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Tequila sips:

Tequila is sold in many stores in Cabo San Lucas and the Los Cabos area of Baja California Sur, Mexico. For a list of stores in that part of Mexico, and photographs of a great collection of tequila bottles, visit the loscabos


Updated June 27, 2007

Tequila Myths

The things that drive tequila aficionados crazy


Tequila Myth #1: the worm

There is no worm in tequila.

No worm in tequila!There is no worm in Mexican-bottled tequila. In fact, it would violate Mexican law to put one in: what is allowed in tequila is very carefully controlled.


The worm-in-the-tequila-bottle myth is old and tired. The truth has been broadcast and expounded for years by the cognoscenti of tequila, in newspapers, magazines and on the Net. There should be no need to defend tequila; we should not have to dispel this myth further. It is merely an outdated urban legend that simply won't die in the harsh light of fact.





"I was drinking tequila and I woke up in the morning and there was no one there, except the worm and myself were still there. "
John Phillips


Sorry, John, it wasn't tequila. There is a worm - called a gusano, properly a butterfly caterpillar (Hipopta Agavis) - in some types of Oaxacan mezcal (but generally not premium brands). You may also get a small bag of 'worm salt' - dried gusano, salt and chile powder tied to a mezcal bottle. But you will never find this caterpillar in tequila.


The worm in mezcal isn't even a traditional element in mezcal production. According to Del Maguey Mezcal, it's a recent development, a marketing ploy that appeared only in the 1940s to try and get more attention on a particular brand of mezcal - and they should know. It's worth reading their story at:


There are two types of gusano in mezcal: the red (gusano rojo - considered superior because it lives in the root and heart of the maguey) and the less-prized white or gold (gusano de oro), which lives on the leaves. The red gusano turns pale in the mezcal, the gold turns ashen-grey. Both larvae are commonly eaten as food and are sold in Zapotec markets.


Yes, popular culture suggests you're supposed to eat the worm in mezcal. Don't worry: it's quite well pickled and free of pesticides (they're often raised just for use in mezcal, cooked and pickled in alcohol for a year). But dispel any idea it has any magical or psychotropic properties, that it's an aphrodisiac or the key to an 'unseen world.' It's merely protein and alcohol - but it's very rich in imagery, even if it's just a gimmick.


Tequila Myth #2: prickly point

Tequila is not made from cactus.

Agave is NOT a cactusTequila is made from distilled sap from hearts (piņas) of the

agave or maguey (pr. 'mah-gay') plant. This plant is a succulent actually related to the lily and amaryllis (it has its own genus, Agave). Although it sometimes shares a common habitat with many cacti, it is not one itself and has a different life cycle.


A mature blue agave has leaves 5-8 feet tall, and is 7-12 feet in diameter, measured from leaf-tip to leaf-tip. It has a lifespan of 8-15 years. Other species have longer or shorter lives, depending on growing conditions and climate. The name agave comes from the Greek word for 'noble.'


There are 136 species of agave in Mexico, of which the blue agave - agave tequilana weber azul - is the only one allowed for use in tequila production. Several different species of agave are allowed for use in mezcal, including a rare wild species, tobala. Other agave plants are used for the production of various regional drinks like sotol, raicilla, bacanora and pulque. Agave has been cultivated on this continent for at least 9,000 years.


No commercial Mexican alcoholic drink is made from cactus. However, cactus is used in some fruit drinks, salads and other food items. A popular cactus used for food is known as nopales. It's tasty and quite healthy.


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Tequila Myth #3: brothers in the bottle

Tequila and mezcal are not the same thing.

Tequila and mezcal are not the sameTechnically, tequila is a type of mezcal, but mezcals are not tequilas. They both derive from varieties of the agave plant known to the natives as 'mexcalmetl.' Although they have many similarities, tequila and mezcal are as different today as scotch and rye.


Tequila is made from only agave tequilana Weber, blue variety. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from many different varieties of agave - mostly espadin, but including some wild varieties grown without pesticides.


Tequila is double distilled and a few brands even boast triple distillation. Mezcal is sometimes only distilled once (although premium blends are distilled twice). Even the language of production differs. Mezcal is made by 'palenqueros,' tequila by 'tequileros'. Maguey growers in general are known as 'magueros.'


Mezcal piņas - the sugar-rich heart of the agave - are baked in a conical, rock-lined pit oven (palenque) over charcoal, and covered with layers of palm-fiber mats and earth, giving mezcal a strong, smoky flavour. Tequila piņas are cooked in in above-ground, steam ovens or autoclaves.


Most mezcal is produced around the city of Oaxaca (and can officially be produced in the states of Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas). Tequila comes from the central-western state of Jalisco (and a few nearby areas).


The differences between the two can be likened to the differences between scotch and rye whiskeys. Or between cognac and brandy. Tequila and mezcal are similar, however in the amount of alcohol in the bottle (around 38-40%), although mezcals tend to be a little stronger.


Mezcal is right now undergoing its own revolution in popularity and similar standards for its production have been established. Many drinkers who see tequila's popularity among the elite as moving the drink away from the heart of Mexico, are turning to mezcal because they see it as retaining the soul - and taste - of Mexico's culture. Premium mezcals are slowly appearing on the shelves beside tequila. Read about it at Mexican Mezcal Challenges Tequila.


Mexican law passed in 1994 now protects the name mezcal from being applied to products made from anything except the allowed and approved agave plants. Only six counties (municipos) can legally manufacture a drink named mezcal, all near to the city of Oaxaca. Refer to NOM -070-SCFI-1994.


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Tequila Myth #4: white lightning

Tequila is not merely bottled homebrew.

Tequila is not moonshineTequila manufacture is tightly controlled by the Mexican government and the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) - and is one of the most regulated spirits industries in the world. Statements made on the bottle about age, style and content have legal requirements for factuality. There is also a non-profit council called the National Chamber of Tequila Producers which helps regulate the industry.


Tequila is not moonshine: it is carefully distilled and aged, although each company has its own system, process and quality control. Most manufacturers take considerable pride in their production, especially of the limited quantity aņejo varieties that are carefully aged in oak barrels.  While it may have been the peasants' drink 150 years ago, it has matured into a sophisticated sip today.


Many producers have the most modern equipment available for production, while others pride themselves on using older, traditional equipment to make tequila the way their grandfathers did.


Tequila is not any stronger than other liquors. Most tequilas have the same liquor content - about the same as any other hard liquor: 38-40%. However, the official law allows a range from 38-55%.


Forget any story that tequila contains psychedelic drugs or has any such effect. That myth came from people who assumed mezcal meant mescaline and it applied to tequila too. The agave does not contain psychotropic components. It's another urban myth.


There are regional drinks and local homebrews - moonshine - that may be stronger in alcohol and considerably stronger in taste. These include sotol, bacanora and raicilla, as well as some simply referred to by the traditional name of 'mezcal' or 'aguardiente.' Many of these regional drinks have only recently been legalized for production in Mexico, and are gaining new acceptance, although distribution is still very limited.


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Tequila Myth #5: pick by price

The best tequilas do not always cost the most.

Tequila Ley $230,000 bottlePrice isn't always a good way to judge things. A lot of the cost may go to fancy packaging, designer bottles, large advertising campaigns and simply to status. A well-advertised and promoted brand selling for $100 USD or more is not necessarily a better buy than an inexpensive 100% agave brand at $30. It depends on your taste and what you expect in a tequila, as well as the care and attention the producer gives to the product.


There's a large selection of excellent tequilas available in Mexico at $30-$60 USD, and a very good choice in the range from $60-$100 USD. Under $30, most of the tequilas are mass produced for the local market, and usually mixto (not 100% agave). Above that price, they're aiming mostly at the export and premium-status market, often with collectible bottles and recently introduced individually numbered bottles. Some premium brands are not even sold in Mexico, only in the US or another export market.


Taste is the ultimate deciding factor and each person's taste is individual, personal and changes with what you eat, how you feel and the time of the day. Some people prefer the rougher edge of the young blanco tequilas with their more distinct agave flavour. Others like the more mellow, but still sharp flavour of a reposado. And some may prefer the smooth, woody aroma in an aņejo. Try them first at a local bar, then decide which to buy.


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Tequila Myth #6: only the bottles are different

All tequilas are not the same.


All tequilas are not the same

Like single-malt scotches, or small-brewery sakes, tequilas vary according to the company making them, the process, the plants and their growing environment. The temperature, soil, types of equipment, age of the plants, how and when they are harvested, the means by which the plants are baked, and the way the tequila is aged all affect the flavour and body.


There is a surprisingly wide variation in tequila flavours - especially between styles like blanco, reposado and aņejo - making it difficult for many neophytes to recognize each distinction, especially when the more subtle aņejo tequilas are involved. There are also regional differences. Tequilas can accost you, confront you and challenge you - or they can woo you or seduce you with soft, subtle fragrances and dusky aromas.


Production techniques affect the taste. Generally traditional methods produce much stronger agave flavour than modern, mass production. Aging in barrels also affects the taste, and not always to the better. The woody flavour imparted by the oak can overpower the natural agave. 


Fancy packaging, wooden boxes and elegant bottles - many handmade or decorated by artisans - and are now common with premium tequilas. They have become collectors' items in their own right and even empty bottles can command a fair price on eBay. While they don't add to the basic quality of the drink in the bottle, they do add to its charm and certainly its visual appeal.




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