Debunking tequila: 9 totally bullshit myths about the agave spirit, exposed
To kill tequila urban legends
When the tequila comes out, it’s bound to be a wild night. We’ve all seen it happen — sometimes to fantastic ends, other times to terrible ones.
The infamous Mexican agave spirit has had an interesting path over the years. It’s risen up from a local Latin liquor, to become a favorite party shot for raging college students, and today, it’s even elevated itself to the status of “luxury alcohol.”
There’s a lot of hearsay floating around out there, though. A lot of misinformation and myth surrounding this mysterious Mexican sauce; a lot of folklore that’s been perpetuated across the centuries by drunken bullshitters.
But no more. For too long have these urban legends misled people. For too long have these fictions fueled long and strange agave nights! Rooster looked into some of these many claims, and it’s time to reveal our findings.
Be warned, though, dear Reader: You might not like what you learn. Some of these fantasy facts have been held dear for a very long time. Some of them have defined tequila culture in America.
The truth is the truth, though. And it’s worth knowing.
So, here we go. 9 “facts” about tequila that are total bullshit:
1. Tequila is an upper and it makes people crazy…
I’ve heard it far too many times: “I’m getting tired… Let’s take some-”*Hiccup* “Tequila shots! That stuff’s an upper.”
Sounds strange, but okay. It’s easy enough to believe. People do some crazy shit when they’re drinking tequila. According to legend, the glucose from agave breaks down differently inside your body and actually acts like cocaine or an amphetamine of some kind, giving you that extra little kick that keeps you going until 4 AM.
Well, sorry to break it to you all, but glucose is glucose is glucose and it’s all processed the same way inside your body. Unless you’re mixing crushed Adderall into your margarita, it’s going to affect you the same way as a whiskey-ginger or a Manhattan.
Which, leads nicely to our next debunked fact.
2. Margaritas are not a Mexican drink and actually have nothing to do with Mexico at all
The truth hurts, I know. But it’s something we have to realize and accept, lest we become culturally confused by our own misinformation: Margaritas are to Mexico, what fortune cookies are to china: foreign.
No one knows for sure where exactly the modern margarita came from, but we know that it definitely isn’t a traditional Mexican drink. The closest thing they’ve got is called a Paloma, which is tequila mixed with grapefruit juice and a little lime. If you’re traveling through real Mexico (not tourist Mexico) finding a true “margarita” is going to be a task.
3. Tequila should be drunk out of a shot glass with salt and lime
To really taste the flavors that have made this spirit so popular, you need to get the tequila aromas. That’s why you see real tequila drinkers sipping the stuff out of snifters.
Drinking tequila out of a shot glass, with salt and a slice of lime to wash it down literally covers up everything the distiller worked so hard to distill out of the agave. It’s just another American tradition slapped onto a Mexican national spirit.
Speaking of which…
4. Tequila is the national spirit of Mexico
When it comes right down to it, Tequila isn’t very old in Mexican culture and it comes from just a very small region of Mexico. More tequila is consumed by non-Mexicans than by Mexicans these days. It is not the national spirit, contrary to what many might believe.
Mezcal, which is a much smokier agave liquor, has a 500-year history of use in Mexico, making it much, much older than Tequila. There’s even evidence of mezcal distilling in the Americas prior to the Spanish ever having arrived. If any liquor is going to claim the title of ‘National Spirit of Mexico” it’s gotta’ be mezcal — not tequila.
5. Aged tequila means better tequila
Unlike wine, or bourbon or even beer, just because a tequila is barrel aged for 15 years, doesn’t mean it’s going to taste any better. Blanco tequila is unaged, and is considered by many to be the best tasting. But in the US, we have a primarily brown liquor market, so aged tequila, like añejo or gold tequila, sells better here.
That doesn’t mean it tastes better than unaged tequila. It’s just the market’s preference.
6. Expensive tequila means better tequila
This is likely true for all spirits, wines and/or beers — but just because something has a big price tag, doesn’t mean it’s the best or most flavorful option. If you want to get the best bang for your buck, do some research online, check out which tequilas are regarded as the best. More often than not, it isn’t the $90 bottle on the top shelf.
7. There’s a worm in the bottle
If you get to the bottom of a tequila bottle and actually find a worm in it, you should probably contact the distiller and tell them that something is very wrong. The quality controls that are placed on tequila are insanely stringent, and only allow for very specific ingredients from very specific regions of Mexico to go into the spirit. And worms aren’t on the list.
The myth that tequila bottles all have a worm inside them is very old and very tired. People say that it was a marketing ploy from the 40’s to sell more tequila, but I’ve never actually seen a worm inside a bottle. So, this one isn’t exactly a shocker.
8. Tequila is made from a cactus
Tequila can only be made from blue agave (or agave azul), which is a large and spiny plant that thrives in the desert. And, though it may look a lot like a cactus, it isn’t one. Agave is actually more of a succulent, than any kind of cacti.
Tequila is made from extracting the juice from the agave heart (the very center of the plant, that looks kind of like a pineapple after it’s harvested) and fermenting it.
9. Tequila can be made anywhere agave grows
There’s a reason why you don’t see American-made tequila, or tequila distilleries scattered across the American west: we’re not allowed to make it here. According to trade laws, tequila can be sold as true “Tequila” if it’s made with agave azul and comes from one of five Mexican states: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit or Tamaulipas.
If either of those stipulations is violated, then it’s not tequila. And it probably won’t taste like real tequila either. The blue agave gives it its famous boozy zing, and the soil and climate in which that agave grows also affects the flavor.
If you want real tequila, then it has to be hecho en Mexico.