While wine is an alcoholic beverage that is made by a process of fermenting various grape varietals, a distilled beverage is made by distilling a fermented grain or fruit producing either a spirit or a liqueur. A spirit is an alcoholic beverage that has been distilled without the addition of sugar, whereas a liqueur is produced with added sugar. If you think of a top-shelf Margarita you can easily discern the difference between these two types of distilled beverages -- Tequila is a spirit, whereas Cointreau and Grand Mariner are liqueurs.
A bottle can only legally be labeled "Tequila" if it is produced from Blue Agave that is grown in certain Mexican States, the spirit is produced in one of those States, and it has the approval of the Tequila Regulatory Council -- (officially called the Consejo Regulador del Tequila or CRT for short). This is very similar to the type of regulations that prohibit labeling a wine as a "Bordeaux" or a "Champagne" that were not produced in their respective growing regions of France for example.
The Blue Agave is plant that takes at least 8-to-10 years to mature and once mature, the process to make Tequila becomes quite tedious -- but that is to be expected from any quality distilled beverage.
Many people believe that Tequila is only used it to make margaritas, but really it is a spirit that when made properly can contain a wide variety of flavors. If you peruse the shelves of your local liquor store, likely you will find 20 or so different brands. In reality, there are over one thousand brands available. So
how do you choose one to try? Recently, I had the opportunity to taste the Piedra Azul Tequila brand that was not only quite flavorful, but also didn't hurt the wallet too much as it retails in the $17 price range for both the "blanco" and "reposado" styles.
The Piedra Azul Blanco is Tequila that is not aged, whereas the Piedra Azul Reposado is aged for 4 months in oak barrels which imparts hints of vanilla and caramel as any wine lover would expect by this type of aging. Both the Blanco and Reposado have noticeable citrus and fresh agave flavors.
If you want to try a refreshing cocktail made from the Piedra Azul Blanco Tequila, make yourself a "Jalisco Buck' which consists of 2 ounces of Piedra Azul Blanco, an ounce of fresh lime juice, 3 ounces of ginger ale and a couple of large locally grown strawberries, preferably from O'Brien Family Farms.
Start by muddling the strawberries and lime juice in the bottom of a glass, then add tequila and ice, and finish it by topping with the ginger ale. Salt the rim of a cocktail glass and enjoy this refreshing drink!
Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.