That evil combination of salt, lemon and bad tequila conspired with the freedom of being old enough to go into a liquor store and buy a bottle of booze. The result?
Hangovers from hell, so bad you begin planning your own wake and a solemn promise to never drink tequila again.
Let’s be frank: if you need to numb your mouth with salt and lemon to drink tequila, it’s not proper tequila.
Thankfully, we’ve grown up and so has tequila. Let’s put on our sombreros because the sun is hot in Jalisco, Mexico, and that’s where we’re going.
Around 3 000 years ago the local Aztecs extracted the sweet juice of the maguey (Aztec for agave) plant, a large green succulent that thrives in desert conditions.
Left for a few days the juice naturally fermented - and that juice became alcohol. People drank it and they felt better.
That low alcohol juice was called pulque and was offered to the gods, pregnant women and the elderly.
If anyone else consumed it, they were flogged and their heads were shaved or they ended up as a human sacrifice to the gods.
Strange times, I know, but you didn’t think tequila had a normal history, did you?
In 1510 the Spanish arrived to conquer and colonise - and to distill the agave juice into something more potent. They called it mezcal wine.
Some were pretty bad, some were better, and the best came from a town called Tequila, in the Jalisco province.
The big difference between the bad and the good was the type of agave - the blue a gave, or Agave tequilana.
The first licensed tequila producer was Senor Jose Cuervo (sound familiar?) way back in 1758 nd until 1920 tequila was mainly consumed in Mexico.
You remember we chatted about Prohibition, that most awful of times in America between 1920 and 1933, when alcohol was outlawed? Guess what happened - yes, clever people smuggled barrels and bottles of tequila over the border and tequila became an incredibly popular drink in America.
Oh - tequila, lime and salt? In 1918 doctors prescribed that in large doses to fight off a severe flu epidemic in Mexico. It didn’t work, but people didn’t notice.
Today the best tequilas are made entirely from the blue agave. These plants take eight years to develop and the heart of the agave, the part used for tequila, weighs around 80kg.
First, the sharp leaves and thorns must be removed and the people who do that are called jimadors (sound familiar?). The heart is roasted for a few hours and the starch in the agave heart develops into sugars. The roasted core is crushed to release juice which is then fermented to produce alcohol.
The liquid is distilled twice, and most of the clear spirit is bottled straight after distillation.
There are many types of tequila, but just two categories: 100% agave and mixtos, made from at least 51% agave with the remainder made up of other sugar-based spirits.
You’ll never see the word “mixtos” on the bottle, but it is the most widely sold tequila product.
If your Spanish isn’t up to scratch, this is what the words on the bottles mean: blanco or plata or is white or silver, a clear spirit, not aged; oro or gold is unaged tequila, sometimes with caramel added; reposado means rested or aged between two months and a year; anejo means aged for a minimum of one year, but less than three, in small oak barrels; and extra anejo means extra aged, for at least three years.
The aged tequilas spend time in American white oak, where the spirit picks up colour, a much smoother mouthfeel and more complex flavours.
They’re best for sipping slowly.
So, next time you’re in the liquor store or bar, take a bit of time to try some of Mexico’s finest. They’re versatile and the good ones are well worth spending an evening with.
Feel like talking about tequila? Email [email protected] or @bernardgwhisky.