LIFESTYLE

It's National Tequila Day! Time to learn a bit more about the powerful Mexican spirit

The love of Mexicans for the strong spirit goes back centuries.

 

In case you didn’t know, July 24 is National Tequila Day, a day devoted to the distilled beverage made in Mexico and thoroughly enjoyed across the United States.

You probably didn’t know either that the love for the powerful spirit, produced mainly in the Mexican state of Jalisco from the blue agave plant, goes back centuries.

Tequila as we know it started with the Aztecs, who prized a fermented drink known as pulque, which used the sap of the agave plant. This milky liquid was so important to the culture that Aztecs worshipped two gods known for their link to the booze -- Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey (the family the agave plant comes from), and her husband Patecatl, the god of pulque.

The drink caught on centuries later, when the Aztecs received a surprise visit from the Spanish. 

The Spanish, homesick for their brandies and cognacs back home, figured out how to distill agave and boom, mezcal was born. All tequilas are technically mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas -- but we'll get to that later. 

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In the mid-1500s, the Spanish government opened a trade route between Manila and Mexico, and in the early 1600s, the Marquis of Altamira built the first large-scale distillery in what is now Tequila, Jalisco.

Today tequila is Mexico’s national spirit, and according to tequila expert Gina Castillo, there are basically two different categories of tequila. One is made from 100 percent agave tequila, while the other is a mixto tequila, which is often tequila mixed with sugar cane.

Mexican law states that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco, and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.

There are five different classes of tequilas, Blanco probably being the most popular. It’s aged for less than two months, so you really get the essence of the agave plant. The next level would be Tequila Joven, usually made with mixto, and aged slightly longer than Blanco.

There is Tequila Reposado, which has been rested in barrels for six months to a year, and Anejo, aged for longer than a year. Lastly, Extra Anejo, which is aged for at least three years.

Castillo said it’s a spirit meant to be sipped and enjoyed, not consumed quickly in a shot glass.

“A lot of people want to drink tequila in a shot glass. That’s not the proper way to drink it,” Castillo told Fox News Latino. “The way you should drink it, especially if you want to get all the nuances, is in a glass similar to a champagne goblet,” she added.

Tequila has over 600 characteristics similar to a cognac with all these different aromas.

Back to the difference between mezcal and tequila, Castillo said it is mainly about the flavor. 

“Mezcal has a very smoky flavor because it’s roasted in the ground, whereas tequila has a cleaner flavor because it is steam baked,” she said. Also, she explained tequila is made with blue agave while mezcal can be made with a combination of various agave plants.

According to Castillo, the two are pretty much like cognac and brandy – cognac is the big umbrella and brandy is a very specific type of cognac. Similarly, tequila is a subgenus of mezcal.

 It took more than five centuries for the beverage to cross the border, historians say. Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila, was the first to export tequila to the United States in the 1800s.

Better late than never, right? Salud!

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for FoxNews.com. She can be reached at rebekah.sager@foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.