Raise a Glass to National Tequila Day!

It’s National Tequila Day, and you can raise a glass to some Hollywood folks who helped get the tequila party started and others who keep it going with new spirits. Toast legendary crooner Bing Crosby in part for that cold Margarita you’re enjoying this summer. In the 1950s, Bing was one of the first Americans to import 100 percent blue agave tequila into the United States from Mexico since Prohibition—the Herradura brand. And after the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, tequila became all the rage stateside. Today, as more top-shelf brands grace the shelves—including one by George Clooney and friends—and in honor of the “holiday,” it’s a good time to take a closer look at the spirit that is distinctly Mexican.

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant. To make the spirit, the green outer leaves of the plant are sliced off, leaving the large pina, or “pineapple.” The juice from its white, creamy core is used to make tequila. (One plant can produce about five bottles of the spirit.)

Tequila is graded according to the level of agave it contains and how long it’s aged. There are two levels of tequila: 100 percent agave and mixed (mixto). Until 1930, all tequila was 100 percent blue agave. Tequila makers started mixing in cane sugar because of increasing demand, thus introducing the mixto tequilas that dominated the tequila market for so many years. But in the last few years, more distillers have been producing 100 percent formulas, bringing the spirit of Mexico to new heights while embracing the traditional techniques.

Today, labels on bottles of 100 percent agave tequila all have a four-digit NOM number, NOM being an acronym for a set of laws known as the Norma Oficial Mexicana. Each individual distiller is assigned a distinct number, which means that that distiller alone made the tequila and it passes all standards.

Tequila is produced in five specifically designated regions of Mexico, most notably Jalisco (home of the town of Tequila), as well as Guanajunto, Michocan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Only agave spirits from these regions can be called tequila. The types of tequila are:
• Silver (blanco or plata): This original style is bottled within 60 days of distillation. It may be stored in stainless steel tanks, but never on wood.
• Rested (reposado): This tequila is aged in oak barrels for between two to 12 months before bottling.
• Aged (añejo): This tequila is stored and aged in oak barrels (usually bourbon barrels) for more than a year before being bottled. Best quality añejos are aged 18 months to three years for mixtos, and up to four years for 100 percent agaves. (It is generally agreed upon that tequilas aged more than four or five years lose their sweet agave character and begin to take on the characteristics of whiskey. And until aged reposado and añejo tequilas started being produced in the late 1970s, blanco was the only type of tequila there was.
• Gold (oro, suave, joven, joven abocado): Generally mixto tequilas, this is basically the same as blanco, but with coloring and flavoring ingredients added to make it look aged (usually through added caramel and sometimes oak essence, up to 1 percent total weight).

The new Hollywood-linked tequila, Casamigos, was created by longtime friends George Clooney, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman. Their idea was to make a great-tasting, smooth tequila whose taste didn’t have to be covered up with salt or lime. It was never intended to be released to the public, but since it was in 2013, it has received awards from spirits competitions and made the “O List,” being named Oprah’s Favorite Tequila. Not to mention my husband Jeff, who tasted it at a friend’s and told me about it as it was so smooth and garnered awards from these amigos, too. So I bought him a bottle for a gift. (But then I also get to enjoy it when he whips up a batch of Margaritas.)

Casamigos is a small-batch, ultra-premium tequila made from 100 percent Blue Weber agave grown in the Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. The friends worked on the creation of this tequila with their master distiller in Jalisco for years, and held many blind tastings until it was just to their liking. They’ve been drinking their tequila with friends and family for over five years and it’s all they serve at their homes in Mexico, so it’s literally their house tequila—thus the name.

If you’d like to raise a glass to tequila day at Su Casa, there’s a drink by that name made with Casamigos Reposado Tequila, grapefruit soda and fresh lime juice—or Mi Casa, which is Casamigos Blanco Tequila, fresh lime juice, fresh orange juice, agave nectar and an orange wedge garnish. Both are served over ice in a rocks glass. Or, tip your hat to tequila with the brand’s version of the classic Margarita. Cheers!

”‹Casamigos Margarita

1 1/2 parts Casamigos Blanco Tequila
¾ part fresh lime juice
¼ part fresh orange juice
1/3 part agave nectar
1/3 part orange liqueur

Combine all ingredients in an iced mixing glass. Shake vigorously for 10 count. Pour all contents into a rocks glass with or without salted rim. Garnish with lime.

Want to learn more about spirits? Make sure to check out Minnesota Monthly’s Fine Spirits Classic on July 30 where you can sample this and many other spirits as well as tasty food.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.