Tequila is an alcoholic beverage, made from the agave plant, a native of Mexico. The heart of a mature plant (around 12 years old) is extracted, and fermented to create tequila. Tequila is the basis for the margarita, which combines tequila and lime juice (and often an orange liqueur), usually served in a salt-rimmed glass. However, tequila is traditionally consumed straight from a shot glass.
The blue agave plant was used for the basis of alcoholic beverages for many centuries before the first documented use of it for tequila (roughly the 16th century) but this crude beverage has little in common with the tequila of today. It wasn't until the 1800s, the drink that is now considered as tequila was massed produced in Mexico. After World War II, tequila gained popularity in both the United States and abroad.
While there are several varieties of tequila available today, they all are made from the blue agave plant. Aging tequila longer increases the quality of the liquor (along with the price). From least to most expensive are Blanco (white), which is usually not barrel-aged; Oro (gold), traditionally a blend of unaged and aged tequila; Reposado (rested) aged between 2 and 12 months; Anejo (aged), which is aged between one and three years; and Extra Anejo (extra aged), a new category, which is aged for longer than three years.
Agave is a succulent plant that is native to Mexico, and prospers in sandy soil and high altitudes. Characterized by long spiky leaves (as pictured on many brands of tequila), the plant averages a spread of two meters when fully mature. Due to the popularity of tequila over the past two centuries, there are both commercial and wild varieties of the agave plant.
Like Champagne and Cognac, tequila has become the generic term for any agave-based spirit, whereas it has been traditionally produced in Tequila, Mexico. However, current laws in both the United States and Mexico allow tequila to come from any region in Mexico. The Tequila region of Mexico is near Guadalajara, which is on the west coast, approximately 370 miles northwest of Acapulco.
Tequila has provided the one-hit wonders The Champs with the (mostly) instrumental classic, which continues to be a frat party perennial. The Eagles have celebrated the effects of the morning after in "Tequila Sunrise," and Jimmy Buffet pointed the finger at "that frozen concoction that helps me hang on" in "Margaritaville." Red Rocker Sammy Hagar has celebrated the blue agave plant in his song "Mas Tequila," but considering he founded a premium tequila company (and since sold a majority stake for a mere $85 million), it might be more notable as a clever marketing idea than for its artistic merit.
- Images 1, 2, 3, 5, 6: MorgueFile.com, Image 4: Chris Capelle