Tequila: Just What Is This Stuff, Anyway?

So where did my tequila snobbery start? It started in a small, but amazingly well stocked, booze shop in London, which will remain nameless for now, but it is definitely worth its own post or thousands in the future.

I went there once to pick up some Jose Cuervo Gold for a margarita party but I was — kid you not – denied from buying it. My amigo behind the counter flat out refused to sell it to me.

“Do you even know what you’re drinking?” he asked me, trying to push some other, less commercial brands on me.

I told him I wasn’t looking for anything special and, come on, it’s only going to be mixed up and sweetened so why worry so much about the quality.

This is when my friend explained that not all tequilas are created equal.

Firstly, what is tequila? It’s not made from cactus – to start with – even though many people are mislead to believe this probably because of the desert imagery usually associated with the drink. Tequila originates, in fact, from the blue agave plant.

It’s this plant that gives good tequilas that lovely earthy or sometimes floral taste.

The reason not all tequila brands are the same is government standards leave a lot of room for diversity in what can be called a tequila. Mexican law states that a commercial product can be labelled tequila if it contains just 51 percent blue agave, but no less.

There are other standards that also must be met – like it must be grown in a certain part of the country – and these are all neatly laid out en español by Norma Oficial Mexicana. You can take a look here:


Jose Cuervo Gold is what’s called a “mixto” tequila. It’s 51 percent agave and the rest is made up of sugar-cane spirit. Purists, like my friend behind the counter, consider that stuff non-authentic tequila.

Also, some people blame sugar-cane grog for wretched hangovers. After hearing that, I was more than convinced to try something new.

So what did I get in the end? A 70cl bottle of Casco Viejo – Reposado – 100 percent agave tequila and I’ve never turned back.

Now, before you call me pretentious, here’s the best part: it’s slightly cheaper than Jose Cuervo!

My local supermarket advertises a 50cl bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold for £14.00, while the booze shops sells 100 percent agave Casco Viejo at £19-something for 70cl. In other words, 0.28 pence per cl versus about 0.27 pence per cl.

Easy choice.

In my next blog, I will be sharing just one more tequila cocktail recipe before, sadly, moving on from Mexico.