Tequila comes in several varieties and may be referred to in some circles as Montezuma's Legacy, but the fact of the matter is that it was crafted and refined by the Spanish.
Like Mexican culture itself, Tequila is the result of a creative encounter between two worlds although it is likely that Mexicans would not be inclined to refer to it as creative as much as confrontational, an imposition and, reluctantly, a conquering. The ancient indigenous peoples of this romantic country drank the fermented juice of the agave in the same way that Europeans drank beer or wine. In colonial times, the Spanish came, they saw, and they introduced the distillation process to obtain the liquor now known as Tequila. It may be referred to in some circles as Montezuma's Legacy, but the fact of the matter is that it was crafted and refined by the Spanish who, while spreading their culture, were intent upon maintaining their love of intemperance and serious drinking.
I am not suggesting that you open a still in your basement in an attempt to improve the vintage, but for those who wish to know a bit more than simply savoring Tequila, it is a spirit made by fermenting and distilling the juice of the blue agave plant. It is grown in an officially delimited region of west-central Mexico, including the town of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco. The end product must be - make that should be - at least 51% derived from that plant, although most bottles will be labeled 100%. The blue agave, contrary to what many are led to believe, either by guessing or being told by misinformed self-proclaimed experts, is not part of the cactus family so stop looking around the deserts of Arizona to impress those traveling with you. Mezcal, interestingly enough, is the Aztec word for the agave plant but it is not a Tequila, although Mezcal comes from the agave plant it is from outside the delimited area. Sometimes it is bottled with a worm, and for the pedestrian enjoyment of a cocktail before, or during, dinner, this is not the most appealing vision one could hope for. Ignore it.
The blue agave plant is grown in an officially delimited region of west-central Mexico, including the town of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco, located between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.
By way of comparison and analogy, think of Cognac produced in a specified geographic area of France and French brandy produced outside that area. Hence all Tequila is mescal, but not all Mezcal is Tequila. If that is confusing to any degree, no need to store it in some memory bank or even refer to it when enjoying Tequila. Just enjoy.
On the other hand, if you are getting ready for that next tasting party at your home or simply are desirous of furthering your education about Tequila, know that it takes eight to 10 years for a blue agave plant to reach maturity. The juice-filled cores are then harvested, trimmed, cut in quarters, baked in steam ovens until their starch converts to sugar, at which point they are pumped into fermentation tanks and combined with cane sugar and yeast. So much for the calorie count. The more sugar that is added (up to 49% of the mixture) the less pungent the Tequila will be. All Tequilas are double distilled in pot stills (a few utilize a triple distillation, and several use a continuous still), and the second distillation converts the liquor into clean, white high-proof spirit. This Tequila is filtered and its alcohol strength adjusted with demineralized water that brings it to its bottling proof. (Usually 80).
Tequila can be White/Silver/Plata/Blanco (86% of the Mexican market) that is colorless, with little aging. These are the base for all other Tequilas and a great choice for mixed drinks. Gold/Joven is un-aged Tequila to which select cane sugar or caramels have been added for that tawny color you occasionally see. They are also perfect for mixed drinks and tend to taste a little sweeter than Blanco. Reposado is aged in wood tanks or barrels for at least two months, but many average six months. Should you ask when ordering? Why not? If you know it, flaunt it. Anejo must have at least one year in wood (often more than the minimum). When you order this, it is proper that you sip it slowly and it can best be enjoyed as an after-dinner drink. Tequila labels usually bear the letters- NOM (Norma Official Mexicana) which are the initials of the Mexican government agency and serves as a quality seal. So examine the bottle's label for it.
John Poister, author of The New American Bartender’s Guide, said "Tequila is pungent and fairly yeasty, it marries well with other spirits, liqueurs and fruity juices." I conducted a tasting of 25 Tequilas for this feature and the 25 participants included Tasters Guild NY members and Tequila representatives. Prices given below are full mark-up, as you are likely to find when purchasing. The comments with each reflect the participants as well as myself.
THE TASTING - if you wish to have one of your own...
The Tequila Shake- Don’t swirl, place your hand over the mouth of the glass and shake the liquid to release its aroma. Drink at room temperature with water added to judge the products properly.
APERITIF- Montezuma Gold- $18- Light golden color, Smokey, peppery, sharp & earthy
FLIGHT 1- BLANCO/PLATA/SILVER/WHITE
1- Herradura Silver- $38- Clear color, aged for 40 days; fresh, fruity flavor. Spearmint, sweet metallic finish.
2- Tres Generaciones Plata- $46- 100% blue Agave. Clean, tea bag, sweet wood polish, oily finish.- FAVORITE IN THIS FLIGHT
3- Hacienda del Cristero Blanco- $48- 100% Agave, clean light color. Triple distilled, floral, pineapple nose, peppery, fiery.
4- Don Eduardo Silver- $38- 100% Agave, triple distilled, briny nose that changed to a sweet nose. Cinnamon, peppery, round, full in the mouth.
FLIGHT 2- MEZCAL
5- Monte Alban Mezcal- $25- Caramel color, toast nose with a smoky finish.
6- Talapa Mezcal Reposado- $23- Caramel color using cane sugar; smoky sweet taste.- FAVORITE IN THIS FLIGHT
FLIGHT 3- REPOSADO
7- El Jimador Reposado- $28- Pale straw color. Three months in oak, mellow finish with not much character.
8- Reserva 1800 Reposado- $30- Nine months in French & American oak barrels. Honey brown color, chocolate nose, slightly sweet flavor.
9- Cazadores Reposado- $33- 100% blue Agave. Aged in Kentucky oak barrels. Light color, mint taste and rather uninteresting.
10- Corazon Reposado- $48- Pale bronze color. Citrus, not sweet, soft, smooth, easy to drink with an herbal finish.- ONE OF TWO FAVORITES IN THIS FLIGHT
11- Patron Reposado- $50- Six months in oak barrels. Lemony, dry and very Rum like. - ONE OF TWO FAVORITES IN THIS FLIGHT.
12- Gran Centenario Reposado- $50- Light, slightly green golden color. Six months in French oak. Musty, earthy nose. Starts out sweet, but finishes dry, with tropical fruit flavors.
FLIGHT 4- ANEJO
13- Corralejo Anejo- $55- Light color, double distilled in copper stills. Forgettable.
14- Reserva Antigua 1800 Anejo- $38- 100% blue Agave with golden amber color. Soft, smooth, complex flavors of chocolate & honey.
15- El Jimador Anejo- $45- Not as much character as previously tasted Anejos but ended lovely.
16- Don Eduardo Anejo- $50- 100% Agave, light color, aged in American Bourbon oak for two years. Complex, peppery and smooth.
17- Tres Generaciones Anejo- $50- 100% blue Agave; aged three years in oak barrels. Smooth and sweet on the nose and palate.
18- Herradura Anejo- $50- Deep amber color. Aged two years in oak barrels. Licorice, iodine, spicy, complex. For sipping like a Cognac or brand
19- Espolon Anejo- $52- Dark amber color. Aged one year in white oak barrels. Vanilla & butterscotch- ONE OF TWO FAVORITES IN THIS FLIGHT
20- Gran Centenario Anejo- $55- Dark amber color. Minimum 18 months in small French oak casks. Spicy, earthy, mineral, vanilla
21- Cabo Wabo Anejo Milenio- $68- Light color; One year in white oak barrels. A different, yet lovely funky nose. Subtle vanilla, caramel, honey- THIRD FAVORITE IN THIS FLIGHT
22- Corazon Anejo- $75- Dark amber color. Aged in American oak. Sweet, floral honeyed nose. Caramel and tea.
23- Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia- $110- 5 years in 50% FRENCH & 50% American oak. Toasty, butterscotch, vanilla, honey. A long finish that reminded me of brandy or Cognac- ONE OF TWO FAVORITES IN THIS FLIGHT
DESSERT- Agavero Tequila Liqueur- $30- 100% blue Agave that is a blend of Reposado & Anejo. Aged in charred white oak barrels. Light color, sweet & smooth. 64 proof.
F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal- Top 100 distilled brands mentions the Cuervo Reserva at #23; Herradura Anejo at #55; and gives 3 Stars (out of 5) to the Cazadores Reposado