The backbone of every great margarita is an even better tequila. But this South of the Border spirit has developed quite the reputation and is strewn in misconception. To shine some light on the mystery, we offer a crash course in tequila, to help leave you a more informed drinker that just might be able to impress that know-it-all bar buddy.
All tequila is made in Mexico. The spirit is produced from the blue agave plant, which is in the lily family, and requires nutrients from the region’s soil.
Tequila is a relatively new spirit in the United States; it was first exported here in the early 1900s. Today, there are more than 2,100 brands of tequila and 154 distilleries.
Types of tequila
There are five types of tequila:
- Blanco, which is bottled no more than two months after distillation.
- Joven, which is a mix of blanco and reposado.
- Reposado, which has aged between two months and a year.
- Añejo, which has aged between one and three years.
- Extra añejo, which has aged more than three years.
The steps for sampling tequila is similar to winetasting:
- Observe the liquid. Hold the glass up to the light, and examine its hues. The color will vary depending on the type of tequila: blanco is clear, joven is light gold, reposado is gold, añejo is amber and extra añejo is dark amber.
- Spin the glass. This demonstrates how the liquid moves (some stick to the inside of the glass) and releases air.
- Smell the tequila. This is an important step, because it sets an expectation for how a spirit will taste. Place your nose in the glass, keep your mouth closed and take a quick sniff. What should you smell? The answer is different for everybody, and the aroma will vary depending on the type of tequila, but common scents include grapefruit, banana, citrus, agave, black pepper, lemon and lime.
- Drink up. The first taste should coat the mouth. Then sip it as you would a fine liqueur—and, if you prefer, chase it with a bit of lime.
That story about finding a worm in every bottle of tequila? It’s an embellished urban legend. During the production process, some distilleries used to test the strength of the tequila by dropping a worm in the barrel. If the skin disintegrated, it meant the spirit was too strong, so they would add water. These days, the mythical worm is a marketing gimmick and only appears in certain brands.