The magical spirit that initiates so many into the world of drinking (and very shortly thereafter, the world of hangovers) is approached with trepidation by many a drinker. But tequila is, in fact, a wondrous spirit that has much more to offer than the perils of a hangover.
Made for centuries in Mexico, it comes from a plant called the Blue Weber Agave, which is closely related to the aloe vera family and in no way related to a cactus. It’s one of the most heavily regulated spirits in the world in terms of production. Tequila can only be made from the single genus of agave and only produced in five specifically regulated regions in Mexico. All production is heavily scrutinised by the CRT (El Consejo Regulador del Tequila), a government-run body that checks on every facet of production at every distillery.
Where the lines become blurred is when ‘mixto’ tequila comes into play. It’s a combination of spirit made from agave and mixed with another spirit (usually sugar cane) and then with caramels and other flavourings added. It’s an inferior, cheaper product and is probably what gave you that awful hangover. So best opt for 100 per cent agave tequila, which is not overly expensive in comparison.
Like many liquors, aging changes the style, flavour and colour. There are three stages of aging tequila: the blanco is either straight off the still, rested for a while or a very short time in barrel; the reposado is a ‘rested’ tequila, meaning it might spend up to a year in a barrel; and the anejo is an aged tequila, which spends up to three years in a barrel. The more age, the more expensive the tequila, as the wood from the barrel imparts natural flavours that make sipping easier and more enjoyable.
Tequila is really very versatile, making a great mixer in drinks like the Paloma and the El Diablo, proving it’s worth far beyond a straight shot. Remember to hold the lemon and salt next time you order a decent tequila – you really shouldn’t need it.