Latest Tequila grows up and sheds shot-glass image

Tequila grows up and sheds shot-glass image
Submitted by     April 10, 2007    
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You hear the song on the radio: "Jose Cuervo, you are a friend of mine ... " and tequila's negative image is reinforced again.

For many of us, our first exposure to tequila was in college. Back then, tequila abuse was blamed for nights that can't be remembered or mornings-after that can't be forgotten. As many may vaguely recall, tequila was the beverage of choice for those times when you had no intention of drinking responsibly.

College bar protocol calls for sprinkling salt on your wrist and having a quarter-section of a lime handy.

Then, lick the salt, throw back a shot, and bite down on the lime. Problems with the sequence indicate the car keys need to be taken away.

Country music radio stations have not helped tequila's image at all, not with frequent radio play of drinking songs like "Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo" or "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off."

But, in Central Oregon, more and more people are appreciating tequila as a beverage that should be sipped and savored. Some die-hards will probably always do shooters at the bar with lime and salt. But others have learned to appreciate tequila's smooth, aromatic flavor in the same manner a single-malt scotch or fine bourbon might be enjoyed. Tequila comes in a variety of flavors, with such infused fruit essences as orange, island lime, mango and others.

Tequila is North America's first distilled spirit and has been produced in Mexico since shortly after the Spanish conquered the country in the early 1500s. The Spanish adapted the indigenous drink pulque, fermented from the maguey plant, into mezcal, a first cousin of tequila. This was eventually developed into the type of tequila we drink today, using agave tequilana Weber, a spiky-leafed member of the lily family also called blue agave.

By Mexican law, tequila can be made only from blue agave and can be produced only in specifically designated geographic areas, primarily the state of Jalisco in west-central Mexico. Mezcal is made of the fermented juice of other species of agave and is made all over the country.

Each type of tequila is given a category based on age and color, according to Jason Donovan, night manager of East Bend Liquor Store. Unaged tequila is called blanco, which means white, or sometimes silver, while tequila that has been colored gold with caramel is called joven abocado (bottled young). Reposado (rested) is tequila that has aged in oak for at least two months, Donovan added and añejo (aged) has aged for a year or more. To be classified as tequila, it must be made from no less than 51 percent blue agave. Most common tequilas are 35 percent to 55 percent alcohol (70 to 110 proof).

Tequila production in 2005 hit a record high of around 220 million liters, reports the Tequila Regulatory Council. More than half the tequila manufactured in Mexico is exported, according to the council, and one-third is pure, made from 100 percent agave.

With production limited to the availability of blue agave, tequila's base, prices have soared in recent years due to unprecedented demand - over 50 million gallons of tequila are sold worldwide annually. With the surge in popularity and the shift to more tequila exports made of 100 percent blue agave, more imbibers than ever are joining the ranks of tequila aficionados.

Local sales reflect this changing image.

"Tequila is huge, and people are getting into the good brands," Donovan said. "It may be a fad, but sales are going through the roof."

Prices range from $7 per to $400 a bottle.

"People love the taste, and some might compare it to the better brands to Scotch, because of the way it's aged in oak casks," Donovan said. "But tequila is its own animal; just as Scotch is different from bourbon, tequila is different from anything else."

In Bend, tequila has become so popular that several bars specialize in it. El Caporal East carries more than 90 brands, said Manager Jose Rubalcaba, and many people come to the establishment just to enjoy high-quality tequila. Shot prices range from $5 for the less expensive tequila, he said, while the good stuff can go for $35 per shot. The most popular tequila mixed drink is a margarita, he said, while the expensive tequila is sipped or served neat at room temperature.

"Some people are afraid of tequila. Evidently, they drank it in college and got wasted," Rubalcaba said. "They remember that tequila gave them headaches."

Tequila should be enjoyed in moderation and consumed slowly, Rubalcaba said.

"Pay a little more for the good stuff," he advises. "It's better than getting something cheaper you don't enjoy. And don't drink too much."

By Leon Pantenburg / For The Bulletin
Leon Pantenburg can be reached at 382-1811 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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