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National Tequila Day

Today we celebrate tequila, a liquor distilled from the Mexican blue agave plant. A sweet sap from the plant's heart called "aquamiel"—meaning "honey water"—is used to make it. Tequila is actually a mezcal, although not all mezcals are tequila. Any spirit made from an agave plant is a mescal, but in order for it to be considered tequila, it has to come from the blue variation of the plant. The Mexican government allows labeling something as tequila if it has at least 51 percent agave-derived sugar—the rest can be cane or corn sugar. Mexican law says that for a spirit to be considered to be tequila, it also must be manufactured in one of five Mexican states: Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Guanajuato, or Tamaulipas.

Before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, the Aztecs were making a drink by fermenting the agave plant. After Mexico was colonized, people that lived in the city of Tequila began making a drink similar to that which the Aztecs had made. Many consider this to be the first tequila, and it was actually quite similar to Mezcal wine. True tequila came about a bit later, and the word was first printed in 1795, when José María Guadalupe Cuervo was given the first commercial license to produce it, from the king of Spain. American troops brought tequila back to the United States after fighting Pancho Villa in 1916. However, sustained popularity of tequila in the US didn't arrive until the 1960s when university students in California began drinking it. Sales began to grow, and it was especially popular for its use in making margaritas.

Tequila ranges in alcohol content, from about 31% (62 Proof) to 55% (110 Proof). There are five classifications of tequila: Blanco, Joven, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo. In Mexico, tequila is usually sipped, while in the United States it is often taken as a shot, with lime and salt. A "classic" way to drink it, sometimes called the "Mexican itch," consists of taking a straight shot of tequila, along with some crushed worms from the agave plant, which are contained in a salt shaker. San Antonio: City in the Sun (1946) described it by saying, "You gulp the Tequila, sprinkle the mummified condiment on the back of your hand, swallow it, suck on a small piece of lime, and then sit down for awhile to recover your senses." The worm, which is really a caterpillar or a larva, is sometimes placed in bottles of some mezcals. This is a marketing gimmick and not the traditional way that tequila was drank.

How to Observe

Celebrate the day by drinking tequila! Try some of the five different classifications of tequila. Drink it plain or take a shot of it. Have it in a margarita or in another drink. While downing your tequila, why not listen to "Tequila" by the Champs, "Pour Me Another Tequila" by Eddie Rabbitt, or another song that mentions the spirit.

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