Why did the Mexican push his wife off the cliff?
I start all my Tequila training sessions with this joke and it still makes me smile after all this time. Today is World Tequila Day and I thought I’d pay a quick homage to this very misunderstood spirit.
Tequila became a delimited area in 1974 – at this time, The Declaration of Protection of the Appellation of Origin Tequila was published in the Official Federal Journal effectively making Tequila Mexico’s National Spirit and this became internationally recognised in 1977 when an international “denomination of origin” classification was granted and Tequila became a part of the global supermarket.
Back in the 1970’s and indeed right up to the 90’s, Tequila wasn’t much of a player on the World’s stage. Outside of Mexico, Southern California and Texas, it’s use was largely themed restaurants and party bars. It’s annual sales weren’t much to write home about.
Then two completely unforeseen things happened.
Firstly, with a rekindled interest in cocktails and the rise of the ‘Style Bar’, Tequila sales started to gain traction just as an infestation started to attack the Agave plants from which Tequila must be made. Although there are over 130 species of agave, only the Agave Tequiliana Weber Azul can be used to make Tequila and it takes around 8 years to reach maturation and be ready for harvesting. The agaveros suddenly found themselves in deficit as they were harvesting the plants and there were none ripe enough to replace them – we entered the agave crisis.
In 2000, when the crisis started to really hit hard, the price of agave had raised tenfold in only 6 months with a ton of agave piñas being worth $1400 pushing prices per finished bottle from an average of $12 to $17.
Fearing that the same could happen to Tequila as happened to France’s wine and brandy industry following the phylloxera infestation. The industry started evolving to make their agave stocks more efficient.
Most major producers stopped producing ‘plata’ or silver styles of Tequila and instead invested their stock in maturation. By ‘resting’ the spirit for 60 days or longer, they could change category to a more premium one which would command a better price. The knock-on effect of this is that we really started to see how fantastic agave spirit can be once the effects of oak take hold and Tequila slowly started to change from being exclusively for shots and margaritas to a connoisseur’s sipping spirit too.
Now the producers are back on track with managing their crops and global consumption is still in the ascendency we are being treated to better and better Tequilas as we are seeing more innovation and the envelope is continually being pushed.
Here are some of my favourite Tequilas starting with a controversial one
Porfidio was created by a young Austrian called Martin Grassl who moved to Mexico and ended up founding the brand. His way of doing things may have rubbed some people up the wrong way and has, over the past decade had kidnap threats made against his family, been arrested, and been accused of not conforming to the rules of Tequila production. Indeed at one point he had his NOM rescinded (the certification number to prove he is producing legitimate Tequila) but fought to have it restored and now claims not to use if for the export market because his spirit is “better than Tequila” Whatever he has gone through in the past, if a NOM has been assigned and Porfidio is a genuine Tequila, it remains one of the best spirits I’ve tasted and I love both the plata and varieties.
Excellia Tequila is the pinnacle of collaboration and sees the coming together of the expertise of two master craftsmen – Jean-Sébastien Robicquet, the creator of G’vine Gin and Cîroc vodka and Carlos Camarena of Tapatio Tequila. Agave from the Los Altos area of Tequila is fermented and distilled using traditional methods before being aged for nine months in ex-Sauternes and Cognac barrels. The result is a unique experience in Tequila which is as enjoyable to sip over ice as it is in cocktails.
Olmeca Altos is probably my go-to and definitely my favourite blanco. This spirit is the true taste of Tequila and used traditional method to ensure that the finished product brings out the best of the agave flavours. This is definitely one of my favourite products to use in cocktails.
50ml Olmeca Altos Plata
10ml Lemon Juice
Dash Balsamic vinegar
5ml Sugar Syrup
3 pinch fresh ground black pepper
Shake all ingredients well and strain into a chilled coupette
Garnish with raspberries.
Finally I have to give a special mention to the Kah range of Tequilas just because their bottles are magnificent. The liquids inside are still great but have definitely been created for the next breed of Patròn drinkers. I don’t care – I’ll collect the whole range. This one was produced as a limited edition batch in 2012 to celebrate the ‘end of days’ as predicted by the Mayans. Fortunately it didn’t happen and I’ll be able to enjoy the contents of this bottle for some time to come.