National Tequila Day and the Drink’s Surprising History
Tequila is one of the most popular alcohols in the world. You'll find it sold in supermarkets and served at bars in practically any country. The Champs even wrote a hit song whose lyrics consist of shouting a single word: "tequila."
But despite its ubiquitous presence, people know surprisingly little about the drink. In fact, there is a high probability that what you've been taking shots of isn't even the real thing.
To celebrate National Tequila Day (which, really, could be any day), we have the lowdown on what authentic tequila is, plus suggestions on the best Mexican-owned tequila brands you can find in the U.S.
A Brief History of Tequila
Tequila as we know it today — a smooth, clear liquid that ends with a punch — was created in the 16th century. But its origins date back to around 1000 B.C., with pulque, a drink Mesoamerican tribes made from the agave plant. (You can still find pulque in Mexico, by the way, so make sure to try it when you visit.)
When the Spanish invaded, they appropriated the idea of pulque and started distilling agave. The resulting products were mezcal and tequila, two of Mexico's most popular drinks.
Commercialization happened when Spain banned the production of Mexican wine in an attempt to protect its own commerce. An aristocrat named Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle saw this as an opportunity. Around the year 1600, he opened the first tequila factory in a Jalisco town that would later be named, yep, Tequila.
For this, he is known as the "Father of Tequila."
Different Types of Tequila
There are two main classifications of tequila: mixto and 100 percent agave.
Mixto, or mixed tequila, is just labeled "tequila." This type of tequila has to have a minimum of 51 percent blue agave juice. It is of lesser quality but it's also usually more affordable.
On the other hand, 100 percent agave tequila contains no sugars or juices other than that which comes from the plant. This is what makes it smoother and tastier. It's also what helps you avoid a terrible hangover.
These two tequila categories are then divided into five classes: silver, gold, aged, extra aged, and ultra aged. The difference is in quality. Ultra aged tequila is aged in a barrel for a minimum of three years, so its flavor is rich and deep.
How to Tell Real Tequila From the Fake Stuff
Like champagne or parmesan cheese, tequila has a protected designation of origin. This means that real tequila can only come from specific regions of Mexico, specifically Jalisco, though certain areas of Nayarit, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas and Michoacan are also included. If it's made anywhere else, it's just an imitation.
When buying a bottle, make sure you check for a four-digit number on the side. This is the distillery's code that proves the authenticity of the product.
We're sorry to say that the "tequila" shots you've been taking at the club are probably not actual tequila. But the good news is that now you know what to look for when buying a bottle.
National Tequila Day in Mexico
The official National Day of Tequila in Mexico is celebrated on the third Saturday of March. If you're lucky enough to be in the country at the time, expect wild festivities.
But any day can be Tequila Day if you want. You'll find the drink sold virtually everywhere in the country. Plus there are always cool tours, museums and activities that allow for a much deeper understanding and appreciation of this Mexican culinary staple.
You can do tequila tastings or tour distilleries to see the complex and time-intensive process of making the liquor. One of the most famous tours is the Jose Cuervo Express in Guadalajara. You'll board a 19th-century-inspired train and be whisked deeply into the world of the beloved drink.
You can also look for cultural opportunities at your hotel. Hacienda Encantada Resort in Los Cabos, for example, has an onsite Tequila Museum, with an accompanying delicious tequila-centric restaurant.
National Tequila Day Around the World
You don't have to be in Mexico to celebrate tequila. People around the planet love this drink so much that there is actually an official worldwide National Day of Tequila, held on July 24. Though not as popular as other random holidays like Cinco de Mayo, the day is slowly but surely gaining traction.
Take this as an opportunity to enjoy the taste of tequila, but don't just leave it at that. You can begin by making sure that you get the authentic drink, rather than go for the cheap imitations, or look for tequila tasting tours in your area.
And if you really want to do it right, skip the shots and the frozen margaritas. Tequila is meant to be sipped slowly and should not be cold or frozen.
Of course, if you love your margaritas and your shots, go ahead and have it your way.
Best Mexican Tequila Brands You Can Find in the U.S.
Now that you know tequila can only come from Mexico, you probably want to ignore knock-off brands. But, how do you know which brands to support?
We've rounded up five easily accessible Mexican-owned tequila brands that you can always trust.
1. Jose Cuervo
Founded in: 1795
Distillery location: Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico
Known for: Jose Cuervo is the most successful tequila brand in the world. It was also the first official tequila distillery. The owners are still the direct descendants of Don José Antonio de Cuervo.
2. Pueblo Viejo
Founded in: 1886
Distillery location: Los Altos, Jalisco, Mexico
Known for: Pueblo Viejo is owned by Distilleria San Matias, one of the oldest in the country. The distillery is located in the highlands of Jalisco, whose red soil is rich in minerals that give it a deep flavor.
3. Siete Leguas
Founded in: 1952
Distillery location: Atotonilco, Jalisco, Mexico
Known for: Siete Leguas is a family-owned business that uses traditional methods like brick ovens, a tahona (a stone wheel that crushes agave) pulled by mules and copper pots for distillation. Its name, which means "seven leagues," comes from the favorite horse of Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa.
Founded in: 2005 (really 1873)
Distillery location: Tequila, Jalisco
Known for: Fortaleza is the heir to La Perseverancia, the first tequila brand to be imported into the U.S. Don Javier, a grandson of the original founder, was one of the leaders that pushed for the product to have a protected designation of origin.
Though the distillery closed, the family opened it up again in 2005, using the same traditional methods as they did in the 19th century.
5. Clase Azul
Founded in: 1997
Distillery location: Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico
Known for: Clase Azul's beautiful and unique bottles are hand-painted by local artisans. The premium brand is meant to be sipped and enjoyed rather than mixed or shot back. You'll want to keep the bottle, as no two have the same pattern.
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