“About the commonest causes of death in Mexico are murder and heart disease. . . . Although no figures are available, I can’t help thinking that tequila makes a contribution in both departments.” Kingsley Amis Everyday Drinking, 1983
Kingsley Amis echoes the sentiment shared by many of the booze cognoscenti prior to the 1990s. Herradura was the only brand that I can say with certainty was producing a 100% blue agave tequila of any great quality before then. It had some popularity during prohibition by virtue of the fact that it was available. It was the subject of an awesome rock and roll track in the 50s, and it was popular as a sour in the margarita. But when Patron launched in the 1990s it was to change the way tequila was viewed and to a large extent the way it was made and drunk.
There is no disputing that tequila can be a drink of high quality these days. It is reflective of its origins, the processes utilised in its manufacture and the ageing process, if any that it has been through. Tequila is also governed by what is arguably the strictest regulatory body for spirits anywhere in the world the CRT or Tequila Regulatory Council. To be called 100% Agave, tequila must have a NOM identifier on the bottle. This indicates the content’s compliance with legislated standards set by the Mexican government. Mexicans have long been proud of tequila, but now that the rest of the world is catching on, they don’t want any second rate swill out there muddying the waters.
Tequila could be thought of as a geographically specific term for Mezcal which is a broader term for agave spirit. Tequila also uses blue agave as its major ingredient. Mezcal can be made from a number of different species. There is agave spirit made in several regions of Mexico that is called mezcal, but perhaps the most distinctive version comes from the southern state of Oaxaca. The agave there is roasted pit-barbecue style, giving mezcal a smokey flavour.
In the northern states of Chihuahua and Durango, another type of spirit is made from a completely different type of succulent, though it looks reasonably similar, it is taxonomically very different. The succulent and its liquor are both known as sotol and it is aged in similar categories to tequila. It also boasts a history stretching back 10,000 years, though not in its current form!