Lifestyle & Belief

Which came first? Mexico's famous drink, or the town that distills it?


Credit: Betto Arcos

Farmers harvest agave in the fields.

Was the Mexican town of Tequila named after the Mexican drink or the drink named after the town?

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

To get the answer, Betto Arcos visited La Tequileña located in the town of Tequila. It's one of the oldest distilleries in Mexico.

That's where he found Sergio Mendoza, who says he comes from "a family of four generations dedicated to the business of cultivating the agave plant, the raw material for the production of this amazing spirit, tequila. It is a well-known fact that the blue agave, the raw material for tequila, has been harvested and cultivated for many, many centuries before the Spanish came.“

Mendoza describes Mexico's famous liquor this way: “When you drink tequila, it’s like drinking sunshine in a very literal sense. Because you're drinking 10 years of a plant receiving the heat of Mexico, very hot days, very cold nights, so it’s not that tequila is stronger, but it certainly has this much more energy than other spirits.”

Then Arcos asks him today's Geo Quiz — why is this drink called tequila?

Mendoza considers the question for a moment and says that it's something that has evolved over time.

Tequila comes from agave, which is also commonly referred to as mescal. There are over 200 kinds of agaves.

"To produce tequila, we only use one kind, which is Agave Azul," Mendoza says. "So mezcal is the generic name. Tequila is actually a mezcal. All tequila is a mezcal, but not all mezcal is a tequila. People started to realize that a specific mezcal or mezcal wine from the region of Tequila was very particular. It had a lot of complexity, and a lot of smoothness. And to distinguish it from other mezcals, they started referring to it as the mezcal wine of Tequila. Now, we know it as tequila."

So the city of Tequila gave the name to the drink. It gave the specific name to the mezcal wine of Tequila.

But if you call it Mexico moonshine, devil's water, or 100 percent agave, you won't be too far off the mark.

    Credit: Betto Arcos

    Blue & green landscape in the land of tequila.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    A trail in between blue agave fields.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    Jimadores, agave workers, cut the 'piñas' or hearts from the agave plant.


    Credit: Betto Arcos

    A close-up of the agave heart or piña, after it's cut from the plant.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    After the harvest of the agave hearts or 'piñas', mules carry them to the distillery.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    Fermentation Beauty: Agave juice, during the fermentation process

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    The distillation process is completed in stainless steel stills.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    Reposado, Añejo and Extra Añejo age in French oak barrels.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    Tequila bottles are baked in specially-designed glass ovens.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    Don Fulano tequila has been the recipient of numerous international awards, including the top prize in Mexico, named after the agave Goddess, Mayahuel.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    Sergio Mendoza, owner of La Tequileña, with his collection of Don Fulano Tequilas.

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    Credit: Betto Arcos

    Tequila from L to R: Blanco/Silver, Reposado, Añejo, Añejo Imperial (5 years)