Nothing Less than 100% Blue Agave Tequila

Oct 15, 2001

The Bottom Line 100% Blue Agave Tequila - the only way to go. Avoid the mixto (blended) tequilas and search out the Reposado and Añejo tequilas from the finer houses.

Last August, my wife and I traveled to Tequila, Mexico, to visit some tequila plants, dine at Sauza's La Perseverancia Hacienda, and, of course, drink tequila.

How Tequila is Made
The best tequilas are made from 100% blue agave and are not married with other spirits. Only blue agave grown in Jalisco and in certain parts of Nayarit, Michoacan, Guanajuato and Tamaulipas can be used to produce tequila. It takes 8-to-10 years for an agave plant to mature, so the greater part of manufacturing tequila is plantation work: planting, fertilizing, pruning and harvesting.

The production of tequila is actually a very simple, uncomplicated process. It pretty much is a straight-forward distillation of the juice from the fermented heart of the starchy agave plant. The core of the plant is "cooked" in huge ovens -- for as long as 36 hours -- to break down starches into sugar. The liquid produced from this process is then fermented (for about 55 hours) and then twice distilled. The distilled tequila is clear (white, or "silver") in color.

Some distillers, like Jose Cuervo and Sauza, will mix other alcohol distillates (from sugar cane) with their 100% Blue Agave tequila to produce a lesser-quality and cheaper product: Jose Cuervo Especial  and Sauza Extra Gold Tequila, for example. These particular tequilas are the best sellers in America simply because they are inexpensive: about $15 for a 750 bottle, sometimes cheaper. What most consumers don't know is that these "tequilas" are made with about 51% Blue Agave tequila mixed with about 49% alcohol derived from cane sugar distillation. Additionally, these tequilas have artificial caramel coloring added to give them a gold color.

The best tequilas, as I mentioned, are made from 100% blue agave. What sets some distiller's products apart from those produced by others are very slight: the kind of yeast used (each distiller develops and guards their own strains, some use wild yeast strains), the manner in which the tequila is fermented (Sauza, the number two tequila maker, uses huge 500,000 liter steel fermentation tanks; some smaller tequila houses will ferment in small lots), and the manner in which the tequila is aged.

Generally, tequila is a clear spirit that does not improve vastly with extended aging. Most rested (Reposado) tequilas are aged for less then 11 months in large oaks casks. (Some smaller tequila houses may age in smaller barrels). The oldest tequilas (Añejo) are aged one year or more (usually two at the most) in small oak barrels. At Sauza, for example, aging guidelines are as follows:

Reposado tequila is aged for up to 11 months in large oak casks.
Añejo tequila is aged (depending upon the "brand") from one-to-three years in small oak barrels.

Some Personal Recommendations
While in Mexico, I had an opportunity to try a number of different tequilas. Two Reposado tequilas that I really enjoyed are:

1) El Tequileño Especial ~ Tequila Reposado 100% de Agave
This tequila is distilled and bottled by Jorge Salles Cuervo y Sucs., S.A. This is a 38% alcohol by volume tequila.

Color: Very faint yellow color. No caramel coloring added.
Aroma: A light nose, slight pear and orange tones backed by creamy agave and vanilla scents.
Finish: Slightly assertive with a degree of warmth and a little burn. Overall, pretty easy on the palate.

2) El Jimador Tequila Reposado ~ 100% de Agave
This tequila is distilled and bottled by Tequila Herrandura, S.A. This is a slightly stronger, 40% alcohol by volume tequila.
Color: Faint yellow / straw. No caramel coloring added.
Aroma: Surprising strong pear scent, backed by creamy agave and oak.
Finish: Very good warmth and no burn. Extremely smooth. Very nice.

Price and Availability
I purchased a 250 ml bottle of El Tequileño Especial  at a retailer in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (at the Super del Puerto located in the Malecon district).

I paid about DDL $100 (Pesos) for this bottle. At exchange rates in effect at the time, this equates to about $11 US. That would translate to about $30 for a 750 ml bottle. This tequila is not available in the U.S.A., so far as I can tell, but it fairly easy to find in the state of Jalisco, Mexico -- the tequila capital of the world.

I purchased the El Jimador Tequila at my local Beverages and More shop ( Price: about $25 per 750 ml bottle. This brand is in pretty wide distribution throughout North America. Imported by Sazerac Company, Inc., of New Orleans, Louisiana.

I was well pleased by my selections. They were both fine, inexpensive tequilas that are perfectly suited for drinking as shots or for use in mixed drinks like Margaritas. Both are very good tequilas available at an excellent price considering the quality. Personally, I enjoyed the El Jimado the best.

Important tip: when buying tequila, look for the Producción National Mexican government seal (a kind of legal stamp with a hologram attesting to the fact that the tequila is from 100% blue agave grown from a government recognized source). If the label does not indicated that 100% blue agave is used, then there is a good chance that the tequila may contain other spirits (alcohol from sugar cane) that make the tequila harsh and nasty to the palate.

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Member: Tom Carr
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