While a margarita is one of my favorite cocktails, I learned during a trip to Riviera Maya, Mexico that good tequila is sipped plain – without the other ingredients like Cointreau, lemon and lime juice. I attended a few tequila tastings and naturally found the most expensive brands tasted best.
Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 40 miles northwest of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.
The red volcanic soil in the surrounding region is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year. Agave tequila grows differently depending on the region, just like grapes used for wine. Blue agaves grown in the highlands region are larger in size and sweeter in aroma and taste. Agaves harvested in the lowlands, on the other hand, have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor.
Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. The United States officially recognizes that spirits called “tequila” can only be produced in Mexico, although by agreement bulk amounts can be shipped to be bottled in the U.S.
Tequila is strong stuff: most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 U.S. proof), but can be produced between 31 and 55% alcohol content (62 and 110 U.S. proof).
There are also different types of tequila depending on the aging.
Silver or Blanco
Tequila Silver or Blanco is the blue agave spirit in its purest form. It is clear and typically un-aged.
A Reposado Tequila is the first stage of “rested and aged”. This type is aged in wood barrels or storage tanks between 2 months and 11 months. The spirit takes on a golden hue and the taste becomes a good balance between the agave and wood flavors.
Tequila Añejo (extra aged) must be aged for at least one year before it can be classified as an “Añejo”. The distillers are required to age Añejo Tequila in barrels that do not exceed 600 liters. This aging process darkens the Tequila to an amber color, and the flavor can become smoother, richer, and more complex.
Tequila Extra Añejo
Tequila Extra Añejo (ultra aged), is a new classification added in the summer of 2006, labeling any Tequila aged more than 3 years, an “Extra Añejo”. Following the same rule as an “Añejo”, the distillers must age the spirit in barrels or containers with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. With this extended aging, the Tequila becomes much darker; more of a mahogany color, and is so rich that it becomes difficult to distinguish it from other quality aged spirits. After the aging process, the alcohol content must be diluted by adding distilled water. These Extra Añejo’s are extremely smooth and complex.
I was sent a small bottle of Damascus Process Tequila to taste and really found it quite wonderful and smooth for sipping. It was only afterward that I read that the Damascus Process uses the cheapest and most impure tequilas on the market and washes and filters the liquor five times. Amazing.
A team of chemists at Capjem, a culinary science research and development organization, developed a technique to purify alcohol by washing it with fat. The end result is a high quality liquor like top shelf brands. Capjem is the only company in history to successfully develop a process to clean alcohol, by pulling impurities from the liquor, yet maintaining the integrity. Imagine taking poor quality anything and transforming it into top of the line. That’s magic!
I also tried the Damascus Process Vodka which had to be washed and filtered ten times. I am not usually a vodka drinker, so I can’t compare it to other brands, but I was able to drink it straight without a burning feeling in my mouth or throat.
I still have one taste test to go: Damascus Process Artisanal Amaretto. It starts with their purified vodka and adds a special Sicilian family combination of spices and flavors. I suspect I will love it as well.