Behind the Label: Tequila

Tequila, a spirit made from the agave plant, is named after the Mexican town where the drink was first produced. The liquor we know and love today didn’t start off the way we know it now. In its earliest version, it was known as pulque, a beer-like drink made from the fermented sap of the agave plant by the Aztec civilisation in what is now northern Mexico. It’s a technique that dates back to 1000 BC.

The Spanish invasion of the area in the 1500s brought the distillation process to the South American shores. After brandy supplies ran low, a new option was in high demand. By the early 1600s, a Spanish nobleman built the first large-scale distillery in what in the town of Tequila, in Jalisco, a region where the majority of tequila is still produced.

In 1758, the Cuervo family began distilling tequila. Their name is still on the labels of one of the biggest players in the market. Later, in the 1800s, the blue agave plant was identified as the best one to make tequila from. From this point, the tequila of today is much the same of the tequila then. Only liquor made from this blue agave plant can call itself tequila – equally, in line with regulation, only spirits made in Mexico can be bear this storied name.

First, the heart of the blue agave plant is harvested using a special knife called a ‘coa’. The plant heard is then baked to extract the fermentable sugars, before it is shredded to extract the juice using either a traditional or mechanical method. This juice is then fermented and then combined with yeast and water in large tanks or barrels. Next, the mixture is distilled, typically twice.

Silver tequila, typically a clear liquid, is any distilled tequila that is bottled immediately or within two months of distillation. Gold tequila is aged in oak barrels, giving it the namesake colour, before being bottled: ‘blanco’ is aged for 2-12 months, ‘reposado’ is aged for 1-3 years and ‘añejo’ for more than 3 years.

Tequila, in contemporary culture, may be most commonly known as a shot taken with salt and lemon with swift intoxication as the goal. However, as the difference between lower-quality and top-shelf tequila becomes more widely known, more and more people are enjoying this flavoursome spirit – slowly sipping – neat, on the rocks or with a splash of water, similar to how you’ll enjoy a good whisky/ey.