The History of Tequila

We couldn’t let National Margarita Day (20th February) pass us by without paying homage to the cocktail’s most important ingredient: Tequila. A guilty pleasure of binge drinkers everywhere, this fiery shot is even better when it is savoured in a cocktail instead of quickly knocked back with lemon and salt. So, where did this spritely spirit come from?

The Origins of Tequila

It might come as no surprise to learn that Tequila was born in Mexico, starting life as a fermented drink made from the Agave plant. Ancient Aztecs worshipped two different Gods in the name of this milky liquid, which was enjoyed from 1000BC onwards, and possibly even earlier.

When the Spanish invaded in the 1400s, they brought plenty of brandy with them. However, this didn’t last as long as the adventurers had hoped, so they made a substitute from agave, using mud stills to distill the liquid and create a variety of mezcal. By the 1600s, a large-scale distillery had been built in Tequila, Jalisco and a trade route had been established between Mexico and Spain.

When the famous Cuevo family fell into the Tequila trade in the 1700s, the drink had truly been refined. The Sauza family were the next big commercial Tequila producers, choosing blue agave as their variety of choice. They were now creating the spirit that we know and love today.

Prohibition had an interesting effect on the alcohol industry. While it temporarily slowed the trade of spirits, it was a time of creativity. Several cocktails were born out of a desire to party, including the Margarita in 1936. This was actually just after prohibition had been lifted and an American took a trip to Mexico, where he came across a Tequila bar that had managed to survive the bleak period. This was when the Tequila Daisy was born, translated as Margarita.

Since then, the spirit has become a staple in cocktail cupboards around the world, being utilized in classics such as the Tequila Sunrise and Long Island Iced Tea.

The Rules of Tequila

The Mexican government got involved in the tequila hysteria in 1974, declaring that the drink was the property of the country and setting several rules for its production. True Tequila can only be produced in certain areas of Mexico. Anything similar that has been made elsewhere cannot legally call itself Tequila.

Whether you like your Tequila long and mixed, or short and fast, there is no doubt that this is a versatile drink that has stood the test of time.

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Bartender's top tip

Experiment with cocktails for the season. Try ice-cold, citrussy or sparkling cocktails in warmer seasons and spicy, warm or creamy cocktails for the colder months.

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