#8 – Drink tequila in Mexico
Twelve years ago I wrote a list of ‘Places I want to visit one day’. Mexico was on that list. Yet, when I came to put my 40 before 40 list together, I still hadn’t visited Mexico – so it just had to be on there. Simply ‘Visit Mexico’ seemed a bit boring though, so instead I chose this challenge. Drink tequila in Mexico had a good ring to it. It was a good choice because tequila has a ‘Designation of Origin’ meaning that true tequila can only be produced in five regions of Mexico, including the town of Tequila itself, so it is intrinsically Mexican. This effectively gives tequila the same exclusivity as champagne!
A few tequila facts to start with. To be truly called tequila, a spirit has to be distilled from a plant called Blue Agave, grown in one of those five regions of Mexico. The full name of the plant is Agave Azul Tequilana Weber and a true tequila must contain at least 51% spirit from this plant. Good tequilas are 100% Weber blue agave. Tequila is made from the ‘pina’ (or heart) of the blue agave, which grows underground below spiked leaves. The pinas are sliced and either steamed or baked in brick ovens to covert the natural starches to sugars. The pina is then crushed, and the extracted juices fermented, then distilled until the alcohol content reaches about 110 proof. It’s cut with water to reach bottling strength, usually between 38% and 40% ABV. At this point tequila is a clear spirit, known as blanco. Some tequilas are then aged in oak barrels, which gives a brown colour and alters the taste. As with whiskies, the longer the tequila has aged, the higher quality it is considered to be, and therefore generally the more expensive it is.
As, so to the tasting! I tried three tequilas – a blanco (or silver), and two aged (‘anejo’) tequilas – one aged for a year, one for three years:
In Mexico, wedges of lemon or lime are dipped in salt, the tequila is drunk and then the juice of the citrus sucked through the salt. It is also usually sipped, rather than downed as a shot. So it seems we’ve been doing it all wrong in Europe! I gave it a good go, trying all three:
My personal preference was for the silver tequila (unusual for me as usually I have expensive tastes!) mainly because the oak aging gives the premium tequilas a taste very similar to whisky, which I also dislike – as you can see!
In fact, I liked the silver tequila so much I finished the bottle:
A lot of people have asked “where’s the worm?”. Turns out the ‘worm’ in tequila is a myth. Firstly, it’s actually a moth larva not a worm at all and secondly it’s placed only in bottles of mezcal – a spirit also distilled from the agave plant but which is not tequila. Mezcal can be distilled from any of a number of different varieties of agave, whereas of course tequila can only be distilled from blue agave. It is unclear why the ‘worm’ is placed in the bottles but the most sensible explanation seems to be that it proves the alcohol level is high because the larva is preserved. And whilst we’re on the subject of tequila myth busting, the agave plant is not a cactus but instead a member of the lily family. Who knew?
So there it is. The 19th of my 40 before 40 completed! Nearly halfway…
Of course, my holiday in Mexico featured many fun things in addition to tequila drinking, although I should confess that tequila cocktails including Tequila Sunrise and Margaritas did feature prominently! The main interest of the trip was visiting Mayan sites, including world heritage listed Chichen Itza – one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the atmospheric Palenque and the stunningly situated Tulum. We had some excellent guides and learnt a lot about Mayan history and culture. We also had the opportunity to swim in ‘cenotes’ – beautiful underground limestone caverns and to visit an indigenous village. Here’s a small selection of photos from the rest of the trip: