There’s more than one type of tequila and they’re not just for margaritas. So how is one tequila different from another? There’s only one way to tell: tequila tasting. As with fine wine, quality tequila is a drink to be savored like cognac or brandy. A quality tequila does not need lime and salt, which dull the flavor, but benefits instead from cinnamon and orange, which enhance it. Tequila tasting combines various small but important details to make the flavor pop in your palate.
Before unveiling our tequila tasting, see how much you know about tequila.
Tequila is North America’s first distilled drink − yes, Mexico is in North America − dating back to the early 16th century after the Spanish conquest. Originating from the Aztec drink “octili poliqhui” (called pulque by the Spanish), it comes from the pulp in the center of the “mexcalmetl” or maguey (Spanish for Agave Americana) plant. The Aztecs first discovered when the agave liquid was exposed to air, it would ferment into a delightful, mild, alcoholic beverage.
As the Spaniards’ favorite drink, they started experimenting with pulque distillation to create a stronger alcoholic beverage. They discovered that cooking the agave pulp resulted in a sweeter drink, which after fermenting and distilling, became mezcal.* In the village of Tequila (named after the Ticuilas Indians), they made a local version of mezcal from the blue agave plant (Agave Tequilana Weber), which had a better flavor than the original.
This region became the official location for making tequila, which can still only be produced in the states of Jalisco (where the town of Tequila is located), Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan, and Tamaulipas. Today, tequila production is regulated by Norma Oficial Mexicana (Official Mexican Standard) or NOM. To be labeled tequila, it must contain at least 51% pure blue agave; 100% agave tequila can only be made in Mexico.
Five Tequila Categories
At Hacienda Tres Rios’ Agave Bar, guest can do their own tequila tasting or instead, learn from tequila aficionado, Chef Oscar, who leads the official tequila tasting on the terrace. First, he introduces the five official categories of tequila based on their age and color as determined by NOM:
- Blanco or Plata (white or silver): young tequila, clear color, robust flavor; good for mixed drinks and shots.
- Joven or Oro (young or gold): not aged, light gold color, smoother flavor; good for mixed drinks and shots.
- Reposado (rested or aged): aged between 2 months and 1 year, most popular tequila type, golden color, slightly smoother flavor; good for mixed drinks and shots.
- Añejo (aged or vintage): aged between 1 and 3 years, amber color, exceptional quality and smooth flavor; best consumed neat, chilled, and sipped like brandy.
- Extra Añenjo (ultra aged or mature): aged a minimum of 3 years, dark amber color, superior quality and a smooth, complex flavor; best consumed neat, chilled, and sipped like cognac.
Tequila Tasting Process
1st − Glasses with tequila are distributed. Hold the glass up to the light, consider the tequila color, then swirl it around. Check the consistency of the tequila as it drips down the inside of the glass. Does it run down quickly or slowly? Is the liquid thinner or thicker?
2nd− Next, bring the glass to your nose and smell the medley of scents. Before sipping the tequila, count to three, inhale, and hold your breath (exposure to air contaminates the flavor). Immediately take a sip, swirl it around in your mouth, swallow and exhale. What flavors do you detect? Citrus, spice, wood, floral, vanilla, caramel, chocolate…?
|Intermission − To get into the tequila spirit, guests are instructed to repeat Chef Oscar’s original verse called the Cuchi Cuchi: “Arriba, abajo, al centro, para adentro,” (put your hand behind your head and move your hips around while saying…) “cuchi, cuchi.” Loosely translated: one tequila (up), two tequila (down), three tequila (center), drink (inside) and fall to the floor (cuchi cuchi…whoops)!|
3rd − And the process continues after sampling various tequilas within each category. Each type is unique, and everyone has a different favorite.
4th − For the final taste, a special tomato juice blend called sangrita is mixed, poured, and shared with guests. Made to pair with a Blanco or Reposado tequila, guests first take a sip of sangrita alternating with a sip of tequila, which accentuates the delicious tequila taste.
So savor the flavor. There’s only one place where tequila is worth drinking, and that’s where it was born: Mexico!
* Mezcal (also mescal) is still produced today but, being distilled only once, is not as smooth as tequila, which is distilled twice.