Uncovering the Mysteries Behind the History of Tequila

A bottle of tequila in the desert

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The last time you ordered a drink, you may have requested your favorite tequila cocktail. It’s a popular liquor amongst margarita enthusiasts, but how it came to be might surprise you. Check out the history of tequila to better understand what you’re drinking and even discover new ways to enjoy it.

What Is Tequila?

Tequila is a distilled liquor that comes from the agave plant. The plant is naturally sweet but has a core that produces liquor when distilled correctly. After baking, shredding and fermenting, the core turns into the aged juice known as tequila.

A white man in a white shirt and jeans and a white cowboy hat rides a brown horse through a field of agave plants. The plants are blue/gray and taller than the horse. They are lined up in rows with grass in between.

Who First Made Tequila?

Carbonized fossils prove that individuals from the Aztec Empire ate agave leaves 8,000 years ago and used them for tools. Some agave species, like the Agave sisalana, functioned as paper and fabrics for the Aztecs.

Resourceful minds used every part of the plant, so they discovered they could ferment the sap in each agave plant’s core. The juices became part of their ceremonies, both social and religious. 

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they integrated agave sap into their liquor distillation processes to make mezcal. The beverage still exists today, but its historians debate its specific origins. Some believe Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle made the first glass of tequila when he arrived in Mexico in 1600. Others think an unknown individual invented it in the town of Tequila over 200 years later.

Where Did Tequila Originate From?

Tequila originates from the Colima volcanoes, located in the western region of Mexico. The agave plant can only grow in specific climates. Mexico has enough dry air, rocky soil and full sun to support its life cycle.

What Is the Cultural Significance of Tequila?

Aztecs used tequila in their ritual ceremonies, so it had cultural significance. As other people moved into the region, they continued using it as an honorary drink instead of a daily beverage.

People drink it more casually today, but it still holds its own character. Mixologists use it to make vintage cocktails that are more than 50 years old because its history stretches so far back.

A mexican food dinner is set up on a marble counter with a white wall in the background. A plate contains four overflowing tacos, while beside it is a bowl of red salsa and two full shot glasses with salt rims. A golden bottle of Jose Cuervo sits beside it. Yellow and pink margaritas sit in various styled glasses around the food.

What Are the Leading Tequila Brands?

When you walk into the tequila section of your local store, there are so many bottles to browse. You can rely on these leading brands when you’re unsure which one’s the best.

1. Jose Cuervo

The sheet number of U.S. sales puts Jose Cuervo at the front of the tequila competition. The brand sold over 4.8 million cases in 2021. Originally founded in 1795 by Don José Antonio de Cuervo, this brand’s product has impressed consumers for hundreds of years.

2. Patrón

A rounded cork and nearly square bottle are the iconic look of Patrón bottles. The second-biggest tequila brand has enough fans to sell 2.92 million cases throughout 2021. It’s more hands-on with fans than other brands due to its local outreach efforts and cocktail competitions.

3. Don Julio

After selling 1.4 million cases in 2021, Don Julio’s sales official rose 24%. People buy it for its limited product launches and dependable flavors. The top-shelf tequila doesn’t disappoint, so it’s worth the slightly higher prices for its short-term products.

Red, white, and orange chilled margarita glasses stand on a table. Purple flower petals and lime sit around each base. Orange flowers are in the background, a dark chair, and a bottle of Avion tequila.

Ways to Use Tequila

You don’t have to feel stuck with margaritas if you enjoy tequila. Enjoy it in these other creative ways to expand your horizons.

1. Make a Dessert

Baking with spirits burns the alcohol away. You won’t get tipsy off a recipe with tequila, but you will notice the unique flavor making your favorite desserts more tasty.

Research your preferred dessert recipes to see if any have alternative ingredient lists with tequila. You could make a tequila sunrise cake for your next backyard summer party. The colorful bundt cake uses orange and pomegranate juice to create its vivid red hue, then adds some tequila for an extra twang.

Margarita cakes are another crowd-pleasing dessert. It uses standard cake ingredients with a splash of lime juice and tequila. Lime frosting completes the dessert, but you can personalize it too. Add blended strawberry juice to make a pink treat for your next holiday event.

2. Marinate Fresh Meats

Liquours double as excellent marinade ingredients. Tequila is no different. Combine tequila and lime juice in a plastic bag before soaking chicken breasts in it overnight. When it’s time to bake your chicken dinner, they’ll contain that infamous flavor that makes your lips pucker in delight.

Steak also tastes great with a tequila marinade. The salty charred flavor pairs perfectly with tangy tequila juice when cooked to chargrill perfection. Add soy sauce, cumin and garlic to create a flavorful base that emits an alluring aroma while you grill.

3. Explore Cocktail Options

Margaritas can hit the spot when you’re in for a good time, but there are other cocktails you can make with tequila. Try your hand at making a Boston Tea Party, which combines Early Grey tea with ginger beer, simple syrup and grassy tequila.

You might also love a Lavender Paloma on a hot summer day. It features dried lavender, grapefruit juice, tequila and simple syrup. The creative beverage will keep your creativity flowing so your mixology adventures always stay exciting.

A yellow bottle of Patron sits in the near middle of the image. Behind it is a white counter top with yellow dessert bars, slices of lime and saltine crackers.

Types of Tequila

Distillation processes change the type of tequila brands produce. It depends on their consumers’ preferences and what equipment they use in their manufacturing process.

Brands typically make these types of tequila from agave plant species:

  • Joven: uses unaged and aged tequila to create a smooth beverage with hints of vanilla
  • Reposado: ages its toasted tequila in American or European barrels within two months to a year old
  • Añejo: sits for one year in a European or American barrel to achieve a butterscotch flavor
  • Blanco: comes from the blue agave plant and has grassy notes
  • Extra Añejo: this rare tequila ages for three years to create an earthy note underneath its standard butterscotch flavor

Mixology and baking recipes call for one tequila type over the other based on what flavors the type features. A grassy tequila might taste better with steak, whereas tequila joven’s vanilla notes would pair better with a dessert drink.

Expand Your Mixology Skills

There’s an entire world of possibilities to explore with tequila. Once you know the history behind the liquor, use it in new ways. Whether you bake, drink or cook with it, tequila’s possibilities will redefine how you picture it.


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