The History of Tequila

Tequila is known as the liquor that gives popular cocktails, including the margarita and the Long Island iced tea, their world famous kick and delicious flavor, but it's also a fine sipping liquor that's also enjoyed alone. Where does tequila come from, and what's the difference between "silver" varieties and amber, aged varieties? Here's what you need to know about tequila - including how to age your own tequila - to appreciate North America's oldest distilled spirit.

Where Does Tequila Come From?

As early as 1000 B.C., a Mexican tribe called the Olmec discovered that the blue agave plant produced a sap that, when fermented, produced a milky alcoholic liquid called pulque. The first evidence of pulque appeared on stone walls about 200 A.D., and the Aztecs so revered the drink that they worshipped two gods with ties to the beverage.

Hundreds of years later, the Spanish discovered the Aztecs - and pulque - when they created a tequila-like drink called mescal using agave and mud. By the early 1600s, the first large agave distillery opened in Jalisco, Mexico, ushering in the tequila revolution.

Perhaps the best-known name in tequila, the Cuervo family began distilling agave in 1758. The Sauza family followed, and Don Sauza is largely credited for pointing to the blue agave plant as producing the best quality tequilas.

By the time 1936 arrived, the margarita was born, and in 1974, the Mexican government claimed "tequila" as its intellectual property. This allowed the Mexican government to control the production of tequila, while preventing businesses in other countries from capitalizing on its popularity.

Types of Tequila

Harvesting the blue agave plant is still largely done by hand, following centuries of tradition. There are four basic kinds of tequila:

  • Blanco. "White" or "silver" tequila is unaged, or aged in neutral oak or stainless steel barrels, for no more than two months. It is the youngest of all the varieties and has the boldest taste of all the tequilas.
  • Gold. Gold tequila is either white tequila with added food coloring or white tequila blended with an aged tequila.
  • Reposado. Reposado tequila ages in an oak barrel for between two and 12 months. As time passes, the subtlety and complexity of the flavor increase.
  • Anejo. Anejo tequila ages in a small oak barrel for less than three years, although some extra-aged varieties rest longer. The smoothest of all the tequilas, aged anejo takes on the flavor of the barrel as the alcohol mellows.

How to Age Your Own Tequila

You can age your own tequila by purchasing a blanco or gold variety and letting it rest in a small oak barrel of your own for a few months or longer, depending on your desired result and level of patience.

As your tequila ages in the barrel, it absorbs the tannins from the oak while allowing the alcohol to mellow. The longer a tequila ages, the more tannins it absorbs. American oak barrels are the most popular type of barrel for aging, but some distilleries use old sherry, bourbon and wine barrels. Home aging allows for the liquor enthusiast to turn an average spirit into an exceptional one, with little investment.

Deep South Barrels handcrafts American oak barrels for tequila in the traditional style. For more information about aging your own tequila, explore your options at Deep South Barrels.