On Tuesday, July 24, everyone has a fabulous excuse to party by celebrating National Tequila Day.
Tequila was first made during the middle of the 17th century in the Mexican city of Tequila, thus the name. For centuries, tequila was considered the drink of the peons — a cheap, quickly made beverage with little character or anything else to recommend it except that it was alcoholic.
A twist came during the middle of the 20th century, when tequila was used as the base ingredient for a new drink called the margarita (Spanish for daisy). This novel drink was discovered and enjoyed by many vacationers to Mexico and was demanded by them when they returned home. Because of the sudden rise in demand for tequila, the beverage was improved by modern distilling and aging disciplines. A world-class spirit emerged.
Mexico now views tequila as one of its major exports. It’s so valued that Mexican officials have created laws to protect the beverage and make sure it remains true to the culture.
For instance, tequila makers are required to utilize the heart of the blue agave cactus, which must be grown in the state of Jalisco. The process of making the beverage begins by removing the heart of the blue agave cactus in its 12th year, stripping the leaves, heating it to remove the sap, fermenting it to a wine, and then distilling the wine into the tequila that we know.
The major difference in tequilas on the market today is the aging. The better tequilas are aged in wooden barrels. Without aging, tequila is a clear liquid usually labeled as silver tequila, which sells for a lower price than aged tequila and is often rather harsh. Aged tequila displays a brownish color derived from the aging barrel; the darker the tequila, the longer it was barrel aged. Barrel aging brings out and enhances all of the features that have made tequila the ultimate hot weather beverage.
One thing I have always preached is that cheap ingredients make cheap drinks. Since the margarita has become one of our nation’s favorite cocktails, the United States has been flooded with some low quality tequila. Have you ever questioned the name of the tequila used in the margarita you have ordered in a restaurant? I think not.
There is a phrase that should strike fear and terror into everyone: house brand. The house brand is usually the lowest cost alcoholic beverage in the restaurant. I throw a challenge out to my readers: Try your favorite cocktail with better alcoholic ingredients and experience the massive difference.
Here’s a quality tequila I’d recommend.
Ayate Anejo Tequila ($95)
This tequila has traveled a long distance without ever leaving the distillery. After distillation, this beverage was aged for two months in American oak barrels, transferred for four months into used French oak barrels and, finally, put for six months in barrels formerly used to age chardonnay wines.
This “journey” produces a deeply colored aromatic tequila of immense dimensions. Besides being incredibly smooth, this tequila presents the aromas of caramel, butterscotch, dried fruits and, as one would expect, oak. The flavor offers chocolate, toffee and sweet spices that carry through to the finish.
While this tequila can be used as a mix drink component, it is terrific when enjoyed neat. Ayate Anejo Tequila is easy to spot on dealers’ shelves as it comes in an attractive square squat bottle.
At a slightly lower price, try the Ayate Reposado Tequila, which retails at $65. Aged for eight months, including four months in old chardonnay barrels, this also is a sipping tequila that can be enjoyed neat or as an exceptional drink enhancing mixer. However you enjoy it, this tequila resides comfortably at the apex of mixers or sippers.
Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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