Pass around the salt and lime

Special to WJW

Tequila is a type of mezcal made from a fermented mash of the piñas, or hearts, of the agave plant. Unlike other mezcals, tequila can only be made from azul (Spanish for blue) agave harvested in designated regions in the Mexican state of Jalisco and limited regions in four other states.  In Jalisco, production is centered in a few communities near Guadalajara — the original and most famous of which is the town of Tequila.

According to Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), tequila as a category of alcoholic beverage has grown in the United States by 120.8 percent by volume between 2002 and 2016.

Even more impressive, the super-premium (read: expensive) subcategory jumped by 706.2 percent in the same period. The tequila industry is now worth about $2.4 billion annually. In 2016, according to DSICUS figures, more than 2.9 million 9-liter cases of tequila were sold.

Tequila has two basic categories, mixtos and 100 percent agave. Mixtos is the cheap stuff and is made from at least 51 percent agave, with other sugars making up the remainder. The 100 percent agave tequila is where all the market growth is focused.
Tequila comes in various styles, the distinctions between which have to do with ageing: (1) blanco (white) or plata (silver), which is unaged white spirit; (2) Joven (young) or oro (gold), which is silver/white tequila adulterated with flavorings or colorants, or even aged tequilas, to create a more robust yet inexpensive product; (3) reposado (rested), which has been aged at least two months, but less than 12, in oak barrel; (4) añejo (aged), which has been aged one to three years in oak;  and (5) extra añejo (extra aged), which has been aged at least three years in oak.

When it comes to 100 percent agave tequila, the younger it is, the harsher or more robust is the flavor, with the bold distilled agave spirit flavors right up front. Reposado and añejo tequilas tend to be comparatively more subtle, smoother and more complex as the oak casks in which they are aged mellows and tames the spirit a bit, as well as adds flavors of the wood.

Outside of Mexico, most kashrut authorities presume oro is problematic and requires certification. While Mexican regulations are far stricter than they were, beverage adulteration remains a concern and a growing number of kashrut agencies require all tequilas to be certified kosher — except for blanco tequila. These are uniformly considered kosher without certification. According to most American kashrut authorities, all tequila requires appropriate kosher certification to be reliably used during Passover.

One of my favorite blanco tequilas is the relatively expensive Arette Artesanal Suave Blanco Tequila ($50; 40 percent ABV): Made in small batches from only the heart of the spirit run, this sophisticated tequila offers robust, bright aromas of floral agave, white pepper, herbs and fresh citrus peel, and an elegant, complex and zesty palate of pure agave with a kick of peppercorn, lemon, honey and a touch of black licorice, and a long, lovely finish. Delicioso. L’chaim!  n

Have a question on wine or liquor? Email LchaimQs@gmail.com

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