There are those who consider it a drink of the Gods, for others, tequila is a great aperitif or a great pairing to accompany meals and also to be combined with other drinks. The reality is that tequila, whose name comes from the Náhuatl word Tekilan and means "place of the workers", is a recognized and appreciated drink both nationally and internationally. It is also identified as a product that symbolizes Mexican culture.

In July 2006, the agave and the old tequila industrial facilities were declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), for their great natural and cultural wealth. Do you want to know more? Find out some facts about this emblematic Mexican beverage in this article.

The process of making Tequila begins when the "hijuelos", small agave plants are known as "blue agave" are planted and separated from a mother plant. The agaves are cultivated for 5 to 8 years, during which time various tasks are performed to ensure that the plants grow healthy. This spirit is produced from the distillation of the fermented must (agave juice) obtained from the heart of a plant. The heart of the plant, which resembles a large pineapple, is also called "mezcal".

The decoction converts the complex carbohydrates of the pineapples into simple sugars, suitable for fermentation, the sugars will be converted mainly into ethyl alcohol and other compounds will be formed that will contribute to the final characteristics of Tequila. According to information from the Tequila Regulatory Council, according to the percentage of sugars from the agave used to make Tequila, it can be classified into one of the following categories and characteristics:

100% agave

It is the product, which is not susceptible in fermentation to be enriched with sugars other than those obtained from agave tequilana Weber blue variety cultivated in the territory covered by the Declaration. For this product to be considered as "100% agave tequila" it must be bottled in the bottling plant controlled by the Authorized Producer himself, which must be located within the territory covered by the Declaration. This product must be denominated only by one of the following legends: "100% agave", "100% pure agave", "100% agave", "100% pure agave", "100% pure agave".

Tequila

It is that product in which the musts are susceptible to being enriched and mixed together prior to fermentation with other sugars up to a proportion of no more than 49% of total reducing sugars expressed in mass units. This maximum enrichment of up to 49% of total reducing sugars expressed in mass units cannot be made with sugars from any species of agave. Only sugars extracted from Agave tequilana Weber blue variety grown in the territory covered by the Declaration may be used to increase the 51% of total reducing sugars. This product must be bottled in bottling plants located within the territory covered by the Declaration and may only be bottled outside this territory when the conditions established in the NOM are met.

Ethanol is the only alcohol suitable for human consumption and the main component of alcoholic beverages, such as wine (13%), beer (5%), liquor (up to 50%), and tequila (55%). According to Mexican Official Standard NOM-006-SCFI-2012, on alcoholic beverages-tequila-specifications, tequila, according to its characteristics acquired in its post-distillation processes, is classified into:

Blanco (White)

These are usually considered the purest tequilas because they have minimal or no contact with wood. After distillation, these tequilas are filtered and their notes and alcohol levels are adjusted.

Joven (Young)

They can be a blend of white tequila with reposado or white tequila with añejo.
Reposado: they are matured for at least 2 to 11 months maximum in large wooden containers or American white oak barrels. It is the most popular and commercialized type in the country.

Añejo (Aged)

Its aging process must be strictly in barrels, the most common being American white oak barrels, and its time is longer compared to reposados. Its maturation ranges from 12 to 35 months in barrels and presents colorations in amber or copper tones.

Extra añejo (Extra aged)

Matured in barrels for at least 36 months.

The high international acceptance of tequila positions it as Mexico's fifth most exported agri-food product, behind only such emblematic products as beer, avocados, and tomatoes.

It all starts with the tequila agave

The production process of any alcoholic beverage, fermented or distilled, starts with the cultivation of the raw material to be used depending on the beverage. Thus, for example, wine comes from grapes, while vodka comes from potatoes, whiskey from distilled grains such as wheat, barley, or corn, beer from barley, and tequila from agave.

Agave is a perennial plant from arid zones. It has long, narrow, rigid, blue-colored stalks and in the center of what looks like a huge pineapple, the natural juice accumulates with high fructose content, among other properties. From this pineapple or head of the agave is the part that can be used to obtain what will be tequila and for which six processes are carried out: cutting or "jima", cooking of the "pineapple", crushing, fermentation, distillation, and aging.

Main agave producers

In 2020, the national production of agave was 1 913 026 tons in which 13 states of the country participated; however, Jalisco was the main producer with 59.9%, followed by Guanajuato and Oaxaca respectively.

Main agave producers, 2020.
Main agave producers, 2020.

The agave harvest is present throughout the year, but production is higher in November and December. Over the last seven years, with the exception of 2018, production has been above the 11-year average.

Monthly national agave production, %.
Monthly national agave production, %.

Tequila production

Total tequila production in the last 11 years has increased 45.2%, from 257.5 to 373.9 million liters, with 2020 being the year with the highest level so far in this period.

Total tequila production (in millions of liters)
Total tequila production (in millions of liters)

As for exports, data from the Tequila Regulatory Council, these have increased by 88% since 2010.

Total tequila exports (in millions of liters)
Total tequila exports (in millions of liters)

According to information from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER), during 2019 international sales of tequila were made with at least 101 countries, to which 225 million 74 thousand liters were sent, that is, two-thirds of the national production. The main customer is the United States, to which 77% of the total volume of exports is sent. Other significant customers include Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Canada, France, Colombia, Italy, Latvia, and South Africa.

Beverage with the appellation of origin

An appellation of origin is understood as the name of a region of a country to designate a product originating from that region, the quality of which is due exclusively to the geographical site in which it is found. To determine an appellation of origin, the elements and conditions must be and have:

A product with unique characteristics or special quality that individualize it among products of the same species.
Characteristics or special quality derived exclusively from natural and human factors.
The product is identified or designated with the name of the place where it is produced.
According to information from SADER, this Denomination of Origin Tequila (DOT) protects the tequila production of 181 municipalities, within five states: Jalisco with 125 municipalities, Michoacán with 30 municipalities, Tamaulipas with 11, Nayarit with 8, and Guanajuato with 7 municipalities.

On an international scale, the Tequila Denomination of Origin (DOT) is recognized in 55 countries, including those of the European Union.

Responsible consumption

According to Article 217 of the General Health Law, alcoholic beverages are those containing ethyl alcohol in a proportion of 2% and up to 55% by volume. Any other beverage containing a higher proportion may not be marketed as a beverage. They are classified according to their alcohol content as follows:

Low: beverages with an alcohol content of 2% and up to 6% by volume.
Medium: beverages with an alcohol content of 6.1% and up to 20% by volume, and
High: beverages with an alcohol content of 20.1% and up to 55% by volume.

According to Mexican Official Standard NOM-006-SCFI-2012, on alcoholic beverages-tequila-specifications, the alcohol content of tequila can range from 35 to 55% Alc. Vol. and must be bottled in new containers that are made of materials allowed by the NOM.

The parameters to determine the low-risk consumption of alcohol, for adults of legal age who are in good health, according to the Mexican Official Standard NOM-047-SSA2-2015, are the following, it should be noted that it is recommended that you have free days of consumption. In Mexico, a standard unit of beverage has approximately 13 grams of ethanol or ethyl alcohol. According to the NOM, the standard cup equivalents are listed:

One canned beer = 1 standard glass.
A jug of pulque = 1 standard glass.
One caguama = 3 standard glasses.
A ¼ bottle of distilled spirits = 6 standard glasses.
A ½ bottle of distilled spirits = 12 standard glasses.
One ¾ bottle of distilled spirits = 17 standard glasses.
A 1-liter bottle of distillates = 22 standard glasses.
A ¾ bottle of wine = 5 standard glasses.
One 1 liter bottle of wine = 8 standard glasses.

It should be noted that under no circumstances and in no way may alcoholic beverages be sold or supplied to minors, in accordance with Article 220 of the General Health Law.

Enjoy tequila and avoid excess

According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of serious health problems, which include:

Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver
Pancreatitis
Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
Damage to the heart muscle (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
Stroke
High blood pressure
Liver disease
Suicide
Serious injury or accidental death
Brain damage and other problems in a fetus
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome

In certain situations, the risks of alcohol may be greater, check with your doctor if:

You are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
You have been diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol addiction, or have a strong family history of alcoholism.
You have had a hemorrhagic stroke (when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or ruptures).
You have liver or pancreatic disease.
You have heart failure or have been told you have a weak heart.
You take prescription or over-the-counter medications that may interact with alcohol.

Learn to enjoy tequila or any alcoholic beverage without falling into excess, so identify your limit. These are some recommendations:

Do not mix different alcoholic beverages.
Know the measure of the standard drink to count the drinks accurately.
If you are going to work with machines, tools, or in situations where there is a risk of falling, do not drink alcohol, it may impair your concentration.
Drink slowly and spaced out. Do not drink more than one standard drink per hour.
Avoid consumption if you have health problems.
Do not let children and adolescents consume alcohol. Neither should those who care for them.
In order to hydrate yourself, do not forget to drink water, this will help your body process alcohol much more efficiently.

Source: Federal Consumer Protection Agency (Procuraduría Federal del Consumidor)