Tequila

2018 Articles Authors and contributors Issue Living in Mexico October 2018

   By Terry Sovil from the October 2018 Edition

Tequila has been with us for a long time and has an interesting history. For one, not every drink made from cactus or agave can be called “Tequila”. Tequila has a Denomination of Origin which, according to the “Appellation de Origin Controlee” (AOC), means it can only be produced in Mexico and only in the areas of those states indicated.

Agave tequilana commonly called blue agave
Blue agave piñas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

xAgave tequilana commonly called blue agave Tequila would be called mezcal if produced outside of the named areas and with the right ingredients, originally, in Jalisco and the town of Tequila. Only liquors made from Blue Agave grown in the state of Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Guanajuato and Tamaulipas can be labeled as Tequila. In the wine and spirits industry, there are five drinks recognized with the Denomination of Origin, they are: sherry, cognac, champagne, mezcal and tequila.

Tequila is not made from cactus. It is made from a sap that is distilled from the hearts of the agave plant. This plant is related to the lily and amaryllis with its own genus, Agave. It is a succulent and, even though it shares a common habitat with many cacti, it is not one itself. Real Tequila is made from the Blue Agave. Only the Agave Azul Tequilana Weber (Blue Agave) variety can be used for Tequila.

Distilling agave syrup probably came from a native drink called “pulque”, a distant cousin to Tequila. Someone in the early 16th century realized the potential for agave. If it made a lowalcohol drink, it could be made into something stronger. Distilling in Europe goes back to the 13th century. It may have started in Mexico as early as 1520. Most agree it started within 20 years of the arrival of the Conquistadors. Credit is given to Philippine sailors that helped kick it off. Their process used more local resources and did not require the big copper stills.

Alcohol was essential. The Spanish were used to drinking alcohol with meals. The water was often unpurified and teeming with bacteria. Drinking a weak wine or beer helped kill off the parasites. April 15, 1530 the colonial township of Santiago of Tequila was established. In 1531, a crude mud still known as an “alquitarra” was used to distill agave nectar to produce the first mezcal. These ovens were located near water to help with the distillation process.

In 1651, Spanish doctor, Jerónimo Hernández, wrote that tequila (mezcal) was used for medicinal purposes, including rheumatic cures by rubbing tequila on the affected parts of the body.

The first official, licensed, distiller was José Antonio Cuervo. He was the first to produce Tequila, obtaining the land from the King of Spain in 1758. Cuervo tequila is made in the town of
Tequila, in the state of Jalisco. He acquired the property from Vincente de Saldivar who was already distilling from a private distillery (taberna) on the land. It was later moved to the hacienda de Abajo. Cuervo’s ambition soon had a distillery producing about 800,000 liters of mezcal a year. Taxes on tequila helped fund construction of the University of Guadalajara in the mid-18th century.

The 1880s saw the development of railroads across North America. This growth spread tequila to many more locations. During this period, the tequila industry matured and became more stable due to the 35-year rule of Porfirio Diaz The rising popularity of tequila created challenges. Until the late 19th century, the piñas (heart of the plant) were roasted in stone-lined pits in the ground using wood fires.

Blue agave piñas ready for production

As the demand grew, producers found they were running out of wood and agave. As the hills of Jalisco were losing forests due the need for wood, the land used for forests became new land for agave planting. It became obvious to producers that their methods of producing were no longer sustainable. An above-ground horno, or oven, was developed to replace the inground pits. By the end of the 19th century, all producers were using the above-ground oven.

As the demand grew, producers found they were running out of wood and agave. As the hills of Jalisco were losing forests due the need for wood, the land used for forests became new land for agave planting. It became obvious to producers that their methods of producing were no longer sustainable. An above-ground horno, or oven, was developed to replace the inground pits. By the end of the 19th century, all producers were using the above-ground oven.

As Pancho Villa’s rebel forces approached Guadalajara, many men from Jalisco joined the rebel forces. Villa entered Guadalajara on December 17, 1914, forcing Manuel M. Diéguez to flee. Villa gathered the richest men in Jalisco and Guadalajara to produce a 1,000,000 peso loan which he passed out to the poor. He became very popular but had to leave the city. By April, Diéguez’ forces once again controlled Guadalajara. The revolutionary troops occupied Guadalajara and took loads of tequila for themselves. The popular drink was the Torito de Jalisco made with tequila and fruit juice.

In 1928, there was an effort to organize a group to represent the distillers, but it failed due to bickering before it got started. By 1929, there were only about 8 distillers and they held on during the Depression. The country leadership like Victoriano Huerta and Diaz gave up tequila for French cognacs, but the popularity among the people grew.
The Prohibition period in the USA (1920-33) boosted tequila’s popularity as it was smuggled across the border. But the Depression (1929) came swiftly on the heels of the Prohibition, making it short-lived.

In 1930, Spanish influenza spread in Northern Mexico. Doctors were prescribing tequila as the best medicine to resist it. From that point forward, tequila was served with lime and salt as that was what the doctors were suggesting.

The agave shortage in 1930 forced the government to relax regulations on tequila and allowed it to be made from only 51% agave sugars. This was the start of the mixto trade.

For many years only, Herradura was producing 100% agave teUSA for the next 30 years. The new mixtos were blander than 100% agave tequilas, increasing their appeal to American consumers.

It was in 1935 that the margarita was invented. The bartender at Rancho La Gloria, Carlos ‘Danny’ Herrera, created it for a young new actress, Marjorie (Margarita) King.

In 1948, European spirits were again available to Americans and exports of tequila fell while national markets grew. The positive image of tequila as the macho drink of ranchero heroes in Mexican movies helped it grow from the 1930s to the 1950s.

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Terry Sovil

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Terry is a founding partner and scuba instructor for Aquatic Sports and Adventures (Deportes y Aventuras Acuáticas) in Manzanillo. A PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) Master Instructor in his 36th year as a PADI Professional. He also holds 15 Specialty Instructor Course ratings. Terry held a US Coast Guard 50-Ton Masters (Captain's) License. In his past corporate life, he worked in computers from 1973 to 2005 from a computer operator to a project manager for companies including GE Capital Fleet Services and Target. From 2005 to 2008, he developed and oversaw delivery of training to Target's Loss Prevention (Asset Protection) employees on the West Coast, USA. He led a network of 80+ instructors, evaluated training, performed needs assessments and gathered feedback on the delivery of training, conducted training in Crisis Leadership and Non-Violent Crisis Intervention to Target executives. Independently, he has taught hundreds of hours of skills-based training in American Red Cross CPR, First Aid, SCUBA and sailing and managed a staff of Project Managers at LogicBay in the production of multi-media training and web sites in a fast-paced environment of artists, instructional designers, writers and developers, creating a variety of interactive training and support products for Fortune 1000 companies.

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