Tequila is a regional specific name for a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 40 miles northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the north western Mexican state of Jalisco. Although tequila is a kind ofmezcal, modern tequila differs somewhat in the method of its production, in the use of only blue agave plants, as well as in its regional specificity.
The red volcanic soil in the surrounding region is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year. Agave tequila grows differently depending on the region. Blue agaves grown in the highlands region are larger in size and sweeter in aroma and taste. Agaves harvested in the lowlands, on the other hand, have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor.
Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, andTamaulipas. The United States officially recognizes that spirits called “tequila” can only be produced in Mexico, although by agreement bulk amounts can be shipped to be bottled in the U.S.
Tequila is most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 proof), but can be produced between 31 and 55% alcohol content (62 and 110 proof).
Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near the location of the city of Tequila, which was not officially established until 1666. The Aztec people had previously made afermented beverage from the agave plant, long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill agave to produce one of North America’s first indigenous distilled spirits.
Some 80 years later, around 1600, Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira, began mass-producing tequila at the first factory in the territory of modern-dayJalisco. By 1608, the colonial governor of Nueva Galicia had begun to tax his products. Spain’s King Carlos IV granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make tequila.
The style of tequila popular today was first mass-produced in the early 19th century in Guadalajara, Mexico.