America is known as “the big melting pot.” The fact that you can get French coffee for breakfast and Asian cuisine for lunch is a uniquely American trait. But what happens when the pot boils over and the contents start to pour out? Suddenly, this diverse cultural stew overflows and saturates the original ideas and aspects that make different cultures unique.
Think about eating a pizza slice at your local Brooklyn pizzeria and eating a pizza slice in Italy; they are two completely unalike experiences. The same could be said about drinking tequila in the United States. Although tequila is not the same as a pizza slice, it is another example of the Americanization of the world, and of how a traditional Mexican drink undergoes a big, and jarringly different translation to American culture. But are we doomed to drink paltry shots and frozen margaritas for the rest of time, or can we “gringos” learn to appreciate tequila as a refined drink worthy of praise?
Location, location, location. No drink (besides maybe champagne) is defined by its location as much as tequila. The biggest – and only – manufacturer of tequila is Mexico. This has to do with the product growing only in that region of the world, and the Mexican government intervening with its business import. It would appear there are dizzying arrays of different tequilas, but there are certain cornerstones that all tequilas share.
Let’s begin with a bit of the basics. Tequila is a distilled beverage, often times clear in color, and made from the blue agave plant found primarily in the town of Tequila, Mexico. It’s been dated all the way back to the time of the Aztecs, and was refined by Spanish conquistadors around the 19th century. Mexican law states that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and five other regions in Mexico, due in part to the area’s blue volcanic soil. The agave plant grows differently depending on the region: The highland regions produce sweeter flavored tequila, while the lowland regions produce a more grassy favor. Mexican law also states that tequila must contain at least 51% agave, though the good stuff is always 100%. Anything less than pure is referred to as “mixto,” which implies that the tequila is mixed with other substances like sugar or water.
NOM is the Official Mexican Standard of Tequila, and oversees all processes and activities related to the supply of agave, including production, bottling, marketing, and business practices. But more importantly NOM is regulated by the Mexican government. If you want to make sure the tequila you’re gulping is the genuine article just check for the NOM number on the label. If your tequila doesn’t have that number, I would suggest getting your money back. I would also suggest getting your stomach pumped, because you have no clue what you’re drinking. With over 901 registered brands from 128 producers since 2008 (according to the Consejo Regulador del Tequila), there’s definitely a lot of bootlegging going on. Often times there are small individuals and big corporations competing against one another to sell their products, so illegal activities tend to take place.
But the more recent conflict taking place today is between the farmers of agave and the businessmen who distill tequila. Even though many brands are family owned, most popular tequila brands are owned by large multinational corporations, most of which are based in America. In 2006 the United States and Mexico signed an agreement that would allow for the continued import of tequila to the US, which caused a large demand for cheap, mass produced product.
For a culture steeped in crafting quality drinks, the demand for high quantity, low quality tequila is a major downturn. Americans buy the cheapest brand and drink it in a very untraditional way: one or two shots followed by a lick of salt and a bite of a lime piece. This, of course, is hardly “traditional.” Another equally untraditional way of consuming tequila is by having a margarita. A margarita in the states is a drink consisting of tequila, orange-flavoured liqueur, and lime or lemon juice, the latter of which overpower the unique boldness of the tequila. And while margaritas are basically the P**** H****** of the drink world, the traditional Mexican tequila is meant to be savored and enjoyed.
Even worse is Cinco the Mayo, a holiday so bastardized by American culture that we don’t even recognize its origins. Contrary to popular belief, the Fifth of May is not Mexican Independence Day, so correct your friends (and yourself) immediately. It is, instead a celebration of the Battle of Pueblo against a French invasion. American consumerism mentality cares very little about the actual history of other cultures’ traditions. Instead we find opportunity to make a gimmick: a chance to make Cinco de Mayo the “St. Patrick’s Day” of spring. Any excuse to get drunk – right, America?
In the end the best way to enjoy the richness and history of tequila is by drinking it straight or in a cocktail. But let’s not forget the roots of this scrappy little drink, and next time you cheers with tequila, remember your tequila will always be a Mexican one.
If you wake up on March 18th with half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in your pocket, just remember it’s not your fault. It was Tequila. It was Saint Patrick’s Day, and of course the celebrations were happening in every Irish pub in the city. While everyone enjoyed a proper Guinness, I decided to blurt out to my group: “You know what would be awesome right now? A margarita!” And that’s all it took. Soon enough we found a Mexican gay bar and the party really got started. There was dancing, drag, and so much tequila. We ordered frozen strawberry margaritas to start, and some fabulous queen offered me a sandwich. I split half with a friend, promptly blacked out, and woke up with half a sandwich, covered in glitter. Leave it to tequila to turn even the most mundane of Irish holidays into a totally wondrous shit show.
Beth, realtor, Long Island City
There are two things in this life that never fail to give you a good time: bingo and tequila. There’s a tiny Mexican joint in the Village where patrons can enjoy free Bingo while they sip on margaritas. Last time I was there, we decided to shoot tequila anytime a number in a particular column was called. A plethora of tequila and a few margaritas later- bingo bango, shit got crazy. I woke up with three hickies on my neck – because yes, 23-year-olds still get hickies – but there was no man in my bed. That is class as its finest, my friends.
Cassie, marketing, Upper East Side
I was trying to break up with a girl I was dating one night over dinner, and while I waited I ordered a shot of courage – tequila – to get me loosened up, and another one when my date was ten minutes late. When she finally arrived 40 minutes late I was so tanked, I fell into her arms begging forgiveness and professing undying love and then we both quite spectacularly fell into the cheese cart.
Toby, jeweler, Borough Park
On the night of my birthday, one of my friends bought me a celebratory bottle of tequila. At that point I was totally smashed, and wanted to play with the worm at the bottom of the bottle. I tried getting it out with tongs, with a straw, with a magic pungi (hey, plastered was not even close) nothing worked. the only way to get to the worm was to drink the whole bottle. So turns out the worm was really a piece of a straw wrapper stuck to the bottom bottle. Oops.
Michelle, risk analysis, Sunnyside