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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Tradition, Passion, Pride

Part III

Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico
(Pronounced: Tay-KEE-la, Hah-LEES-coh, MAY-hee-coh)

The Town, The Tradition, The Taste
Currency Conversion Site 

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!

Stop the tape!

There is much more to the appreciation of tequila than most Norte Americans know. Those of us from North of the Border think of slurping Margaritas, and spring break extravaganzas with wild parties and loud music. But tequila is a serious, refined beverage to those in Mexico, with the government of Mexico placing rigorous controls on how it is to be made.

We have taken you to the town of Tequila, Jalisco where the beverage tequila is made, and we explained the meritorious tradition and history that surrounds Mexico's national drink. Now, we'll share how to get the most from enjoyment from your tequila experience, the different styles of tequila from which to choose, and how to find the flavor that suits you best.

We're here to enlighten you to the elegance of tequila.

 

A very berry nice Margarita

For Norte Americanos, Margaritas of various presentations and flavors or a tequila sunrise may be all the experience of drinking tequila that they have. These bar drinks are usually made from tequila that is less than 100% agave, called mixtos.

 

The Blue Agave, agave tequilana weber azul

In order to be labeled 'tequila' there are certain requirements to be filled according to Mexican law. The key distinguishing identity is that it be made from agave azul. If the bottle label says 100% agave or 100% agave azul, then it is 100% pure, and made only from this plant.

If it doesn't say 100% agave, then up to 49% of the alcohol can be made from other sugars and still be called tequila. These tequilas are considered to be mixtos.

In order to be sold as tequila, it must be made only from this particular succulent (not other mezcals), approved by government inspectors to insure purity, and be bottled in Mexico.

Not only that, but there are five designated tequila-producing Mexican states: Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, Guanajuato and Tamaulipas.

If an alcoholic drink is made from a succulent other than the agave azul, or if the plants are grown in areas not  specified as a tequila-making region it cannot legally bear the name tequila on the bottle.

 

Bars and shops in designated Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

There are myths surrounding tequila which only adds to the confusion. For instance, some believe bottles of tequila will have a worm in it as part of the Mexican tradition.

False!

There is no worm in tequila, never has been and it is not a Mexican custom to put one in. Some bottles of mezcal will have a butterfly caterpillar called a gusano placed in them, but generally not in the premium brands.

 

A succulent is not a cactus

Another myth is that tequila is made from cactus. Tequila is made from distilled juices from the hearts of a mature agave or maguey plant which is related to the lily and amaryllis.

And some people think that mezcal and tequila are the same thing. While mezcal and tequila are both derived from agave plants and have similarities, they have very distinctive variances in their flavors and production processes. Mezcal is commercially produced in Oaxaca, and most tequila is produced in or near the state of Jalisco.

Different Mexican states, different weather and soil, different plants.

 

The number one exporter of tequila

Contrary to another belief, all tequilas are not the same and they vary according to the company who makes them. The flavor of tequila depends on the process by which the agave sugars are extracted, the soil and growing environment of the agave plant, how old these plants are when they are harvested, and whether or not the tequila itself has been aged and for how long.

Did you know that there are five different types of tequila?

 

Sauza, the number two producer of tequila

All tequilas are distilled at least twice, and some are distilled three times.

Blanco or Plata (white or silver) tequila is stored less than 60 days in stainless steel tanks, is not aged in wood, and tends to be more peppery or fiery in flavor. Blancos and Platas have more agave nose to them than other tequilas. Some aficionados prefer blancos and platas to aged tequilas precisely because of the fire in the flavor, the unaltered taste of the agave and the perfume in the bouquet.

Joven abocado is also a young tequila but has coloring and flavoring ingredients such as caramel, vanilla or almond added to them to make them looked aged. They can also be called suave or oro (gold) and in the tequila world, they are considered to be mixtos.

As we mentioned earlier, if the bottle you are looking at is not labeled 100% agave, it is a mixto. Up to 49% of the alcohol can be made from other sugars such as cane sugar, which has less taste than the agave sugars.

Mixtos are used for Margaritas, tequila sunrises and other mixed drinks. They are not generally sipped straight since their flavor is not prized.

 

Tequila can be 'rested' for up to 1 year in wooden pipones

Reposado tequila has been rested from 2 months up to 1 year in wooden tanks or barrels. The longer the aging, the darker the coloring and the more complex the flavor becomes. This process has made a very popular product and accounts for over 60% of tequila sales in Mexico.

The flavor of a reposado has less bite and is more smooth. When sipped straight, look for the 'legs' of the beverage on the sides of the glass.

Imported white oak aging barrels

Anejo is vintage tequila aged from 1 to 3 years in wood barrels. Sometimes the liquid can become very dark and the distinguishable flavor of the wood makes its presence known. To stop the aging process and the loss of tequila through the evaporation from the barrels, tequila can be moved to stainless steel tanks until bottling.

 

Prized imported cured white oak barrels from Tennessee, USA - Jack Daniels was aged in this cask before it was sold to Mexico. Notice the chalk-written date. Tequila has been in this container since August 25, 2010.

Extra Anejo or Maduro tequilas are ultra aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels that hold no more than 600 litres. This allows the liquid to come in contact with the wood for the desired flavor to be produced. Older tequilas of 5 years are already for sale on shelves today. Early 2006, a new category of tequila was introduced that has been aged 10 years.

 

The point is the pina

In respect to flavor, it all begins with the pina. Age, size, soil conditions, and in which methods the agave sugars are extracted affect the flavor of the resulting beverage.

 

Alejandro, our personal guide from Cofradia, shows us the pinas baking in the ovens

In olden days, pinas would be slow roasted in brick or adobe ovens for 24 to 36 hours to process the natural juices and soften the fibers. This baking adds a smoky flavor to the tequila. The consistent, slow cooking temperature of about 150*F keeps the agave from caramelizing which would add a darker color and bitter flavor.

 

Sure, I'll have one. The sign reads: Discover the Enchantment

The Sauza distillery decided to emphasize the unique flavor of the agave plant itself.

Instead of baking their pinas, at this stage, Sauza shreds them and through steam and hot water, juices and sugars from the heart of the plant are released. This non-roasting approach is considered a high volume method of production and principally keeps the flavor of the agave unaltered.

This machine replaces the stone tahonas of centuries past

After the pinas have been roasted and the fibers softened, the hearts are now crushed to separate the fiber from the juices for fermentation. Some more traditional distilleries keep a portion of the pulp in with the juice during the fermentation period.

 

Stages of production

After the juices from the heart of the agave have been extracted, they are sprinkled with yeast and go into stainless steel tanks to ferment.

 

Yeast processing the fermentable sugars

We watched this living action going on in the large vats. The yeast with their golden and brown bubbles were moving in circles en masse. A strange and wondrous sight.

 

A serious and sanitized business!

Levels of sugars are monitored and the fermentation takes from 7 to 12 days to complete. Longer fermentation creates a heartier body.

 

All tequila is clear after distillation.

In the above glasses, the alcohol was far too strong to be sold in bottles, so at this point in the making of tequila, demineralized water is added to obtain the desired alcohol content.

Depending on the sort of tequila being made, colors and flavorings will be added (mixtos) or the liquid will be rested (reposado) or aged (anejo).

 

Many bottles, many styles

Distilleries will make various styles of tequila because - as with most things in life - there is not a one size fits all.

Some people prefer the aromatic floral nose of the blancos and platas with its fiery flavor.

 

Reposados and anejos from various distilleries

Others prefer a fuller body or the softened flavor that tequila aged in oak casks have and choose either reposado or anejo.

 

Some museums have audio/visuals or interactive projects. How many museums in the world have tasting rooms? What a concept! Tequila tasting in The National Museum of Tequila

So how do you know which you prefer?

The above information will be helpful to you but nothing replaces first hand experience. If you are fortunate to be able to visit the town of Tequila yourself, tastings are available at all the distilleries, museums and many  of the shops in town.

No, no, not like this!

 

Tasting room at Cofradia

On this barrel table we had choices of plata, reposado, anejo and extra anejo.

And then he brought out the fine stuff! Casa Noble, Tequila of the Decade

We were quite fortunate to experience the flavor of Casa Noble, a tequila that won awards in tastings held in San Francisco, California. Due to its remarkable flavor and body, it is considered to be the Tequila of the Decade and runs 1,300 Pesos per bottle (over $100 USD).

 

Another look at Coradia's fine tasting room

 

Agave Syrup

Unique products made from the agave plant are available for purchase as well at Cofradia. While we were tasting anejo tequila we were also able to try this agave syrup. With a consistency of honey it was simply delightful and dangerously delicious.

 

A caballito with Gran Clase and Reposado premium brand tequila

So what is the best way to savor the flavor of this classic drink?

Years ago, tequila was first drunk from a bull's horn. Wider at the top drinking edge than at the narrow point of the horn, the horn was shaved flat on the bottom edge so it was able to sit on a flat surface without spilling its liquid contents.

Traditionally, tequila has been sipped from a tall, narrow shot glass (like the one pictured above) called a caballito or little horse perhaps made to reflect those early days.

In Mexican bars, reposados and anejos are served in brandy snifters to better appreciate the bouquet and the legs it forms on the sides of the glass.

 

Premium brands from a premium distillery

To demonstrate how the image of drinking tequila has changed, in 2002, The Tequila Regulatory Council chose a new glass to better express the nose and body of premium tequilas. It is much like a wine tasting glass.

Tequila is best savored at room temperature, straight up.

Take a neat sip to clear the palate and breathe out. You will experience the modified heat and smokiness of the tequila. Then take another sip and roll it around your mouth and notice the full body. If you have a snifter, roll the liquid around the glass and appreciate the legs on the side of the glass, and the bouquet in the bowl.

 

Rafael from El Llano distillery pours us a sample of  a prized reposado

Premium tequilas are best appreciated slowly, softly and with respect.

 

A variety of sizes, colors, and ages, smooth or with bite and fire

 

Dated and labeled, these bottles are from previous distillations

To keep flavors consistent from one distillation to another, bottles of previous favored distillations are kept as a reference library.

 

What a tasting room at El Llano!

If sipping tequila straight up still does not appeal to you, find the original Margarita recipe, use key limes and 100% agave tequila. You will certainly note the difference.

 

Buy a barrel!

In Mexico, it is very common to have one's own barrel. These are made in popular 1 liter, 2 liter, and 5 liter sizes. Because reposados and anejos can be expensive  Mexicans will purchase a simple blanco, and age it in a barrel themselves.

What a wonderful present to someone you care about!

 

Centenario or Arrete?

We hope our story about Mexico's national drink has enlightened you on the fine points of tequila. Perhaps you will be able to visit the town someday, and now you certainly know something about the tradition. So the next time you have an opportunity to try a classic tequila, we hope your experience will be enhanced.

 

The fine town of Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico

Billyís first career was as a French chef. Visiting Europe in 1979, we had a personal introduction to the cognac region and toured the Segonzac vineyards and distillery. During the years we owned and operated our restaurant in Santa Cruz, California, part of our job was to visit the famous Napa Valley vineyards. There we toured the wineries and purchased fine selections for our wine list, the most extensive in our city. Since our retirement in 1991, our world travels have afforded us the opportunity to meet owners of breweries and distilleries around the world, such as Speights Beer brewery in Dunedin, New Zealand and the Roaring Forties Distillery in Nelson.

In each of these enterprises, we have been moved by the boldness, dedication, perseverance and pride that the owners have to attain business success.  

The making of tequila in Mexico is no exception. Coupled with the generosity and hospitality of the Mexican people, traveling to Tequila, Jalisco to visit the agave fields and view the making of tequila first hand is a worthwhile trip. We have learned that the unique tastes, characteristics and quality of this beverage puts tequila on par with the finest cognacs we have tasted.

 If you want to learn more about the city of Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico, click here

 If you want to know more about the tradition of tequila click here

For more stories about places of interest in Mexico, click here

About the Authors
 
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their world travels.

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