Tequila and mezcal are one of the most interesting and versatile spirits in the world.
Tequila and mezcal have been promoted at Cafe Pacifico since we opened in 1982, making us the oldest tequila bar in the UK. So if you’re looking to experience the spirits of Mexico, Café Pacifico is the bar you want to visit. But how do you choose what to try? Here is a brief shot of what to consider when picking a great Mexican spirit.
Unsure what the differences are? What is a blanco, a reposado, an anejo? What is 100% agave? Where does tequila come from? Does it have a worm? Where’s the lime and salt?
Tequila (once called el vino mezcal de tequila, or mezcal wine of Tequila) has long been a traditional drink of the people of Mexico. It originates from the Tequila region of Mexico in the state of Jalisco (ha’ lisko), and it’s production dates back hundreds of years. Tequila is technically a type of mezcal (a group of spirits made from the agave plant), but has evolved into a spirit category of its own. It is even said to be a gift from the Aztec goddess of agave, Mayahuel.
100% Agave Tequila, or Not
You will find two categories of this agave spirit. “Tequila”, sometimes called mixto, and “100% agave”. 100% agave tequilas are what most purists suggest starting with when trying a tequila. This means that 100% of the fermentable sugars come directly from the agave plant; no other sugars are allowed to be added. A 100% agave tequila needs to be labeled as such on the bottle. Mixtos allow up to 49% of the sugars to come from other sources like cane sugars. A mixto is what many people associate with bad headaches and hangovers.
Tequila is produced only from Weber blue agave plants harvested in one of five approved regions in Mexico. These include villages in Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Guanajuato, and the state of Jalisco, where most are made today. This Appellation of Origin is similar to the one protecting champagne, in that only real champagne can be called as such if made in the Champagne region of France. Real tequila can only be called tequila if it is made in these five Mexican regions. This is part of the NOM, or Normal Oficial Mexicana, which regulates the spirit. Each bottle will have a NOM number on it, which helps identify the distillery from which the bottle came.
The agave plant is a succulent (not a cactus and is more closely related to the lily family) and is recognized by its blue tint and narrow, prickly spines that jut out from the piña (pineapple-looking head) of the agave where the juices are extracted to make tequila. Those juices are then fermented and distilled, usually only twice, and then bottled or put in barrels to age. Many distilleries use different types of barrels for aging, including American Oak and French Oak, or used wine and bourbon barrels to help age and flavour their tequilas. They even use barrels that have been charred to different degrees to create a certain taste profile. These different aging techniques have created an expansive variety in tastes, not just from brand to brand, but even within a brand.
A blanco is usually un-aged, but can be aged up to 60 days in oak. Most brands take the spirit from the second distillation at around 50%-55% alcohol and add water to bring it down to 38%-40% alcohol. This spirit is then bottled as a blanco, sometimes also called plata or silver. A blanco is where you taste the purest form of the agave plant, because there is usually no barrel influence on the spirit.
A reposado means “rested”, and has to be aged for a minimum of two months or longer. The oak begins to influence the blanco spirit, and imparts soft notes of caramel and vanillas. The oak vessels used for reposados can be any size.
An anejo, or “aged” tequila, has to be aged for a minimum of one year (often longer). There is a restriction that anejos can not be aged in a barrel larger than 600 litres. The oak begins to have a stronger influence that often appeals to whisky and scotch drinkers. The aging usually adds a smoothness to the spirit imparted from the barrels.
Extra Anejo Tequila
An extra anejo is aged for a minimum of three years, again, in a maximum 600-litre barrel. These are typically the smoothest and most complex you can find. They are the most expensive tequilas you will find, sometimes costing as much as a couple of hundred pounds to well over a thousand pounds! Aging in the heat of Mexico is the same equivalent to aging 3-5 times longer in the cool Scottish climate. Therefore, a 3-year-old tequila is similar to a 9-15 year old scotch with regard to aging and evaporation.
Today’s tequilas are not just a cheap drink to swallow as fast as you can to avoid the harsh taste. Indeed, agave spirits have become a high quality spirit to be enjoyed for their unique flavor and variety. It’s now common place to sip a good tequila slowly at room temperature to truly enjoy the tastes. Lime, lemon, or salt?! No way!! You don’t need “training wheels” to ruin the taste of good tequila. Tequila can stand on its own. But you have to know what to look for. Hopefully this has given you some insight into this amazing Mexican spirit.
Mezcal is a little bit like the grandfather of tequila. While tequila is a type of mezcal, not all mezcal is tequila. ‘Mezcal’ as a general term sometimes refers to many different spirits that use agave from Mexico. But mezcal as its own spirit has an Appellation of Origin which includes nine states in Mexico. Many mezcals come from the state of Oaxaca.
Unlike tequilas that can only use the Weber blue agave, mezcals can use many different varietals. The most common is espadin. As the production of mezcal has diversified, the different types of agave used have differentiated the many different types of mezcals. A single mezcal brand can offer a range of mezcals all using different types of agaves, making for a very diverse spirit. And recently, more mezcal blends are available, where a single bottle is a mix of at least two different types of agave. There are blends with four or five agaves used, making unique and varied expressions to experience.
Most mezcals are not aged in oak and are what is referred to as “joven”, or young. These can be rested in glass after distillation, which is a reason they can be considered young. But you can find reposado and anejo mezcals on the market as well.
Mezcal is the spirit that is usually associated with the worm, not tequila. Many think the worm has traditional or hallucinogenic properties. Sorry to say, there are no hallucinogenic properties.
Mezcals Other Types
There are other Mexican spirits that are types of mezcals but have now become a known spirit on their own, some with their own appellations of origin and using different agaves. These include raicilla from the state of Jalisco, bacanora from the state of Sonora, and sotol from Chihuahua, Durango, or Coahuila. Although sotol is not actually made from agave, similar processes to making other mezcals are used, and so is sometimes placed in the same category.
Tequila and mezcal are a large part of Mexican culture. And Café Pacifico can help you experience all types of tequila, mezcal, raicilla, bacanora ,or sotol at our bar. Check out our tequila and mezcal menu to see some of the agave spirits we have available.
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