Tequila is one of the world’s most renowned liquors—the long and complex development of this alcoholic drink centers in modern Mexico.
Most people in the native country drink tequila neat, but it has become an essential ingredient in cocktail varieties globally. The paloma, margarita, tequila sunrise, and more all require tequila to get the taste exactly right.
Over many centuries, the process of producing tequila has become both a science and an art. But where does it come from? What does making tequila look like? And what sets the drink apart from other spirits? In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and more.
Where Does Tequila Come From?
So where did tequila as we know it get its start? The history of tequila began with one of the cradles of civilization: pre-Columbian Mexico.
Nahuatl Peoples And Pulque
Most relevant to the history of tequila are the Nahua people, who speak a diverse number of Nahuatl languages. Today, Nahuas are a widespread ethnic group with populations in Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. They currently number more than two million. It was the Nahuatl people who invented and cultivated pulque, the precursor to modern tequila.
The Rise Of The Blue Agave Plant
Agave has a fascinating cultural history among the indigenous Mexican peoples. This dark green, spiny succulent grows up to two feet tall in “campos de Agave,” potreros, or tumbaderos and requires very little maintenance compared to other commonly cultivated plants. The economic and social significance of pulque, a drink made from the sugary sap of succulents, contributed to the growth of a religious cult.
Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey plant worshipped by indigenous Mexican cultures in the postclassic pre-Columbian era, was especially prevalent among Aztecs. They considered her the personification of the maguey (used to make mezcal wine and mezcal tequila) and also connected her with pulque. Mayahuel was significant as part of the network of maternal and fertility goddesses in the Aztec pantheon.
Additionally, Mescalero peoples call themselves Nadahéndé, meaning “people of the Mescal,” at least in part because they relied on mezcal as a staple food. The stored mezcal, also called mexcalmetl or maguey, was necessary for survival when other sources of food became scarce. These were eventually used for maguey spirits or mezcal. This includes many fermented drink varieties manufactured within the country today.
These ancient traditions, cultural practices, and historical economic conditions combined give us the famous liquor we have today. The Tequila region is incredibly significant in global history and culture. Recognizing this, UNESCO declared the Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila a World Heritage Site in 2006.
Where Is Tequila Made?
Tequila is one of Mexico’s leading economic products. Correspondingly, more than 40 other countries recognize tequila as a protected designation of origin product of Mexico. More than 374 million liters of Mexican tequila are distilled each year, with at least 228 million liters being pure agave. (The next time you buy a bottle of tequila, look for that infamous “Hecho en Mexico” label!). The word tequila comes from the place that leads the production.
Mexican Government Regulation Of Tequila Production
Mexican national law stipulates that tequila production be limited to the state of Jalisco. Some limited additional tequila production is permitted in the municipios of Michoacán, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, and Nayarit. Tequilas can only be marketed as such if produced here with at least 51 percent agave. Mixto tequilas consist of agave mixed with other ingredients.
Tequila’s flavor comes in large part through the mineral and nutrient qualities of the soil in which agave plants grow. The red volcanic soils picadoros find in the Tequila region make them uniquely suited to growing abundant harvests. 300 million agave plant cores are harvested annually in Tequila alone.
Aged tequila made from plants grown in the Highlands of Los Altos tends to have a sweet taste and aroma. The Lowlands tend to produce plants that taste earthier and more herbaceous, which is reflected in alcoholic beverages made from them.
The Development Of Modern Tequila
Modern tequila first emerged in and around the city of Tequila in the 16th century. Invading Spanish conquistadors began to distill agave. This process was in part taken from making the indigenous drink pulque, a fermented milk-colored beverage.
The first commercial production license for tequila was granted by King Carlos IV of Spain. With this singular decree began the process that culminated in the mass production and shipping of tequila to the four corners of the world. In 1974, the Mexican government declared tequila its national intellectual property.
Widescale distributors like Jose Cuervo were around by the late 1700s, and this company still accounts for one-fifth of sales worldwide. Other famous names like Don Cenobio Sauza also played a role in developing the beverage.
Today, tequila is still enjoyed around the world, at Cinco de Mayo celebrations, in margarita cocktails, and elsewhere. From affordable brands like Jose Cuervo to upscale distilled spirits like our own Calirosa Tequila, co-founded by Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and Victoria’s Secret Model Behati Prinsloo Levine, this fermented beverage remains extremely popular.
What Is Tequila Made From?
The creation of tequila begins with a succulent called the blue agave. As we mentioned above, the tequila agave plant is produced in large numbers in Altos de Jalisco.
How Is Tequila Made?
The agave plant is harvested today in much the same way as it has been for many centuries. Tequila producers, or tequilinos, keep plants from prematurely flowering and dying by trimming their quiotes, stalks that grow to be several feet high out of each plant’s center. They use a specialized cutting tool known as a coa (a blade at the end of a long handle) to cut leaves away from the plant’s center.
Tequila begins as raw plant matter just after harvest. The jimador, or magueyeros, use a coa to cut leaves away from the piña bulb growing underneath the soil. Once farmers have harvested the bulbs, they are baked in brick or clay ovens. This process, which used to be done in rock-lined pits before industrialization, extracts the sugars from the core that will be fermented.
The piña cores are then crushed by molineros and shredded to extract the juice inside. Traditionally, agave piñas were crushed using a large stone wheel called a tahona. Today, the sweet agave juice inside, called mosto, is most often removed using an industrial shredder. Workers then combine mosto with water and yeast in large wooden barrels or stainless steel tanks to ferment.
After the tequila has been allowed to ferment, it is distilled twice by a maestro. This process purifies the look, flavor, and aroma of the tequila. After the first distillation, a cloudy mixture called ordinario is produced. After the second distillation, the characteristic silver-colored tequila is ready for aging.
The maturation process lasts at least two or three weeks. Silver or white tequila, called blanco, rests for the shortest time. Other varieties include reposado (aged two months to a year) and añejo (aged one to three years). Extra añejo tequilas are aged for more than three years. That infamous golden coloring is added by doing the aging period in wooden containers. Finally, joven or oro tequilas are mixed silver and reposado tequilas. Once this process is finished, the tequila is ready to drink!
Where Does Calirosa Tequila Come From?
The Calirosa tequilero crafts a family of premium tequilas inspired by a delightful fusion of Mexican and Californian influences. Handcrafted in Amatitan, Jalisco, by lifelong tequila mezcaleros Don Roberto and Don Fernando Real, their family company were the first to age their tequilas in red wine barrels.
The Real Family continues their tradition with Calirosa, as our tequilas have been produced using 100 percent Blue Weber agaves grown in the shade of the Tequila Volcano. The result is a consistently complex flavor perfect for sipping. Calirosa uses agave hearts that are seven to nine years old to give them a smoother flavor without the bitterness that comes from cheaper tequilas. While industry standards are to use agaves with 22 to 24 percent sugar content, Calirosa uses ones with at least 26!
Calirosa tequilas are crafted in small batches, with each plant cooked in traditional brick ovens for up to 40 hours and then rested for another 48— far more than the industry standard of just 7 hours.
Using our own natural yeast on-site, intense notes of herbaceous citrus are drawn out of the plant. Up to 50 hours of fermenting give our premium tequila the necessary time to bring out every detailed flavor. Our tequilas are then distilled in traditional copper stills and poured into red wine bottles to age. Our Rosa Blanco rests for 30 days, while our anejo ages for 18 months. Our extra anejo is aged a full 36 months! This process bestows notes of vanilla, nutmeg, caramel, chocolate, and oak of varying intensities.
Drink Calirosa Tequila Today!
Tequila has an ancient history in Mexico, and these days, people enjoy it around the world. Wherever you live, you can also sip Calirosa tequila grown and produced with the same methods that natives have used for centuries. When you try it, you will understand why the process remains virtually unchanged, from growing to harvesting, fermenting, and distilling. This delicious liquor lets you enjoy the tastes of Mexico no matter where you are in the world.