For a large portion of the drinking population, tequila is a popular choice for slamming, or just as the key ingredient for margaritas. For true tequila buffs, however, the drink is something to be imbibed slowly and carefully in order to draw out its vivid natural flavors and depth. Such people have no interest in mixing the drink with other concoctions, but rather consider the drink on its own merits.
Tequila varies in taste based on a number of factors including the soil in which the agave plant is grown, climate of the region and geography of the land. According to tequila connoisseur and maker Brady Bunte, this tequila terroir strongly influences the kind of flavors that the resulting drink will have.
Tequila comes from the agave plant that is only found in specific parts of Mexico. This includes the surrounding area of the city of Tequila, the highlands of Jalisco State and smaller parts in Guanajuato, Nayarit, Michoacán and Tamaulipas.
The volcanic soils in these regions are well suited to the growth of the agave plant. The characteristic weather patterns and soil nutrients of each agave growing region also tend to have their own influence on the taste of the plant growth. According to Brady Bunte, it is possible to identify which region a tequila drink originates from, based on taste alone, and with an understanding of the bottling process.
Jalisco State is renowned for being the single largest agave growing area. Plants that are grown in the lowlands of this region, and around the city of Tequila that are made up of red volcanic soils, result in Joven tequila with a citrusy taste. When aged longer in oak barrels to make Reposado, Brady Bunte has found the tequila takes on spicier and earthy tones.
Agave plants raised in the Jalisco highlands tend to receive exposure to less rainfall than the lowland variety. According to Brady Bunte, this forces the plants to dig deeper into the soil for water. At these depths, Brady Bunte says the plants are also able to tap into richer mineral deposits. This is believed to be the cause of the higher quality tequilas made from these plants. Tequilas made with highland grown agave tend to have a sweeter aroma and sugary or fruity taste. The taste is even sweeter when the tequila is aged longer to make Reposado and Anejo.
Agave that is grown in smaller quantity within the regions of Tamaulipas and Guanajuato tends to produce a similar result as that of the Jalisco highlands. Brady Bunte however notes that agave that is grown nearer to the Gulf of Mexico in Tamaulipas tends to result in tequila with a saltier taste. This is believed to be drawn from the sea air in the region.
For anyone wanting to become more knowledgeable on the subject of tequila, Brady Bunte recommends that they stick to quality brands of the drink, made of 100% agave. In this way they can enjoy a clearer taste, unsullied by flavoring and the addition of glucose and fructose sugars that are present in mixtos.
Brady Bunte also recommends making a note of the subtlety and complexity of the flavors. Training yourself to identify the depth and variation of the flavors will help in picking out how long the tequila has been aged. Typically, the longer the tequila is aged in oak barrels, the smoother, subtler and multifaceted the flavors become. The tequila will also more strongly take on the flavors of the wood. Brady Bunte recommends the drinking of tequila that has been aged in oak barrels as they work well in diminishing the harsh taste of alcohol in the drink.