Everyone knows the ‘lick-shoot-suck’ tradition.
Wet the back of your hand, pour the salt onto it and lick it off. Down the Tequila shot and before the aftertaste hits you, you have the lime slice in your mouth. And you’re ready for a repeat.
This ritual has spread like a virus. People everywhere have embraced it, and it results in an astounding amount of Tequila getting consumed.
However, Tequila is still a “gives the wrong impression” kind of drink in India. It’s smoother than rum, more flavourful than vodka and arguably headier than any other spirit; and yet not on most Indians’ alcohol to-drink list. Tequila is good for much more than just Margaritas or shots.
Having said that, the liquor is slowly but steadily gaining traction in the Indian market. It now has a niche following. Its fans are however still insignificant compared to the whisky, rum or even vodka drinking majority. Tequila is often seen as an aspirational drink, and has a wealthier, urban, corporate, party-isque consumer representation.
But, what is Tequila?
It all started when the heroic and often inebriated Spanish conquerors ran their brandy supplies dry. I’m sure that, with all the conquering, ‘nation building’, and discovering that they were doing, their penchant for a tipple was one too many. Out of sheer desperation, they started distilling agave to produce one of North America’s first indigenous distilled spirits
It’s worth noting that a fermented beverage from the agave plant known as pulque was consumed in pre-Columbian central Mexico much before European contact.
Tequila was first produced in the 16th century (by the above mentioned brandy deprived Conquistadors) near the site of the future city of Tequila, which was not formally established until 1666.
Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle is credited with mass-producing Tequila in a factory near modern day Jalisco, Mexico. Spain’s King Carlos IV granted the Cuervo family the first permit to commercially produce the spirit.
More than 200 years later, and Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila and municipal president of the village of Tequila became the first to export Tequila to the United States of America. His grandson, Don Francisco Javier is credited with ensuring that Tequila could only come from the Mexican state of Jalisco.
The core of the plant contains aguamiel or “honey water,” which is used for syrup (and Tequila) production. No more than the heart of the plant is used, and it can weigh anywhere from 35 to 90kgs.
There are over 100 distilleries, making over 900 brands of Tequila in Mexico, and over 2000 brands have been registered.
Contrary to popular belief, Tequila is best enjoyed in a special Tequila glass or brandy snifter. An unopened bottle can last years, however, unlike other spirits, once opened, the Tequila has about one to two months before oxidisation and evaporation lowers its quality and destroys the agave profile. So, one should finish the opened bottle in 3 to 6 months, after which it becomes more like a bourbon.
Tequila Silver which includes Blanco, Plata, White and Platinum is a clear, unaged Tequila that is usually bottled right after being distilled.
Tequila Gold (Joven & Oro) is Blanco to which colourants and flavourings, such as caramel colouring, oak tree extracts, glycerin, or sugar syrup, have been added prior to bottling. The blending of silver Tequila with aged or extra-aged Tequila is considered gold or Joven Tequila.
Tequila Reposado is the first definitively aged Tequila, and mandates that the Tequila remain in wood for a period of two months but no longer than 12 months.
Tequila Añejo (extra aged) is aged a minimum of one year. A year of resting in a cool bodega produces a smoother and more sophisticated taste. Añejos are typically aged between 1 and 3 years. They are darker in colour, more complex in flavour, and smoother than reposado Tequilas.
Tequila Extra Añejo (extra, extra aged) is a new classification of Tequila and has been aged for a period of at least three years.
Reposado and Añejo are excellent substitutes for rum, bourbon or scotch and cognac or Armagnac.
Treat it like a sipping whisky or rum. Nose it gently, and enjoy its taste with small sips. Let it open up for you. Make use of a tasting glass or wine glass. The best ambience to try it in is when you’re comfortable, in the company of friends or family.
Try Bloody Marys with Tequila instead of Vodka. Or trade a Gin and Tonic for a Tequila and grapefruit soda.
It’s time to explore, experiment and enjoy.
Never have there been more ‘options galore’ in India, than now.
It’s time for India to have its Tequila Sunrise.