All You Need to Know About Tequila
Whilst the mere name will send shivers down the spine of those with less-than-fond memories of slamming shots of poorly produced mixto tequilas in a nightclub, more and more spirits aficionados are becoming aware of the fascinating history, versatility and stylistic range of 100% agave tequilas. It is, in fact, the fastest growing spirit in the UK and the USA (however, not in Mexico, strangely enough, where it has been taken over by its less popular sister spirit, mezcal).
The aforementioned agave plant is very much at the heart of tequila. Mixto tequilas often use as little as 51% spirit distilled from the juice of the agave plant. The rest? Whatever they like, it seems, but in most cases you can bet that it is that 49% that gives you the painful hangover the next day. 100% agave tequilas have a very strict set of rules when it comes to their production, and justifiably so, since this plant – which looks a little like a large cactus but is closer to the lily and yucca families – is a very sacred crop for the Mexicans. Said to have been struck by lightning until it oozed the blood of Mayahuel, the Aztec goddess of fertility, this big plant has been providing the Native Americans with raw materials, food and juice for 10,000 years. The word, agave, stems from the Greek word meaning magnificent or noble.
Another reason to hold tequila in high regard is the simple fact that it takes so much time, effort and care to grow. The agave plant takes between 6 to 12 years to reach maturity (depending on who is growing it and in which region) and is prone to various fungus and insects. This means each plant is carefully looked after by a jimador, the gentleman who not only skilfully reaps the precious, spiky plant but tends it from day one. It is not unusual to see three generations of jimadors working side by side in an agave field, as this profession is held in extremely high regard. Of course you could compare it to wine and winemakers but try to think of any product behind a bar wine or spirit that stems from a raw product that takes as much time to grow as an agave plant.
Patron has long been the number one selling premium tequila in the world and has more recently, launched some ultra-premium expressions. It goes without saying that all of their tequilas are 100% agave, coming from the highlands of Jalisco, famed for its sweeter, lighter styles of tequila. At the top of their range is Gran Patron Burdeos, aged for over two years (that’s quite a while in tequila-time) distilled 3 times and spent time in first-growth Bordeaux barrels. Keep the lime and salt well away.
The bottle is jaw-dropping; a crystal decanter that comes in a beautiful walnut case, complete with bottle opener, stopper and each bottle numbered and signed by the master distiller. This spirit is almost as Christmassy as fruitcake, dried papaya, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cacao and coffee flavours are apparent. There is a subtle balance between the soft vegetal notes of the agave plant and a hint of grapes from the wine barrel. Crusty bread and butter pudding with sultanas is another tasting note which raised a few eyebrows on the Patron Hacienda earlier this year but how do you explain that classic British pudding to a table full of Mexicans? This is a great introduction to tequila for the shrinking number of the non-converted. Salud!