In the Mexican state of Jalisco, an hour’s drive northwest of the capital Guadalajara, a small town of 40,000 unassumingly goes about its business. But driving in, visitors will notice something odd. Row upon row, field upon field, farm upon farm – spiky blue agave plants as far as the eye can see.
Visitors might note one other peculiarity about this town – its name. Tequila.
The birthplace of Mexico’s national drink, Tequila continues to be the epicentre of its namesake spirit’s production to this day. And while many a first year university student might curse both the place and the drink, the truth is that tequila can offer every bit as complex and rewarding an experience as whiskey or cognac, provided you show a little restraint.
From prickly plant to spiky spirit
When 16th-century Spanish conquistadors ran out of brandy in the hills of what is now central Mexico, they turned to the blue agave plant to fill their stomachs. Packed with natural sugars, the heart of the spiny plant made for the perfect base from which to extract and distil alcohol.
The process is relatively simple. An eight year old blue agave plant (a succulent – don’t let it hear you call it a cactus) is harvested, its spiky leaves cut off and discarded. The pineapple-shaped heart of the plant, called the piña, is then baked in an oven for three days, generating a sappy, sugar-laden liquid. The liquid is then fermented to produce alcohol, which is then concentrated and purified through distillation.
The result? That white or gold coloured liquid that, depending on your previous experience, could fill the heart with fear, delight or respect.