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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Tequila, The Finer Pleasures

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

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A bottle of Siete Leguas Tequila, named for Pancho Villa’s horse on a table at sunset at the beach

Siete Leguas Tequila, named for Pancho Villa’s horse

It is safe to say that most people don't know the history of Mexico's national drink, tequila. Nor do they know that the valley town of Tequila is 50km northwest of Guadalajara, making it an easy daytrip from the capital of Mexico's state of Jalisco. A popular image surrounding this beverage is one of charrosdesperados, shoot 'em ups and heavy machismo.

Who would have known that there is refinement, culture, sophistication, passion, and Mexico's heart and history involved too?

I’m here to enlighten you to the elegance of tequila.

A short history

Archeologists say that agave has been cultivated for at least 9,000 years. Legend has it that centuries ago, a lightning storm caused a fire in the native agave fields. Plants exposed to the heat of this fire were roasted and split open. Sweet juices oozed from these cooked and burst succulents and the indigenous people found them to be agreeable to their taste. The plant had already been used to make rope, thread for clothing, with the prickly points being fashioned into a sort of nail for construction or used as a needle to sew.

Now they had food, and surprisingly, a sweet drink called agua miel or honey water.

pottery statues of Aztecs enjoying pulque

Aztecs enjoying pulque

The local indigenous people considered this sweet drink from the agave to be a gift from the gods. After all, it was discovered after powerful light from the heavens struck the earth causing the juices to flow. Later they learned to make a kind of beer from the fermented agua miel, and that drink was called pulque.

 

 

 

 

Tequila is North America's first distilled drink and its first commercially produced alcohol.

From the Aztecs to the Conquistadores to the Mexican Revolution in the 1800’s the beverage of tequila was enjoyed, banned by the Spanish kingdom, taxed and finally brought forward by the free nation of Mexico to regain its prominence.

Tequila names you would recognize

The first licensed manufacturer of tequila was Jose Antonio Cuervo who received special rights in the mid 1700's from the King of Spain to cultivate a plot of land in New Spain. His son, Jose Maria Cuervo, obtained the first license to produce mezcal wine and founded Casa Cuervo, the first official Mexican distillery in 1795.

Today, the largest manufacturer of tequila is Jose Cuervo, and their export market is huge.

Sauza is another historic name in the tequila industry. In 1873, Don Cenobio Sauza bought his first distillery and started making mezcal wine. Some say he was the first to determine that the Blue Agave was the best maguey with which to make tequila, and the other distillers followed his lead.

Sauza was the first to export tequila to the USA when, in 1873, he sold three barrels to El Paso del Norte, The Passage to the North, or what we know as El Paso, Texas today.

These days, Sauza owns around 300 plantations of agave and is the second largest manufacturer of tequila.

A jimadore sliicing the Agave pina in the fields, Tequila, Mexico

The point is the pina

In order to be labeled “tequila” there are certain requirements to be filled according to Mexican law.

The key distinguishing identity is that it be made from 100% agave, and produced in only these Mexican States: Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas.

Some bottles will put 100% agave azul, which means it is made from agave tequilana weber azul. In order to be sold as tequila, it must be made only from this particular succulent, approved by government inspectors to insure purity, and be bottled in Mexico.

If the bottle is not labeled 100% agave, they are considered “mixtos”. Up to 49% of the alcohol can be made from other sugars such as cane sugar. They have less taste than the agave sugars, and caramel and almond essence can be added for both color and flavor.

Mixtos are generally used for Margaritas and other mixed drinks. They are not sipped straight since their flavor is not prized.

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When the spines are hacked away, the center of the agave plant looks much like a pineapple - hence the word, pina. In olden days, these pinas would be slow-roasted in a brick or adobe oven for 24 to 36 hours to process the natural juices and soften the fibers.

The consistent, slow cooking temperature of about 150*F keeps the agave from caramelizing which would add a darker color and bitter flavor.

After the pinas cooled for another 24 to 36 hours, they were crushed by stone wheels called tahonas which could weigh up to 3 tons each. These stone wheels were driven by mules, oxen or horses until the fibers were pulverized and in shreds.

Traditionally, tequila was kept and transported in barrels. In the late 19th century, Cuervo was the first distillery to put tequila into bottles, but the barrel maker is still very much in demand even today.

Barrels of tequila aging in white oak barrels, Tequila, Mexico

Tequila is aged in white oak barrels purchased from North America or from France

Types of tequila

Did you know that there are five different types of tequila?

All tequila is clear right after distillation and any subsequent color is derived from aging in wooden barrels or from additives. Tequilas are distilled at least twice, and some are distilled three times.

Blanco or Plata (white or silver) tequila is stored less than 60 days in stainless steel tanks, is not aged in wood, and tends to be more peppery or fiery in flavor. Blancos and Platas have more agave nose to them than other tequilas. Some aficionados prefer Blancos and Platas to aged tequilas precisely because of the fire in the flavor, the unaltered taste of the agave and the perfume in the bouquet.

Joven abocado is also a young tequila but has coloring and flavoring ingredients such as caramel, vanilla or almond added to them to make them looked aged. They can also be called suave or oro (gold) and in the tequila world, they are considered to be mixtos.

Reposado tequila has been rested from 2 months up to 1 year in wooden tanks or barrels. This aging process takes out the fire of tequila making the flavor smooth and imparts a golden color. The longer the aging, the darker the coloring and the more complex the flavor becomes. This process has made a very popular product and accounts for over 60% of tequila sales in Mexico.

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The flavor of a Reposado has less bite and is smoother. When sipped straight, look for the “legs” of the beverage on the sides of the glass.

Anejo is vintage tequila aged from 1 to 3 years in wood barrels. Sometimes the liquid can become very dark and the distinguishable flavor of the wood makes its presence known. To stop the aging process and the loss of tequila through the evaporation from the barrels, tequila can be moved to stainless steel tanks until bottling.

Extra Anejo or Maduro tequilas are ultra-aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels that hold no more than 600 liters. This allows the liquid to come in contact with the wood for the desired flavor to be produced.

Dispelling a few myths about tequila

There are myths surrounding tequila which only adds to the confusion. For instance, some believe bottles of tequila will have a worm in it as part of the Mexican tradition.

False!

There is no worm in tequila, never has been and it is not a Mexican custom to put one in. Some bottles of mezcal will have a butterfly caterpillar called a gusano placed in them, but generally not in the premium brands.

Another myth is that tequila is made from cactus. Tequila is made from the distilled juices of the hearts of a mature agave or maguey plant which is related to the lily and amaryllis.

And some people think that mezcal and tequila are the same thing. While mezcal and tequila are both derived from agave plants and have similarities, they have very distinctive variances in their flavors and production processes. Mezcal is commercially produced in the state of Oaxaca, and most tequila is produced in or near the state of Jalisco.

Different Mexican states, different weather and soil, different plants.

If an alcoholic drink is made from a succulent other than the agave azul, or if the plants are grown in areas not specified as a tequila-making region it cannot legally bear the name tequila on the bottle.

Bottles and bottles of tequila on display, Tequila, Mexico

There are 911 different domestic brands of tequila, plus 158 labels used for export only

How to savor the flavor of fine tequila

So, what is the best way to savor the flavor of this classic drink?

Years ago, tequila was first drunk from a bull's horn. Wider at the top drinking edge than at the narrow point of the horn, the horn was shaved flat on the bottom edge so it was able to sit on a flat surface without spilling its liquid contents.

 

 

 

 

Traditionally, tequila has been sipped from a tall, narrow shot glass called a caballito or little horse perhaps made to reflect those early days.

In Mexican bars, Reposados and Anejos are served in brandy snifters to better appreciate the bouquet and the legs it forms on the sides of the glass.

Tequila is best savored at room temperature, straight up.

Take a neat sip to clear the palate and breathe out. You will experience the modified heat and smokiness of the tequila. Then take another sip and roll it around your mouth and notice the full body. If you have a snifter, roll the liquid around the glass and appreciate the legs on the side of the glass, and the bouquet in the bowl.

Premium tequilas are best appreciated slowly, softly and with respect.

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About the Authors

 
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

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