Food-Drink

10 Things You Didn't Know About Tequila

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We've been celebrating Cinco de Mayo every Friday afternoon for the past 16 years, so imagine our surprise when we learned that its actual date of observation is the 5th of May. (In hindsight, we probably should have suspected as much.)

Since we're plenty familiar with our favorite Cinco de Mayo cocktails already, we thought we'd take a fun look at the magical spirit that makes them sing: tequila.

Everyone, from foodies and frat boys to drunks and slightly older, former frat boys, keeps a special place in their hearts (and livers) for tequila, and we're proud to count ourselves among them.

Here's 10 fantastic facts about our favorite distilled spirit:

#1. In order for a spirit to legally advertize itself as tequila, it must be made from weber blue agave plants grown in a territory specified by the General Declaration of Protection of the Appellation of Origin of "Tequila" (and also manufactured and bottled in facilities therein). Anything else — even if it's made to near-identical standards — is a mezcal, which is the term for any spirit distilled from the agave plant. (Therefore, all tequila is technically mezcal, but not all mezcal can call itself tequila.)

#2. Tequila gets its name from the town of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico, but the etymology of the word is much more ambiguous. Some claim it comes from the Nahuatl words "tequitl" and "tlan," which can be translated as "place of work," "place of duty," "place of job," or "place of task" (some take it to mean "place of wild herbs," "place where they cut" or "place of tricks," too). Others say it comes from the names of native tribes once known as the Ticuilas and the Tiquilos. A final theory claims that "tequila" is simply a corruption of the word "tetilla" — meaning "small breast" — which is also the name of a tiny volcano nearby.

#3. Tequila prices are probably on the rise. Due to the agave plant's growth rate (it takes upwards of seven years for one to fully mature), harvests fluctuate regularly, causing the price to fluctuate as well. When agave is scarce, it's expensive. But when it's plentiful and cheap, many farmers opt to stop growing it in favor of more lucrative crops (like in 2007, when some torched their fields to make room for corn crops to export for ethanol production). Mexico is currently feeling the effects of this "agave crisis," and one master distiller estimates it will be four to five more years before it begins to let up.

#4. Thanks to prohibition, tequila's popularity in the United States grew during the 1920s. Americans weren't about to sit back and not drink alcohol, and liquor from Mexico was easier to smuggle into the country. Later, during World War II, tequila experienced another boom in popularity when overseas liquor shipments decreased.

#5. At a 2010 biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) and the attendees attempted to set the world record for the largest group of people performing the "Tequila dance" to the tune of the 1958 song "Tequila" by the Champs, but it didn't go over exactly as planned. "There is no way we'd be able to certify it as a world record," said the owner of the campgrounds where the rally took place. "Who would count it?" 

#6. When John Travolta was researching his role for "Pulp Fiction," he enlisted the help of a recovering heroin addict to learn more about his character's addiction. "He said, 'Drink as much tequila as you can and lay in a warm pool or tub of water,'" the actor recounted to Vanity Fair. Travolta later said that because of this, his heroin scenes were his favorite parts of the film to rehearse.

#7. Business owner Nick Nicora set the Guinness World Record for the largest margarita at the Cal Expo in Sacramento on July 13, 2012. The cocktail measured 10,500 gallons, of which Jose Cuervo tequila accounted for 2,100 gallons. The previous record was set in 2011 by Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville in Las Vegas. (Their cocktail measured a paltry 8,500 gallons.)

#8. In the 1950s, tequila experienced a surge in popularity after California residents mistakenly believed it to contain psychedelic properties. However, they were merely confusing mezcal (which is what tequila is) with mescaline (which is the psychoactive alkaloid of the peyote plant).

#9. George Clooney co-owns his own brand of tequila (Casamigos), as does Carlos Santana (Casa Noble), Sean "Diddy" Combs (DeLeón) and Justin Timberlake (901, "named for the time when the night gets interesting"). You can watch Timberlake do five shots of 901 between holes of mini-golf on "The Jonathan Ross Show."

#10. Physicists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico have discovered how to make artificial diamonds out of 80-proof tequila, which contains the perfect ratio of ethanol to water for the process. They begin by evaporating the tequila into a vapor, and then they heat that vapor to a temperature of 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the vapor hits a silicon or stainless steel tray, it creates a "diamond film" containing microscopic diamonds free of impurities. Too small for jewelry (as of yet), these diamonds can be used for a wide variety of practical, industrial and electronic purposes. What's more, the scientists say that even the cheapest of tequilas can be made into these diamonds.