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Tequila manufacture is tightly controlled by the Mexican government and the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) - and is one of the most regulated spirits industries in the world. Statements made on the bottle about age, style and content have legal requirements for factuality. There is also a non-profit council called the Chamber of Tequila Producers which helps regulate the industry.
Updated May, 2011
Printed Resources and Sources
Books, magazines and videos
Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Bookcloseouts.com, Chapters-Indigo and Barnes and Noble have numerous books on tequila you can find by searching their sites. These include the following - note that they all have in common the love of tequila, a fascination with the industry and an affection for the quirky, erratic but often sincere ways of Mexican business.
Unfortunately, a good book on mezcal that matches or exceed these titles remains to be written, although I have one good resource, thanks to Ron Cooper.
For current news and industry updates, there is no English-language publication
that follows he tequila industry, but you will find the latest material online
Another terrific source of knowledge is my online tequila discussion forum. The members here can answer most of your questions, tell you where and how to buy tequila, and talk at length about their own experiences.
I recommend you learn a little about Mexican history to understand the chronological and social context in which tequila and mezcal have evolved. Knowing a bit of Spanish also helps.
Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History by Ana Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan (University of Arizona Press, 2003). If there is a champion of agave today, someone who gathers all of its lore, its magic and its stories, Ana Valenzuela-Zapata is that person. Her affection for the agave brightens every page in this slim-but-rich book. It's both a personal telling of her lifelong relations with the plant - her passion and her fascination - and a scientific/cultural treatise. It's a very personal book, but at the same time it soars over the cultural and geographic landscape, covering the rich history of the agave and its role in tequila production. Microcosm and macrocosm. You'll learn about production, farming, cultivation, Mexican politics and history... it's beautifully, even poetically written, and enjoyable throughout. This book deserves to be in the library of every tequila aficionado. This is my favourite book on tequila because it covers so much in such a small space .
El Agave Tequilero: Cultivo e Industria de Mexico, by Ana. G. Valanzuela Zapata (Ediciones Mundi-Prensa, Mexico, 2003). Spanish. A technical, scientific and cultural look at the blue agave and the tequila industry, by the guru of agave production. Some of the material was reprinted in her English-language book, Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History, above. With charts, tables, drawings, photographs, and a full glossary, this is perhaps the only really good, in-depth source book for the blue agave, and its role in tequila production. But typical of Ana's writing, this is also about the culture and history of the agave. Unfortunately it is not available in English at this time. However, it's probably worth owning just for the colour photos. The technical nature of some of the contents makes it a bit difficult if your Spanish isn't up to the scientific side.
www.heavenearthtequila.com/. I had the honour of providing a short FAQ on tequila for this book.
Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History, by Christine Sismondo (McArthur & Company, Toronto, 2005). A wonderful, entertaining social history of the cocktail. Witty, exuberant, literate and overall great fun to read. It includes a chapter on the margarita (subtitled Irony, parody and Intertext) and another on sangrita (and the birth of feminism). This isn't a bartender's guide or a collection of recipes: it's a window into how cocktails intermingle with human history. But you will also get some wry comments on how to - or how not to - make a good margarita. This is a great read for anyone interested in either drinks history or the sociology of mixology.
www.winepatrol.com. Lance entertains us with stories of his trips to tequila distilleries and experiences in Mexico. It's light and fun, entertaining and informative, with lots of commentary on tasting and extra material on travel in Mexico, especially in Jalisco towns. Reading this book is like sitting in Lance's living room listening to stories about his trips to Mexico: he's warm, witty and chatty, obviously at home both as a raconteur and a seasoned traveller. However, when it comes to tasting, he draws heavily from the wine industry systems to proffer a comprehensive set of standards for tequila with illustrations and charts you can apply to your own impressions. His tasting notes are the most thorough and impressive of any author's. In September, 2000, Lance published a second edition of his book, adding a 40-page addendum on mezcal and Oaxaca, complete with tasting notes, and a description of 150 tequilas. That certainly put TTLGTOM at the top of the list of current books for brand information. This is a highly recommended book for anyone seriously interested in tequila or mezcal, but rather outdated by now.
Another comprehensive guide is The Book of Tequila: A Complete Guide, by Bob Emmons (Open Court Press, 1997, revised edition 2002, both now out of print). Emmons' book is a little dry in spots, but is packed with lots of historical and technical information, distillery guides, personal anecdotes and good tasting notes. His love for tequila and his appreciation of the culture around it is obvious in every chapter, but he is not as informal and chatty in expressing as is Cutler (above). If you want a walloping lot of information about tequila and the industry packed into one book, that's not too terribly outdated, this is it. Nothing on mezcal, however.
You should also look at the Mesa Grill Guide to Tequila by Laurence Kretchmer and Zeva Oelbaum (photographer) (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1998) which is packed with colour photographs of tequila production, bottles, agave fields, recipes and drinks, as well as mezcal. These are among the best pictures I've seen in any book here. It also has a lot of information about tequila's history and manufacture. The distilleries section isn't as thorough as either Cutler and Emmons offer, but it has some great sections on certain 'fine tequilas.' It's a great book, all in colour, and another fun read.
Classic Tequila, by Ian Wisniewski (Prion Books, 1999). From the notes at Barnes and Noble: "Classic Tequila guides the reader through the rich culture and far-reaching history of the drink. There are tasting notes and histories from classic brands like Cuervo and Sauza to aged and reserve specialties and little-known gems; classic cocktail lore; foods to accompany tequila; recipes for cooking with the spirit; plus a guide to tequila bars and destinations in Mexico and around the world. A classic companion to the drink of the desert." Desert? That hurts. Some tequila 'reviews' read suspiciously like the author has never tasted the products (glowing reviews of mediocre mixto products really hurt his credibility!) Otherwise, it's a fair book, with lots of pictures, historical and production data, and recipes. It also has a good section on mezcal production.
Guia de Tequila, by Artes De Mexico. It's a bilingual book, with lots of pictures, for about $15 US. The descriptions of the brands, however, appear to be taken from company press releases or advertisements, so treat them as such rather than as expert commentary. Also, many brands are missed in the guide - Tapatio's El Tesoro for example. Its strength, however, lies mostly in the listing of the distilleries and major distributors - and the photographs of the bottles, which are gorgeous. It also touches on agave liqueurs and sangritas, seldom discussed in most other publications. Seriously dated, but see the revised English edition, below.
Tequila, edited by Alberto Ruy-Sanchez & Margarita de Orellana (Smithsonian Books, 2004). This is essentially the second/revised English edition of the Artes de Mexico's Guia de Tequila, above. It incorporates several articles from the company's magazines and books listed below, as well as parts of the earlier edition of the guide. A well-crafted work, this full-colour book contains great art, graphics and photographs. It even has a lot of vintage images and some great black-and-white stills from Mexican films. While it sometimes feels unfocused, this eccentric book meanders joyfully through Mexican culture, always looking at it through the lens of tequila. There is a gallery of tequila brands - greatly reduced from the previous edition. And while the copy about the brands in the gallery still reads like paid-for advertising copy, the brevity makes it more palatable than the press-release feel of the previous edition. A significant advantage of this edition lies in its availability through the online booksellers.
Guia del Tequila, bilingual edition, (Artes de Mexico, 2007). This is the second/revised English edition of the original Artes de Mexico's Guia de Tequila, above. Much of the same content, but the A-Z of brands has been enlarged at the expense of some of the other material, but new material has been added. The A-Z section is big, but still cribbed from manufacturers' press releases, so is a highly unreliable guide to quality, taste or value. Many mixto tequilas are showered with self-aggrandizing but highly undeserved praise. Still, the photos are excellent. It also has sections on agave elixirs, liqueurs and flavoured tequilas, and a good glossary.
Artes De Mexico has a softcover issue of its book-magazine dedicated to the culture and impact of tequila (number 27, $30 US). This 96-page issue is mostly bilingual, with articles on tequila production, history, poetry, and culture. Some of the photos are glorious. Even the ads look good! It's one of those items that will enhance your tastings with its elegance and style. Note that some of the articles from this and their other magazines are reproduced in the book directly above. You can order directly from them by email. See them online at: www.artesdemexico.com. However, getting them to respond may require patience and persistence. Another alternative: pick up a copy at Mundo Cuervo, in Tequila itself.
Artes De Mexico has a hardcover issue of its book-magazine dedicated to the culture and history of the maguey plant (number 51, $25 US). This 96-page issue is mostly bilingual (some small items are not translated, but all major articles are) with articles on the role the maguey (agave) plant has played in Mexican culture and history from pre-Hispanic times to the present. It includes considerable information on pulque and pulquerias, plus a glossary of terms. You can order directly from them by email. See them online at: www.artesdemexico.com
Artes De Mexico also publishes a beautiful, bilingual coffee-table book on the state of Jalisco, tierra del Tequila (land of tequila - $35 US plus about $15 shipping). The book is really about the entire state, with beautiful pictures of some of the lesser-known areas, such as the rugged north. You get to see a seldom-advertised side of Jalisco and peek into some of the more traditional communities there. Plus it has wonderful images of the tequila-growing region and plantations. You can order directly by email. See them online at: www.artesdemexico.com
Tequila, The Spirit of Mexico is a large coffee-table book that is an unabashedly affectionate look at tequila, Mexico and the industry. Author Enrique Limon and photographer Michael Calderwood have put together a book that, while not as crammed with hard data as the size would permit, is a good read for any level of aficionado. The exquisite assembly of photographs - some some the best and most evocative I've seen - is paired well with an elegant text presentation in large type. Limon's text covers tequila's history, production and types, but his strength lies in capturing the cultural aspects, from the caballeros of the past to the gringos in big sombreros at modern resorts. This is a poetic, enjoyable tribute to tequila. It's only weakness is that the author overlooks mezcal and other Mexican drinks. But perhaps he's saving that for a sequel... The book is also available in a Spanish version in Mexico (collect them all!). A second edition was released in 2004, with revised material, new information on tasting and an entirely new chapter on mezcal. A superb book for your collection!
A source of food (and drink) recipes is Tequila: The Book, by Ann & Larry Walker (Chronicle Books, 1994). It doesn't have a lot about the making of tequila, or its history, and seems to ignore reposado tequilas entirely, but it has information about Mexican food and culture scattered throughout. Many of the recipes don't seem to require tequila, so perhaps the title isn't entirely appropriate (unless you drink it while you cook...).
The El Paso Chile Company Margarita Cookbook by Park Kerr. This is mostly a guide to mixed drinks that use tequila, with some recipes for food, plus a few brief notes on tequila types and production. The photos are good, the layout chic and the drinks interesting. However, I was disappointed over the author's recommendations to use "any good quality gold or silver tequila" or "any best-quality gold or silver tequila" in several drinks. Since gold - joven - tequila is always a mixto (not to be confused with Herradura's reposado brand named Gold), it is never a "best" or even "good quality" tequila, but at best a mediocre ingredient that will diminish the quality of any drink.
Tequila: Cooking with the Spirit of Mexico, by Lucinda Hutson (Ten Speed Press) is widely praised and reportedly full of great recipes. Hutson runs a cantina in Austinwhere she also offers some tips on choosing ingredients for the perfect margarita (notably fresh ingredients).
A Guide to Tequila, Mezcal and Pulque by Virginia Barrios (Minutiae Mexicana) is a delightful little resource on pulque and the origins of alcoholic drinks in Mexico. Written in 1971, and updated in 1991, it is by no means the most current publication on the tequila or mezcal fronts, but the historical information is useful, spanning from the Aztec and Mayan times to late this century. It also deals well with the cultural and social aspects of pulque and spirits in Mexico. A brief chapter describes the anatomy and variations on the agave. It is well-illustrated, but with grainy black-and-white photographs. It's not easy to come by, but serious aficionados should try to find a copy (check online booksellers).
Tequila, Mezcal y Pulque: lo autentico Mexicano by Lennart Blomberg (Editorial Diana, Mexico). A Spanish-language book, printed in 2000. History, production, distilleries, caballitos, and culture, with photos (b&W and colour) and line drawings. Difficult to find outside Mexico, but a worthwhile addition if you can read Spanish. Contains a good bibliography too. Check online booksellers for a copy, but I found mine in a bookstore in Mexico.
A dedicated magazine called 100% Tequila was released in 1999. As of March 2001, eight issues had been published, I thought it was out of print, but now it seems back again. The magazine is a mix of tequila and lifestyle articles including tasting notes, industry stories, sports, vacation spots, the Internet, cigars, fashion and similar articles. The publisher is Grupo San Javier S.A. de C.V., Oficinas Generales, Florencia 3123, Colonia Providencia, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico CP 44630. Phone: (013) 641-07-77. It is distributed in Mexico through DIMSA (Mariano Escobedo 218, Colonia Anahuac, Mexico DF, CP 11320). Price was 75 pesos ($7.50 US) and they had a web site at www.100tequila.com, now defunct.
El Agave Tequiliero en el Estado de Jalisco (ISBN 970-13-1674-6) a 73-page booklet from the Mexican government on the agricultural issues of tequila and agave farming.
The Margarita Party Book, R&R Publications, Victoria, Australia, 2006. One of many similar books featuring the margarita, with alternate recipes and a little history, Includes tapas recipes and other tequila cocktails. It lacks detail and explanation about tequila, however, and does not identify types or differentiate between mixto and 100% agave. But otherwise a good collection of recipes.
Of course every visitor to Mexico should have a copy of Carl Franz's wonderful book, The People's Guide to Mexico (13th edition, 2006) in his or her luggage. This book contains a treasure trove of information about tequila, pulque and other products. It is predominantly about the culture of Mexico and how to survive in it as a well-intentioned, awake and aware tourist. For travellers to the country, it's indispensable. It's a terrific, witty read, and even if you never go there, you shouldn't miss it. I have read and re-read it and still find it entertaining and full of warmth and passion each time. And I buy every edition just to read more! It makes me want to get a VW bus and head south. It's available directly on its own site at www.peoplesguide.com. Check this review of the book at www.mexconnect.com/mex_/revfrz1.html
Casta del Tequila, by Teresa Orozco Enriquez Universidad de Guadalajara, 2005). Spanish. A primer on tequila production and its history. Worthwhile for the photographs of the farming and harvesting alone, even if you don't speak Spanish. Small but well-illustrated, but not terribly detailed or technical. I picked up a copy in the tequila museum in the town of Tequila, Jalisco.
Oaxaca Tierra de Maguey y Mezcal, by Alberto Sanchez Lopez (self-published, 2005, ISBN 970-9916-00-9). In Spanish, but with a 37-page English appendix. Covers the history and development of mezcal production in Oaxaca, with great detail and both technical and geographical information. It has many interesting photographs of mezcaleros. Although the English section is not a complete translation of the Spanish portion, it provides much information on mezcal production. Also includes a CD with several video clips.
Alcohol in Ancient Mexico, by Henry J. Bruman, University of Utah Press (December 2000). Reprint of a 1930s book. Bruman examines how native skills and available resources had contributed to a well-developed tradition of intoxicating beverages before the Spaniards. It also considers the introduction of stills following the Spanish conquest. Bruman was the first to trace the original mezcal still back to Filipino seamen. Not entirely about mezcal or tequila, it traces the development of many other drinks.
Licores Tequila: Un Recorrido Por La Cava Y El Bar, by Grupo Editorial Norma, Bogota, Colombia, 2006. Found this in a bookstore in Guadalajara. A small, 32-page Spanish-language book about tequila, with notes on food and cocktails. A basic introduction with some good photos and recipes, aimed at the tourist crowd, the sort of thing to read on the tour bus from Guadalajara heading to the fabricas.
Jimando Mis Recuerdos, by Jose Roberto Sanchez Castillo (Editoriales Deli, 2005). Spanish. Personal memory about family life in Tequila. No illustrations. Not as much about tequila as about being Mexican in a small rural town. I picked up a copy in the National Tequila Museum in the town of Tequila, Jalisco.
Wine and Beverage Standards, by Donald A. Bell, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1989. A wide--ranging work about all aspects of alcoholic drinks, from beer to spirits, how they are made, served, bottled and labelled. Includes storage and service standards, quality criteria and even some recipes. Very little on tequila, but considerable on fermentation and distillation. Thanks to Robert Denton for getting me a copy.
Tequila and other Agave spirits from west-central Mexico: current germplasm diversity, conservation and origin, by Patricia Colunga-GarciaMarin and Daniel Zizumbo-Viallarreal, published online 9 July 2006, Springer Science + Business Media. Includes some research on the development of the Filipino stills from their 16th century introduction to today.
Agaves of Continental North America, by Howard Scott Gentry, University of British Columbia Press, 2004. Paperback reprint of the 1982 edition. This is the definitive guide to the agave plants of North America, a fat book dense with information, drawings and photographs. While some of the information is a trifle dated and there have been corrections to some minor points of his taxonomy, Dr. Gentry's work remains the bible of agave aficionados, written for both the botanist and the lay person, rich in enthobotanical lore and research. Gentry was mentor to many of today's ethnobotanists, including Dr. Ana Valanzuela-Zapata.
Liquid Mexico: Festive Spirits, Tequila Culture & the Infamous Worm, by Becky Youman and Bryan Estep, Bilingual press, Tempe Arizona, 2005. A travelogue of trips through Mexico to explore its native beverages and spirits. Mixes personal experiences with history and production notes. An easy, fun read, if somewhat shy on fact and date.
And if you're travelling to Mexico soon, you'll want to bring along a copy of my own, annually updated, handy Pocket Guide to Tequila, which sums up all the facts lore and wisdom in this site, with an up-to-date NOM list for savvy buyers. You can carry it around in a shirt pocket to refer to any time you go in search of tequila or mezcal, and become an expert in a few minutes. The price is right, too - merely $5 US via Paypal (to firstname.lastname@example.org) for a PDF or $8.50 for a printed copy. I also accept cheques, money orders and old-fashioned cash (just be very careful when sending the latter... always use registered mail). Click here to order.