Welcome to Alcohol Geography, Playboy.com’s monthly attempt to educate you, our loyal readers, on the finer points of where your favorite poisons originate and the natural topography that inspires a distinct adventure for your seasoned tastes. From Skye and Speyside malts in Scotland to the vodkas of Russia, get ready to be the ultimate drink connoisseur.
In terms of a raucous rep to protect, no alcohol has garnered greater infamy than tequila. Known in most college circles as “liquid panty remover” and everywhere else simply as a surefire way to get fucked up, Mexico’s most notorious export has certainly honed its bad-boy imbibing image; its consumption is a telltale sign the night is about to take a turn for the worse.
But what is tequila? Its production is about as mysterious as the nights it helps spawn: adhering to age-old traditions, passed down from generation to generation, jimadores sow, tend and harvest the blue agave plant by trimming the quiotes (stalks) at just the right time, allowing the agave to fully ripen. When it has (and here’s the part only the jimadore knows), it’s harvested using a coa, a specialized blade that cuts away the leaves from the piña (the 150-240 pound core of the plant), a process that if performed too early or too late leaves the plant with insufficient carbohydrates for fermentation.
From there, the piñas are baked to break down their starches and sugars and shredded or mashed to surrender their juices. The juice is then left to ferment for several days in containers, where it becomes wort, or mosto. The mosto is distilled once to produce ordinario and twice to produce “silver tequila.” That is either bottled and sold or left to age in wooden barrels, where it mellows and takes on an amber color.
Like most alcohol, tequila has aging requirements that correspond to naming conventions: Blanco or plata connotes an unaged (or minimally aged—less than two months in stainless steel containers) tequila that is bottled and sold immediately. Joven (young) or oro (gold) suggests a mix with added coloring. Reposado (rested) means it’s been aged a minimum of two months but less than a year. Añejo (aged) suggests more than a year, but less than three. And Extra Añejo (or ultra-aged) is anything more than three.
Mexico also has some geographical restrictions on what can be considered tequila: it can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and a few outlying areas like Tamaulipas and Chihuahua. It usually clocks in at about 38 to 40 percent ABV but can be produced at anywhere from 30 to 55 percent. And, as of 2008, the Tequila Regulatory Council reported 901 brands of tequila from 128 available at market.
But enough with boring stuff; on to the brands!
Boasting over three million plants and 1000 hectares of agave fields, Tequila Supremo is responsible for turning out one of Mexico’s finest imports: Don Augustin. Their Blanco, Reposado and Anejo offerings (each 100% agave) are all Silver Medal winners from the Beverage Tasting Institute (the Reposado particularly tickled the BTI’s fancy, pulling down the medal three years running from 2004-06). The company also produces Casco Veijo, the fourth largest tequila brand worldwide.
Best Offerings: Don Augustin Blanco, Don Augustin Reposado, Don Augustin Anejo
With their supply of agave nestled near a dormant volcano in Tequila Valley, Familia Partida prides itself, much like the volcano, on patience. They wait seven to ten years for the pina to fully ripen and then age it in one-pass Jack Daniels barrels 50 per cent longer than required. The result is a distinct-tasting tequila, one best left to sipping.
Best Offerings: Partida Reposado, Partida Anejo, Partida Elegante
Out on Mexico’s West coast, the furthest reaches of Jalisco, rests Rancho Verano, a distillery renowned for its clean-cut ways. Its Blanco is self-described as “unexpectedly fresh”; its Reposado, aged for 11 months is “clean and crisp”; their Anejo, “rich and smooth”. All told, fine Tequilas whose locale offers a slightly more emphatic taste than most.
They say the Tequila from Chihuahua tastes a little different and they are by all accounts correct; HDC’s Anejo Super Premium has been triple distilled in a copper still and aged two years in French white oak barrel, a welcome departure from the one-pass whiskey barrels commonly used. The result is a truly unique taste, with each bottle distinct, stemming from their insistence on using single numbered barrels for each submission.
Another departure from the traditional tequilas of Jalisco, Tequilera La Gonzalena lays claim to the Chicano brand in the state of Tamaulipas. They hold the distinguished honor of being the first distillers of Ultra-Premium tequila, a product that, when let loose upon unsuspecting American markets caused demand to vastly exceed production. Today, the Chicano brand is still mentioned in the same breath as the world’s greatest tequilas
Best Offerings: Chicano Blanco, Chicano Reposado, Chicano Anejo