• Get to know

    Tequila beyond shots

  • –  John Leese

    Tequila has such a long history and is often misunderstood. Most people associate with shots and only frozen margaritas.

    The reality is that Tequilas can be produced to so much character that would rival other aged spirits and should be appreciated either neat or on the rocks. Here’s what you need to know about Tequila.

    Its origins date all the way back to Pre-Colombian Mexico. They believed that their goddess of fertility ‘Cihuacoatl’ had transformed herself into an Agave plant, thus providing them with a plant that offered everything they needed including fibers, soap, footwear and also a fermented drink called ‘Pulque.’

    When the Spanish landed on the shores of Mexico, initially they banned any production of alcohol to ensure to the Spanish Brandy industry thriving and also keep it’s colonies in economic thrall to it.

    Mezcal wine was first taxed in 1608 and then fully legalized in 1636. It was only in 1795 that the Tequila industry was really born. In the 19th century the production was focused in the town of the same name in the region of Jalisco.

    However, let’s start at the beginning.

    Firstly, all Tequilas must come from Mexico, specifically from the following five regions- Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajato, Michoacan, Tamaulipas.

    What is Tequila made from?

    It is made from Agave Tequiliana Weber Azul or Blue Agave for short. This plant belongs to the Lilly family. The Blue Agave takes many years to reach maturation and is usually harvested around ten years old.

    The growth of the Agave is overseen by farmers known as Jimadors. When they are confident the plant has reached maturity, they will use a coa to remove the leaves to reveal the core of the plant. This is known as the Pina (Pronounced as ‘Pee Niya’). Once they have harvested enough Pinas, they will heat them to soften the flesh. This process traditionally takes place in a Hornos. However, moving with the times, this now takes place in an Autoclave.

    The reason for this is so the flesh is soft enough to literally squeeze the juices out. This is known as “Aguamiel” (Honey water). They place the pinas in a “Tahona” and will press the flesh with a giant wheel to force the juice out. In the old days, it would be a stone wheel pulled by a donkey, nowadays, technology has taken over in most distilleries.

    To produce alcohol, you need 3 elements – sugar, water and yeast. Having a raw material with high sugar content is a bonus. Agave nectar has 3 times the amount of sugar than most other raw materials. This is a bonus and makes the process of fermentation a lot easier. Fermentation is where the yeast eats the sugar and converts it in to alcohol. Once the process is finished, the distiller will have a large amount of liquid of low alcohol.

    Aguamiel is mixed with water and yeast is added. The fermented liquid boils as the process takes place. Each distillery will ferment for different lengths of time. Shorter fermentations lead to lighter style tequilas. Longer to a more full bodied style.

    Tequilas are always distilled twice. The first stage is called ‘Ordinario’. The second stage is called ‘Tequila’. The purpose of this is to separate potable alcohol (Ethanol) from the other chemicals by heating the fermented liquid and concentrating the liquid to a higher alcoholic content.  Once the distiller has his new make spirit. He must decide how long to age it.

    The spirits are aged in specific time brackets in barrels known as “Pipones” These are usually Ex-Bourbon barrels which will impart colour and flavor to the newly distilled tequila. This is the final stage of production. Depending on the time the alcohol is rested, Tequila is classified in following main styles:

    • Blanco / Plata / Silver: They tend to be stored for a maximum of 60 days in stainless steel vats but can be stored in oak. This is the truest expression of Tequila.
    • Reposado: This term means ‘rested’. They must rest for a minimum of 60 days to a maximum of a year.
    • Anejo: This term means ‘aged’. These must be aged in barrels for a minimum of a year to a maximum of 3 years.

    Voila, that is how you make Tequila!

    As much as I enjoy a good tequila on its own, there are plenty of amazing cocktails made with Tequila.

    The original Margarita was created in 1948. However my favorite interpretation of this particular cocktail comes from a Tequileria in San Francisco called Tommy’s owned by one of the world’s greatest experts on the spirit called Julio Bermejo. He believes that a Margarita should be made with only Mexican products. After having tasted one made by the man himself. I must agree!

    You may wonder which brands to choose when out partying. Here are my favorites available in India:

    El Jimador: From the Herradura hacienda. This particular tequilla was created as a tribute to the farmers that cultivate the agave fields. 100% Blue agave, smooth, crisp and absolutely delicious.

    Calle 23: Created by Sophie Decobeq, a French microbiologist. She has always had a passion for tequila and her goal has always been to produce the finest tequilas possible. She found the name whilst celebrating her graduation where from the bar where she sat, she noticed the sign, “Calle 23″(Calle means street in Spanish). Calle 23 has lovely tropical flavours of pineapple and ripe pears with a smooth black peppery finish.

    If you prefer a one on one tequila master class with me, just pop down to Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bandra and perhaps try one of our Tequila Con Verdita’s!

    El Diablo

    You will need

    • 50 ml Tequila
    • 10 ml lime juice
    • 2 cm of muddled ginger
    • 5 ml Creme de Cassis
    • Topped with soda water


    • Muddle the ginger, add ingredients, shake & strain in a tall glass and top with soda water.

    Classic Margarita 

    You will need 

    • 50 ml Tequila
    • 25 ml Lime Juice
    • 20 ml Agave Nectar


    • Shaken and served on the rocks ( No salt on the rim).

    After a long career in drinks industry, John Leese now wants to focus on training the next generation of bartenders. John Leese, a stalwart of drinks industry globally, currently works as a Beverage Development & Bar Manager at Olive Bar & Kitchen, Bandra.