Beyond the Wine Aisle

What is Tequila?

What is tequila? Courtesy of

Tequila is a spirit made from the blue agave plant.

What is agave?
Agave is a succulent (not a cactus) that grows wild all over Mexico and Central America. Blue agave is a specific type of agave that must be used to make tequila. All Tequila must be at least 51% blue agave and most quality distillers use 100%.

Where is tequila made?
Tequila must be distilled and bottled in one of five states in Mexico (Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Tamaulipas). Tequila is strictly regulated by a branch of the Mexican Government known as the CRT (Tequila Regulatory Council). The majority of the tequila that is imported into the United States is produced in or around the town of Tequila, in Jalisco.

Why is it called tequila?
The word tequila itself is shrouded in mystery. Some sources say it's a rough translation of an ancient Nahuatl word that means “the place of harvesting plants,” or “the place of wild herbs.” According to Jose Maria Muria, tequila comes from the Nahuatl words tequilt (work, job, duty, task) and tlan (place). Still, other sources say it is a corruption of the name of the natives, Ticuilas or Tiquilos. What we do know, is that tequila is the name of the spirit, the town, and the valley.

Are tequila and mezcal the same thing?
Yes and no, all tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Mezcal is a general term form any spirit made from the agave plant. Officially, mezcal can be made from any of the 28 different types of agave and in one of six different counties in three different states. Most mezcal produced for export is made in the southern state of Oaxaca and is made from Espadin Agave. The major difference between tequila and mezcal, other than the type of agave used, is in the production. In tequila production, agave is steam baked in ovens. In mezcal, the agave is fire roasted in in-ground pits, which is where the smoky, earthy flavor of mezcal comes from.

At what age does tequila mature? It takes an agave plant approximately 8 years to reach a muturity level that makes it suitable for harvesting and using in tequila production.

Tequila, From Mexico to the states.
Tequila was first imported into the United States in 1873 when the first load was transported to El Paso, Texas. In 1973 tequila sales in the US topped one million cases.

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