01. Ancient history

From its humble origins as a regional variety of mezcal, tequila has grown through the past century into a massive global spirit category, all while protecting its geographic specificity and assertively regulating production to maintain quality and integrity.

The 16 – 18th Century

Tequila’s roots stretch deep into Mexico’s liquid history. Before the agave plant was used to make the spirit we now call tequila, indigenous people were making a beverage called pulque, a frothy fermented drink made from the agave plant’s sap or juice. (Archaeologists date the first signs of pulque production in pre-Aztec culture.) Conventional wisdom has long held that the Spaniards introduced distillation technology to Mexico when they arrived in 1519 and that’s when the first agave distillates emerged, but more recent studies have found evidence of roasting pits and rustic stills that date back to pre-Columbian times (though most concede that the practice of distillation wasn’t as prevalent or widespread as fermentation of pulque during that time period).

This distilled spirit, originally called vino de mezcal, emerged as a popular alternative to pulque by the mid-seventeenth century, and evidence shows that taxes were enacted on the mezcal wine” in parts of Mexico during this time. Popularity of mezcal increased through the early- to mid-1700s, the same time that many producers were establishing distilleries on haciendas in Jalisco.

The Spanish were not enamoured with the local spirits, though, and in 1785 King Carlos III put a ban on their production and sales. This forced production underground in favor of wine and imports from Europe. Despite the restrictions, many clandestine operations continued across Mexico, with every region harvesting what agave plants grew locally and using production techniques and traditions that varied by area, until the ban was lifted in 1795 by Carlos IV (and new subsequent taxes were implemented on production). 

source: PD-US

MAYÁHUEL - The goddess of fertility, as depicted in the Aztec Codex Magliabechiano from the 16th century.

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