Our experience of tequila in BC is like a Mexican all-inclusive resort — you play in an isolated stretch of beach while the rest of the country is out of sight, out of mind. Like me, your first experience of Mexico’s national spirit was probably the lick, sip, and suck of a tequila cruda, a series of which were intended to delver a masochistic blow to the head. Then, one day, someone gives you a taste of Don Julio or Patron, and you realize that shooting tequila is muy primitivo. Instead, you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed instead of thrashed. The education begins.
When learning about a new subject, it helps to be guided by someone schooled in the discipline. Recently, I sat down to a tasting with Eric P. Lorenz, a Vancouver-based ambassador and importer of tequila. Not only does Eric hold a Distintivo T diploma from the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (Tequila Regulatory Council), he has a respectable personal tequila collection from which to sample. We spent an afternoon discussing the finer points of agave spirits — their history, production, and appreciation — but could easily have gone on much longer.
So what is tequila? It is the spirit distilled from the cooked and fermented juice of the heart of a perennial desert succulent related to yucca. Like the mestizo culture of modern Mexico, tequila is a product of both the Aztecs and the Spanish. When the conquistadors ran out of a reliable brandy supply, they tried distilling indigenous alcoholic beverages. After an initial failure with an Aztec drink made from fermented agave sap (octli/pulque), they found success in distilling a “mezcal beer” fermented from roasted agave piñas. This vino mezcal de Tequila was North America’s first indigenous spirit.
By Mexican law, only the spirit produced from agave grown in the state of Jalisco and some municipalities of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas can be called tequila. This area is a denomination of origin registered with the UN World Intellectual Property Organization. The Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), which controls production, has certified over 110 distilleries in the tequila region, producing more than 1,400 brands. They fall into two categories: 100% agave and mixto. The former can only be made exclusively with sugar from the Agave tequilana, Weber Blue variety. The latter must be made with a minimum of 51% agave sugars, but the balance need not even come from agave.
Tequila is distilled at least twice, may be aged in barrels, and is bottled at 35-55% alcohol (70–110 proof). Most tequilas are 80 proof, but producers of inferior products may cut corners by distilling to 100 proof, then diluting with water. Tequila can be divided into five different classes:
- Blanco/Plata (Silver): un-aged, clear tequila
- Joven/Oro (Gold): mixture of blanco and reposado of the mixto variety
- Reposado: aged 2-12 months
- Añejo: aged 1-3 years
- Extra Añejo: aged at least 3 years
The flavour profile of tequila is affected by terroir — there being distinct differences between the soils and climate of the Jalisco highlands and lowlands — and aging, which will lend additional characteristics from the type of barrels used, as well as colour. American and French white oak barrels are preferred. Reposados may be aged in new barrels as large as 20,000 litres, or in ones previously used to produce wine, whiskey, or scotch. The wood may be charred to bestow a smokey flavour, but smokiness is more typical of mezcal. Añejos cannot be aged in barrels larger than 600 litres. These may be used reposado barrels. Bourbon and whiskey barrels are also popular. After a year of aging on wood, they can be transferred to stainless steel tanks to reduce evaporation.
To appreciate a fine, 100% blue agave tequila, don’t shoot it; swirl, sniff, and sip. The traditional glass used for tequila is called a caballito. However, a snifter or the CRT’s official Ouverture Tequila glass by Riedel would be more appropriate. Serve at room temperature to enjoy the tequila’s full flavour. If you are encouraged to consume a neat tequila chilled, it is likely an inferior product.
Like any cocktail, those made with tequila are best when using high quality ingredients and fresh juices. Try this one, perfect for the current weather:
by Eric Lorenz
- 2 parts t1 Tequila Blanco Ultra Fino (or any 100% blue agave blanco)
- 1 part Giffard Premium Curaçao Triple Sec
- 1/2 oz Wholesome Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar
- juice of 1 whole lime
- flaked kosher salt
Rim a chilled margarita tumbler with a wedge of lime and the salt. Add remaining ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice; shake “until it hurts”. Strain into tumbler and serve. Salud!
With the growing interest in spirits and cocktails in BC, we’re starting to see more variety in the types and brands of tequila available. However, with the astronomical government markup, it may take some time for the market to further develop. Perhaps, that’s why tourism to Jalisco is growing.
Want to learn more about tequila? These upcoming events that may be of interest:
An Afternoon with Agave Spirits: Tequila
Saturday, October 1 @ 3:00pm
Latitude on Main
3250 Main Street, Vancouver
Info & Reservations: nick[at]thecascade[dot]ca
Tequila Tasting and Appreciation Class
October 4-25, Tuesdays @ 6:00pm
UBC AMS Minischool
Registration (starts Sept. 6) & info: AMS Minischool
To arrange your own tequila tasting, seminar, or dinner, contact: