Tempting Tequila

Fast Lane

Get to know this enticing spirit

Floral, fruity, woody, spicy. Discussing fine wine? No fine tequila. With the introduction of two new tequila brands on the Czech market, El Jimador and Herradura, we thought it was time to investigate this spirit a bit further.

Many myths surround the beverage. First, it’s not made from a cactus, but from the agave plant. The plants enjoy the same desert climate, but belong to different botanical families. Also, the worm? There’s no worm in real tequila – it’s only a marketing ploy. And if you are drinking true tequila it must be from Mexico. The name “tequila” has a denomination of origin like champagne and can not be produced anywhere else. Rueben Aceves is the international brand manager for Tequila Herradura, producers of El Jimador and Herradura tequilas.

“Its history dates back to 1521, it was the first distilled spirit in America, when the Spaniards came to America and brought the distillation process,” he explains. “Before, it was called mezcal wine.”

People have been drinking the juice from the agave plant for much longer though. An Aztec Indian is thought to have first tasted and enjoyed the milky substance oozing from an agave plant that had been struck by lightening. The liquid was called pulque, and drunk by the Aztecs for hundreds of years. The word tequila is actually a Nahuatl (Indians from central Mexico) word meaning place of work and was originally consumed by miners in the Tequila region of Mexico.

There are more than 130 varieties of the agave plant, but only one, the Agave tequilana is used to produce the spirit. The plants must be seven years old, and are carefully harvested by jimadores. Similar to grapes, agaves grown in different soils will produce differing flavors of tequila. Aceves says if the agaves are grown in hilly areas the flavor will be fruitier, while tequila from plants grown on flatter lands will be more herb-like. Each step of the process affects the final result.

“The aromatic development begins with selecting agave, the kind of oven to be used, the grinding process, fermentation time, whether the syrup produced will be fermented in stainless steel or cement vats, whether the steel will be made out of copper or some other metal, if distilling time is quick or slow,” he says. “Each detail of the process will determine the style of tequila and leave a mark on our minds.”

Tequila Herradura’s jimadores cut the agave leaves as close to the heart as possible to prevent bitterness. The leaves are slowly cooked in traditional clay ovens for 26 hours to convert the starches to sugars. Their fermentation process lasts up to 96 hours to create a more full-bodied tequila and they are distilled to a lower alcohol proof to preserve the complex flavor elements. They are then aged in oak barrels to ensure their unique taste, color and smoothness.

The company has been producing their Herradura family of tequilas since 1870. In 1994, they launched their El Jimador brand, and it’s now the best selling tequila in Mexico. The Herradura tequilas are all 100% agave while the El Jimador brand is considered a “mixto” which means they must be made from 51% agave and the other 49% some other sugar, like cane or corn. Each tequila has its own nuances, scents and flavors. Herradura Silver, for example, is slightly citrusy, excellent in a margarita. Herradura ANejo (aged for two years) in contrast has a strong wood and vanilla taste and is best sipped like a fine cognac. The El Jimador Reposado (rested) is aged in oak barrels for two months, giving it a gentle cinnamon and woody flavor. Aceves says Mexicans favorite tequila drink is Reposado in a tall glass with ice and grapefruit soda. He prefers his a bit more natural.

“I always drink Blanco tequila neat, in a snifter, never mix it, this is before lunch,” he says. “After lunch, exactly the same way, but Reposado tequila.”