Tequila is undeniably one of the world’s most popular spirits, with last year’s annual revenue amounting to over $5.2 billion. With so much tequila consumed each year, the spirit has garnered a reputation as a crowd-pleasing spirit that works just as well in cocktails as it does as a stand-alone shot. Despite the fact that tequila is so wildly popular, there are a number of myths surrounding the spirit that are believed by many to be fact. To clear things up, we debunked eight of the most common tequila misconceptions, ranging from how the spirit is produced to its impact on the human brain.
The Myth: Tequila is distilled from cactus plants.
Despite the fact that cacti and agave are both succulents, the plants come from two different plant families. Tequila is always distilled from agave, specifically Blue Weber agave — never from a cactus. The spirit is instead distilled by harvesting the hearts, or piñas, from Blue Weber agave plants, which take roughly eight years to mature fully. Despite both cacti and agave being desert native plants, agave is actually a member of the Asparagaceae plant family, meaning agave is more closely related to asparagus than cacti.
The Myth: Tequila makes you act differently than other types of alcohol.
Though the idea that your level of intoxication will differ depending on the spirit you drink is not a new notion, tequila seems to have garnered a reputation unlike other spirits categories. Despite the fact that some drinkers insist that tequila makes them crazy, inspiring questionable (at best) song titles like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” there is no scientific evidence to suggest that tequila contains any ingredient that would cause you to act in a fashion that you wouldn’t while under the influence of any other type of alcohol.
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This myth likely stems from drinkers in the 1950s believing that consuming tequila would cause one to hallucinate, which incidentally led to an uptick in tequila sales. It was later discovered that not only had these individuals been mistaking tequila for mezcal, but they were also mistaking mezcal for mescaline, a psychedelic compound similar to LSD. As such, most recollections of tequila causing anyone to act in a particular fashion were likely a result of the individual, not the spirit.
The Myth: All bottles labeled ‘tequila’ contain 100 percent tequila.
All tequila is not created equally — simply because a bottle is labeled as tequila does not mean its contents contain 100 percent pure tequila. In order to be labeled as tequila, spirits producers only need to produce their distillates using 51 percent Blue Weber agave, so unless a label reads “100 percent Blue Weber agave,” the spirit is considered a mixto, meaning that the tequila has been blended with fermented sugars or additives. In fact, some of the most recognizable tequila names, like Jose Cuervo Silver and Gold, are mixto tequilas.
The Myth: Aged and gold tequilas are of higher quality.
Of the three types of tequila, blanco, reposado, and añejo, there is a common misconception that añejos are the highest quality. In actuality, most properly made tequilas — meaning those made from 100 percent Blue Weber agave — are of high quality. That said, blanco, reposado, and añejo all carry flavors of their own. Blanco tequilas, which are unaged, offer the clearest expression of agave flavors as the spirit has not absorbed flavors from the barrel like reposados and añejos. On the other hand, reposados and añjeos, which have been aged for two to 12 months and one to three years, respectively, will typically taste slightly sweeter.
A further misconception regarding tequila’s quality surrounds the color of the spirit itself. Many, in line with believing añejos to be the best quality, also assume that gold or amber-colored tequilas are higher-end options. But, as it is not required for tequila to be distilled from 100 percent agave, many large spirits companies toss in a number of additives in order to achieve tequila’s signature gold tones to be more visually appealing for consumers. If you’re in the market for a true high-quality gold tequila, first be sure that the spirit is made from 100 percent Blue Weber and that it has spent a few years aging in barrel. Properly made, quality tequila gets its hue from spending a significant chunk of time aging in wood.
The Myth: The Margarita is a traditional Mexican cocktail.
The Margarita is one of the most ordered cocktails every year and is surely the most popular tequila-based cocktail in the world. While the Margarita uses a Mexican spirit as its base, it would be incorrect to assume that the cocktail is a traditional Mexican beverage. According to Chantal Martineau, author of “How the Gringos Stole Tequila,” the Margarita was actually invented by Americans. “In Mexico, it’s usually taken neat, served with sangrita, a tomato-and-fruit-juice-based, non-alcoholic drink.” The tequila and the sangrita are both served in small shot-like glasses and are meant to be sipped in succession, rather than as a shot and a chaser. For a tequila cocktail that is native to our southern neighbors, try the Paloma, Mexico’s national cocktail consisting of tequila, lime juice, and grapefruit soda.
The Myth: Tequila is Mexico’s national spirit.
Similarly to the Margarita being mistaken for Mexico’s national cocktail, tequila is often mistaken as Mexico’s national spirit — but that title belongs to mezcal. Mezcal has been made in Mexico since the pre-Columbian era, and unlike tequila, it can be legally made from a number of agave species. As stated by Martineau: “We think of [tequila] as the national spirit, but it only comes from one small part of Mexico. Mezcal is much older than tequila as we know it; it’s been made in Mexico for 500 years.”
The Myth: Tequila can be made anywhere agave grows.
Just because tequila has to be distilled from agave does not mean that the spirit can be produced anywhere agave grows. In order to be labeled as tequila, the spirit must be produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which houses the town of Tequila, or one of four municipalities: Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas. If a spirit is distilled from Blue Weber agave anywhere in the world outside of these regions, it cannot legally be called tequila.
The Myth: Tequila is the only alcohol that is an upper, not a downer.
The myth that tequila is an upper and not a downer is so commonplace that it has become something of an urban legend. In actuality, all alcoholic beverages are depressants, and tequila is no different. Despite the fact that tequila is often associated with partying and has a free-spirited, somewhat wild reputation, the spirit contains ethanol, which means it has the same depressing effects on the brain as every other type of alcohol.