With deep roots in both history and culture, tequila is an internationally-recognized and celebrated product of Mexico.

What Is Tequila?

Tequila is a distilled spirit made using sugars from the blue Weber agave plant. Agave used for tequila must be grown within specific areas in Mexico. Tequila has two categories based on whether blue Weber agave is exclusively used as the sugar source for a particular tequila, or if other non-agave sugars are incorporated.

Where Tequila Comes From

Blue Weber agave used for tequila production must be grown within specific municipalities (akin to a US county) in five Mexican States:

  • Jalisco
  • Michoacán
  • Tamaulipas
  • Nayarit
  • Guanajuato
The five states included within Tequila's official DO.

Tequila’s Two Categories

At least 51% of the fermentable sugars in tequila must legally come from the blue Weber agave plant. Today, a tequila made exclusively from sugars from the blue Weber agave plant is categorized as 100% de agave. If other non-agave sugars are used as well, it is simply a ‘tequila’, though such distillates are also colloquially referred to as ‘mixtos.’

Global and Legal Recognition

Established to protect indigenous products and prevent unfair competition, an official Denomination of Origin (DO) is the term used to identify a product that originates within, and is produced exclusively by, a certain region.

Mexico is the cultural and legal home of tequila. Tequila was given an official DO in 1974, prescribing many aspects of its production and marketing, such as where it can be made, what it can be made from, where its raw materials must be grown, and so on.

Mexico is the cultural and legal home of tequila.

Know Your NOM

Created to ensure that a tequila is an authentic product made in Mexico, the Norma Oficial Mexicana del Tequila (NOM) identification number is a tool that allows one to trace a tequila to the producer responsible for its production. These four-digit codes, preceded by the letters NOM, appear on all tequila bottles—any given producer has a single NOM number, which can appear on any product that is created by that producer at their distillery.

The Purpose of the CRT

Established in 1994, the CRT (Consejo Regulador del Tequila, or the Tequila Regulatory Council) is a non-governmental body responsible for establishing, verifying, and certifying compliance with the laws that are created by the Mexican government to regulate the tequila industry. It is composed of tequila producers, agave farmers, bottlers & markets, and members of the Mexican government itself.

A Brief History of Tequila

The first attempts to regulate the emerging tequila industry began in earnest in 1949, when the Mexican government established the Norma de Calidad de Tequila in order to help ensure consistent quality in a time of increased manipulation of the spirit. At the time, it detailed that tequila had to be made exclusively using blue Weber agave grown in Jalisco.

As demand for tequila started to grow, its quality began to decline, which happened in part because of the increased popularity of tequila in the United States. This was aided by the spread of new cocktails like the Margarita and the Tequila Sunrise, shortages in the supply of agave, and increased tourism in Mexico as a result of the devaluation of its currency.

Tequila's popularity growth was aided by the rise of the Margarita and other cocktails.

By 1964, the Norma was amended to require a minimum of only 70% agave sugars, allowing up to 30% of the fermentable sugars in tequila to come from other sources like sugarcane, corn, or other grains. By 1970, the standard was modified again to state that only 51% of the formulation had to be composed of agave sugars, where the rule stands today.

In the 1970’s, tequila producers flooded the market with cheaply made low-quality mixtos, leading to negative consumer perceptions of the category. However, the launch of Patrón in 1989 marked a major turning point for the 100% de agave category, one Patrón continues to lead to this day. By bringing quality, 100% de agave Tequila to the United States, Patrón helped turn around this perception, and today Patrón tequilas are now available in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Watch the Introduction to Tequila Study Guide Video