A brief History of Tequila
Tequila is a popular distilled spirit that is rich in a history, far beyond the popular margarita. Originally used during rituals beginning 2,000 years ago, tequila has evolved into the potent spirit we drink today. In recent years, it has transcended a quality that few of us could have dreamed of just a couple of decades ago.
1000 B.C. TO 200 A.D.: THE AZTECS FERMENT AGAVE
The Aztecs prized a fermented drink known as pulque, which used the sap of the agave plant. The milky liquid was so important to Aztec culture that they worshipped two gods known for their relationship to booze. Though the first documentation of pulque—on stone walls, of course—appeared around 200 A.D., the drink really caught on centuries later when the Aztecs received a surprise visit from the Spanish.
1400S & 1500S: THE SPANISH DISTILL AGAVE
While there are multiple theories on the beginning of agave distillation, a common telling involves the Spanish invasion and primitive mud stills. The parched Spaniards couldn’t be without their brandy for too long, so when supplies began to run low, they improvised with mud and agave, essentially creating what we know today as mezcal. (All tequilas are technically mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas.) 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.
The town of Tequila was founded in 1656 in what is now the Mexican state of Jalisco.
It didn’t take long for tequila to be produced throughout the country and Jose Cuervo was the first to commercialize the product. The late 1800s saw the first exports to the United States and the following Mexican Revolution and World Wars added to the international popularity of tequila.
Tequila is regulated by an Appellation of Origin standard. In 1978, the tequila industry initiated a set of strict standards which regulate where and how tequila can be made, what is on the label, the style (or type) of tequila, and what can legally take the name tequila. NOM-006-SCFI-2012 defines these rules and it is overseen by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT, or Tequila Regulatory Council).
Tequila can only be made within particular regions of certain Mexican states. They include: 124 municipalities of Jalisco (including the town of Tequila and the majority of modern tequila production), 8 municipalities in Nayarit, 7 municipalities in Guanajuato, 30 municipalities in Michoacan, and 11 municipalities in Tamaulipas.
The Spruce & Liquor.com