“All tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas.”
By Timothy Long
Did you know that? I didn’t. A trip to Cabo, Mexico last winter ended up not just being fun, but educational.
Back in January, I wrote about finding a wonderful craft brewery in Cabo. I approached tasting the beer with much trepidation. But as I wrote in the article, “A Funny Thing Happened While in Cabo”, I was pleasantly surprised. The beer was wonderful, and the trip to the brewery a fantastic experience. I admonished myself for not being more open minded.
Another tasting experience in Cabo was equally enjoyable, a tequila tasting. We participated in one at a bar at our resort. I approached this adventure with much enthusiasm. We were in Mexico. Why not learn more about tequila! Being a bourbon drinker, tequila has never been one of my first choices when it comes to cocktail hour. And to be honest, an experience with it in college caused me to not be able to drink, or even smell, it for years. That all changed over time. I’m wiser and have a much more refined palate now. God only knows what kind of rot gut tequila we college boys were drinking that night.
My wife, brother-in-law, and I were seated at a circular outside bar that had a great view of the Gulf of California. Beautiful boats and birds were everywhere. People were water skiing and parasailing. In the distance, I noticed a spout of water shooting up by a cluster of boats. They were whale watching. Two humpback whales were within a few yards of their boats. I love whales. And you see plenty of them while in Cabo. I was so mesmerized that I almost missed the beginning of the bartender’s tequila lesson. He did a great job of explaining how tequila was produced. He also taught us about its places of origin, the regulations regarding its production, and the difference between it and mezcal.
As with most fermented drinks, tequila did not start out as tequila. The original version was an Aztec fermented beverage called pulque. Pulque was a milky liquid made from the sap of the agave plant. There are references to pulque written on stone walls from around 200 C.E. When the Spanish decided to pay the Aztecs an unwanted visit in the 1519, they found pulque to be a delightful drink. They, of course, felt they needed to improve it. They built primitive stills out of mud in order to distill agave. And thus, mezcal was born.
In the early 1600s, the Marquis de Altamira built the first large scale distillery in what is now Tequila, Jalisco Mexico. The Cuervo family began mass producing tequila in 1758. But legend has it that it was Don Cenobio Sauza who identified the Blue Agave plant as the best for producing tequila. And thus, our modern-day tequila was born.
As we do with bourbon in the United States, Mexico has several regulations to protect their prized national product. According to Decanter.com,
“It must be made from a minimum of 51% Blue Agave, with legislation allowing for the remainder to be made up of a neutral spirit made from cane sugar juice. Those that are 100% Blue Agave are labelled as such while those made with less than 100% are called ‘mixto’. All tequilas are required to be aged for at least 14 to 21 days, and they must be made from 100% natural ingredients and be a minimum of 38% alcohol.”
The Mexicans also set strict aging requirements on tequila. Blanco, or Silver, tequila is hardly aged at all. While Reposado tequila is aged anywhere from one month to 364 days. After one year, the tequila becomes Anejo. After three years, it becomes Extra Anejo.
Mexican law limits where tequila can be produced as well. It must come from one of five authorized states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas. If it is produced outside of these states, it must be called “Agave Spirit” or Mezcal.
Mezcal is often called the “Mother of Tequila.” There are also restrictions on where it is produced. Nine different Mexican states produce Mezcal. But most of it comes from Oaxaca. Any spirit distilled from agave can be called mezcal, including tequila. But mezcal can be made from any agave plant. Tequila is required to be made from Blue Agave. Thus, all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas.
The tequilas our bartender poured for us were marvelous. We tried several. It’s a tasting, so why not? Plus, the bartender was quite generous with the selection and the pours. One pour came from a beautiful white and blue bottle that many of us have seen in our local Tex/Mex restaurants. It is Clase Azul Reposado. Each of these bottles are hand painted. Therefore, each one is a little different. Because it’s a reposado, it has a light gold color. You get the agave on the nose, along with vanilla, orange, oak, and a hint of cinnamon. The palate brings hazelnut, vanilla, cinnamon, and of course, agave.
After several wonderful tequilas, we finished our tasting with the Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Extra Anejo. Our host told us to let the tequila breath for a minute or two before we begin. It is well worth the wait. This amazing tequila is probably the smoothest I’ve ever tasted. The nose has roasted agave, with oak and caramel. You get maple honey on the palate, along with oak and a little black pepper. It finishes with honey, pepper, and a bit of roasted agave on the finish.
As we finish our tasting, I am still watching the whale spouts by the boats. I stop to admire the Extra Anejo in my hand. What a lovely drink. It pains me that I spent years unable to enjoy this marvelous beverage. Life teaches us through good and bad experiences. I have had both with tequila. I am glad the good one came now. At this age, the hangover from the bad one would probably kill me.
Tim’s Whiskey and Cigar Recommendation
Siete Leguas Tequila Reposando
Yeah, I know. It’s not whiskey. But it is aged for eight months in ex-bourbon barrels. The barrels give it vanilla, caramel, and oak notes. The nose is very subtle and sweet with vanilla, oak, and agave. The palate is very clean with black pepper and cinnamon joining the above flavors. It has a long and sweet finish with oak and vanilla remaining on the tongue. The bartender told us that this was “their” tequila. It’s what the Mexicans drink. A true national favorite. I can see why.
El Rey Del Mundo AJ Fernendez Limited Edition Toro
This wonderful cigar is perfect for either the aficionado cigar smoker, or the novice trying to expand his palate. It has earthy, chocolaty, and peppery notes that will perfectly compliment the Siete Leguas Reposondo. This cigar is a mildly sweet smoke with a medium body. This is odd for an AJ Fernandez whose blends are usually on the heavier side. As you smoke it, the earthiness decreases as floral notes start to come out. These notes remain as the cigar finishes. It’s a great smoke that will not be around for very long. They only produced 38,000 of these beauties.
This cigar, and many other fine cigars, are available at John Crouch Tobacconist at 215 King St. in Old Town Alexandria. Mention this article and get 10% off the purchase of this month’s recommended cigar.
About the Author: Timothy Long is an educator, writer, consultant, and experienced restaurant operator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Instagram and Twitter: @wvutimmy. Blog: What is that fly doing in my soup? http://whatflyinmysoup.com