in this way.
As for the ‘worm’ myth, there is no authentic tequila which contains a butterfly caterpillar. However, some US brands put one in their bottles to impress the public - a marketing ploy dating back to the 1940s. It presumably works as the USA accounts for over half the world’s tequila consumption.
In the 1930s, doctors in Mexico recommended 0.5 ounces of tequila, 0.5 ounces of agave nectar and 0.5 ounce of fresh lime juice to fight off a cold. Out-dated though this seems, modern scientists have discovered that the agave plant has health-enhancing properties.
Extracts of agave can help dissolve fats and lower cholesterol (unfortunately not after being distilled into alcohol) and, in 2012, the Polytechnic Institute of Guanajuato showed that agave juice can stimulate the GLP-1 hormone, thus increasing insulin production.
Agave may also be used in future as a source of biofuel, as the ethanol derived from it can produce five times as much energy as is put into growing the crop. It also has the advantage over many other plants that it grows in barren, arid land so other crops would not have to be sacrificed.
When heated to 800 degrees Celsius, tequila turns into tiny diamonds.
When alcohol was banned in Sonora, Mexico in 1917, 600 bottles of tequila were publicly destroyed; locals flocked to scoop it from the gutter.
Tequilas from agave grown in the highlands are fruity and floral; those from the valleys are earthier with a bit of spice.
The piña (heart) of the agave plant can weigh up to 90kg (200lbs) when harvested.