SPIRITS EXPLAINED, by George Delgado
by George Delgado
Finally! Spring is here. For those of us who live in four season weather climates and who do not
ski... it's not very fun. I usually wait until July or August to write about or hold a seminar about tequila, thinking the weather is perfect for that spirit. In the past people have told me: "I wish I knew that before I made my summer menu" or "why didn't you tell me that before my weekend get-a-ways." So now, I will write about tequila before summer.
Let's begin with what tequila is not. It's not made from a cactus, and it does not have a worm in it. It is, however, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant - not just any agave, but Agave Tequilana Weber Variedad
Azul... huh?... the Blue Agave.
Using the Blue Agave isn't the only requirement to making tequila. Just like Cognac can only be produced in the designated "region" of France, Tequila can only be made in Mexico according to Mexican law and international agreement. This "Tequila region" is located primarily in the state of Jalisco.
Speaking of Cognac, I am going to borrow a quote which makes for a perfect analogy describing Tequila, "All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac." Mezcal is the name of the distilled spirit of any agave species and from anywhere in Mexico, so the phrase fits: "All Tequila is Mezcal, but not all Mezcal is Tequila." Mezcal, incidentally, is the agave spirit which is known for having the worm in the bottle. For the sake of this article, I am going to take the phrase one step further, "All 100% Agave is Tequila, but not all Tequila is 100% Agave."
There are two categories for tequila: mixto and 100% agave. Even though you will never see the word mixto on a label, they can still use the word tequila if they used at least 51 percent agave to produce the spirit. The other 49 percent can be any other fermentable sugars, usually cane sugar or corn syrup.
Mixto came into existence in the 1930s when the supply of tequila could not keep up with the demand. (Not surprisingly, it was in the '30s that the margarita was invented). due to the long maturing period of the agave, unlike grains, maize, grapes, potatoes, apples and any other product used in the production of alcohol which can all be harvested annually, the agave plant takes eight to 12 years to mature! Then the entire plant is totally consumed in the process, so each agave plant is a one-shot deal.
One hundred percent agave tequila, as you would expect, is distilled entirely from the fermented juice of the Blue Agave. From the two categories, mixto and 100 percent agave, there are seven classifications-three that pertain to both categories, and one that pertains only to mixto. The three types of tequila that pertain to both are:
Blanco or Plata (silver or white) - these tequilas are clear as water and are not aged in wood. They can only be allowed to "rest" in stainless steel tanks for up to 60 days prior to bottling.
Reposado (rested) - these tequilas are aged either in huge wooden tanks or in barrels for a minimum of two months and a maximum of 11 months.
Añejo (aged) - these tequilas must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of one year.
The seventh variety of tequila, joven abocado (young and smoothed also called gold) only is used to describe mixto. Joven abocado, or "gold," is blanco mixto that has been treated with additives to simulate aging. In other words, caramel coloring and flavoring has been added to change the color and flavor. Over 85 percent of the tequila sold in the U.S. is of the bulk/mixto variety-most of which is "Hecho en Mexico," but bottled right here in the United States.
This tells me one thing - most Americans have only had a bad-to-decent Margarita at best. I don't mean to be knocking the mix to tequila; there is certainly a place and need for it, as well as a market for it. One obvious example is for the "well" tequila for house margaritas at most bars and restaurants. I am not, of course, addressing the cost-cutting needs or the liquor cost demands of food and beverage establishments, nor am I taking into account anyone's personal budget. Needless to say, 100 percent agave costs more, significantly more. I am simply stating that just as the gold tequila is worthy of the college campus, 100 percent agave tequila is worthy of a snifter.
So this summer, try a couple of things for your guests. First, make a real Margarita. Put the sour mix, triple sec and
mixto aside. For that matter, hide the blender in the walk-in, take a 100 percent agave, Cointreau, and squeeze half a lime and sweeten to taste with simple syrup, if you must. Second, try my spin: (this, of course, through the eyes of a Tequila lover). The Cosmopolitan is merely a Margarita made with vodka and a splash of
cranberry... so try The Platinum Cosmo.
THE PLATINUM COSMO
2 oz. El Tesoro Platinum Tequila 100% Agave
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
Shake with ice. Serve in a martini glass garnished with lime.