As I progress through the older expressions of Cava de Oro, I thought it would be a good idea to take a peak into the past by exploring this history of Mexico’s official spirit. This is part 1. When I post the last two expressions, I’ll post the links here so you can read parts 2 and 3. Enjoy!
Tequila, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the blue agave plant, has a rich and storied history that spans centuries. From its origins in ancient Mesoamerica to its status as Mexico’s national drink, tequila has become a beloved spirit enjoyed around the world. In this short history of tequila, we will explore its origins, the development of tequila production, its cultural significance, and its journey to international acclaim.
Origins and Early History
The story of tequila begins in ancient times with the cultivation of the blue agave plant. The blue agave, also known as Agave tequilana Weber azul, is native to the region around what is now the Mexican city of Tequila. The indigenous people of Mesoamerica, including the Aztecs and the Olmecs, discovered the sweet nectar inside the agave plant and began fermenting it to produce a beverage known as pulque.
Pulque is a milky, slightly alcoholic drink that played a significant role in Mesoamerican culture. It was consumed in religious ceremonies and festivals and was considered a sacred beverage. The production and consumption of pulque predate the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
The blue agave plant, with its thick spiky leaves and piña (the heart of the plant), served as a versatile resource for the indigenous people. They utilized its fibers for making clothing, paper, and other practical items. However, it was the discovery of the agave’s sweet sap that laid the foundation for the future development of tequila.
Spanish Conquest and Distillation
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico in the 16th century, they encountered the indigenous people’s tradition of pulque consumption. The Spanish brought with them the knowledge of distillation, a process that allowed for the production of stronger and more concentrated alcoholic spirits.
It is believed that the process of distillation was introduced to Mexico by the Spanish in the early 1500s. The first distilled spirits in the region were likely made from pulque, resulting in a beverage known as mezcal wine or vino mezcal. Mezcal wine was different from the tequila we know today, as it was made from a variety of agave plants rather than exclusively from the blue agave.
The Birth of Tequila
The history of tequila as a distinct spirit began in the 18th century around the town of Tequila in the state of Jalisco. The region’s volcanic soil and climate proved ideal for growing blue agave, leading to the development of tequila as a local specialty.
The transformation of mezcal wine into tequila is credited to Don Pedro Sánchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira. Don Pedro’s estate, known as the Hacienda Cuisillos, played a crucial role in the development of tequila. He began experimenting with the blue agave plant and refined the distillation process to create a smoother and more palatable spirit.
In 1758, the Marquis of Altamira received the first official license to produce tequila from the King of Spain. This license granted him the exclusive rights to cultivate and harvest blue agave for tequila production in the region. This event marks the birth of the tequila industry and the establishment of tequila as a distinct beverage.
The Rise of Tequila Production
Tequila production in the 19th century underwent significant changes that would shape its future. One of the key figures during this time was Jose Cuervo, who founded the La Rojena distillery in 1812. The Cuervo family became one of the most influential tequila producers, and Jose Cuervo is often referred to as the “Father of Tequila.”
Another significant development was the introduction of the steam-powered mill in 1836, which revolutionized the process of extracting juice from the agave plant. This innovation made tequila production more efficient, enabling larger quantities of the spirit to be produced.
In 1873, the first tequila export occurred when Don Cenobio Sauza shipped three barrels of tequila to the United States. This marked the beginning of tequila’s international presence and its gradual expansion beyond Mexican borders.
Stay tuned for part 2, in which I will cover tequila’s history into the 21st century , including regulation and its cultural significance. For now, it’s time to enjoy this Cava de Oro Añejo tequila! It’s aged for two years in French oak casks, which used to hold Cabernet Sauvignon wine from California and is bottled at 40% ABV.
Nose: After two years resting in French oak, the character this tequila is getting from the cask is now singing very loud and clear. Far more than the Reposado. It’s like walking past fresh red berries at a farmer’s market. I’m finding it hard to detect blackberries though. There’s also mounds of dark chocolate with red berries mixed into it. Cooked agave is detectable, but is nowhere near as strong as the Plata or Reposado. I’m getting coconut, but it is lightly toasted rather than candied. There is so much lime zest that it almost makes my nose wrinkle, yet brings a freshness that helps to cut through the dark chocolate. As this sits in the glass for a while, there’s a light campfire smokiness . Don’t know how else to describe it. The vanilla signature is faint, but the same could not be said of the cinnamon. Compared to the Reposado, the allspice is not as abundant, but the nutmeg volume has been turned up a bit.
Palate: The entry introduces a surprising amount of honey with a lesser amount of slightly sour orange. That orange note actually becomes more of a marmalade as the development progresses. The light, strawberry fruitiness turns into dried strawberries half way through. The dried strawberry note is more pronounced though. Subsequent sips give me a pretty heavy dose of raisins. The dark chocolate isn’t as strong as on the nose, but I’m getting a slight chocolate mint as well. The spices from the nose remain and are joined by black pepper. After sipping this for a while, the cooked agave is starting to shine through.
Finish: That slightly cooling chocolate mint note is really clinging on, giving my mouth a fresh, cooling sensation. The spice fades pretty quickly, but still lurks in the background. Cooked agave remains at the very end.
With water added
The cask is showing up as a dark fruit and nut bar along with a pretty good sponge toffee note as well. There’s a bit of dried strawberry still and the lime zest I got nosing this neat is still there for sure. The cooked agave is in the background, but there’s a lovely floral character to this now. The honey is still on the entry, but is more muted. The spices have moved up from the end of the development to the beginning, but don’t mask the other notes too much. Particularly near the end of the development, the chocolate shows up as dark chocolate fudge dusted in cocoa powder. The orange marmalade is still very much present as well.
The balance between the tequila and the cask was much stronger in this Añejo compared to the Reposado. That extra 18 months is oak made a big difference here. I’m positively salivating already at the thought of what Cava de Oro’s five year Extra Añejo is going to taste like. It was interesting how the the cask influence changed from fruity when sipped neat to more toffee with a few drops added. Considering this is coming from a traditional, craft tequila brand, coupled with the unique French oak maturation, $140-150 CAD for this is a real bargain!