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  • Writer's pictureClaire @ fromthegrapevine

Tequila for beginners


Photo of a tequila based cocktail and the words "National Tequila Day"

Each year, the 24th of July is National Tequila Day. It's the one spirit that had a bad reputation over the years but appears to be coming back into fashion with some quality (and expensive) tequilas on the market.


How much do you know about tequila? Here we cover some basics for beginners (like me!):


Tequila is a distilled spirit made from the blue agave plant and produced only in five areas of Mexico. When making tequila, the hearts of the agave plant (called piñas) are removed and cooked, then ground and fermented for anywhere from a few months to three years. Tequilas are made from 100% blue agave, while lower-end tequilas, called ‘mixtos’, typically contain 51% agave with the remaining made up of molasses, corn syrup or other sugars.


Real tequila is distinguished by its age and distillation process. It is divided into three categories: Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo. Blanco (or silver) tequilas are the base form of all tequilas. It is undiluted and unaged for the most part. Reposado tequilas are rested in oak barrels for two months up to a year, while Añejos are aged for 1 to 3 years. You can also find "Extra añejo", which is aged for at least three years in oak barrels with a maximum capacity of 600 litres. These generally have more of a smoky flavour and can be compared to fine French Cognacs with similar price tags. In 2006, an extra category was added - Curados - these are tequilas flavoured with natural ingredients such as lemon, orange, strawberry, pineapple and pear.


Tequila can be drunk on its own or in a cocktail. Some of the better-known cocktails include:


Tequila Sunrise - A mix of grenadine, tequila, triple sec, orange juice – and of course a cocktail cherry and umbrella as garnish


Margaritas - Tequila, triple sec and lime juice for the base, and various additions can make different varieties of margarita (spicy, cranberry, coconut...)


Long Island Iced Tea - It's made with equal parts of vodka, gin, tequila, rum and triple sec, plus lime, cola and plenty of ice


National Tequila Day is the celebration of everything to do with this classic drink, whether it is enjoyed straight or as part of a tasty cocktail. In 2018, National Tequila Day was officially recognized by the Mexican government, and now everyone wants to celebrate – not just today but all year round!


Here are some Tequila facts;

  • Its name is derived from the Mexican town of Tequila, which lies to the northwest of the major city of Guadalajara.

  • Mezcal is also a distilled spirit made from the agave plant that originates in Mexico. Tequila is made explicitly from blue agave, while mezcal can be made using any variety of agave plant. Therefore all tequilas are mescals, but not all mescals are tequila.

  • Tequila can be used as a marinade, glaze, or syrup. You can use tequila for foods like pork tenderloin, shrimp, chicken thighs, baby back ribs, or even a sorbet! Our favourite cuisine with a hint of tequila in it? Why not?

  • Tequila is often served with salt and lime. This was started in 1930, when Northern Mexico was hit hard with an epidemic of Spanish influenza. Doctors at the time believed that tequila was the best remedy to fight the disease. They prescribed it with lime and salt, and with that, a tradition was born.

  • More than 300 million blue agave plants are harvested every year. These plants are particularly suited to the silicate-rich, red volcanic soils in the region.

  • Mexican regulations permit Tequila to be bottled at between 35% and 55% ABV but it is usually sold at 35% – 38%. The US market stipulates a minimum of 40%, South Africa 43% and Europe 37.5%.


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