Agave Agape

The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. The essence of agave is tequila.

Almost anyone can manage to ferment some sort of sugary fruit juice and produce a rudimentary hooch. A tad more sophistication is required to extract the alcohol through distillation and concentrate it into some semblance of moonshine. History proves that almost all cultures, from ancient to current, brewed up and consumed some kind of alcoholic beverages. The laborers that built the pyramids simultaneously nourished their bodies and dulled the pain of hard labor with a beer ration of a gallon and a half per day, per man. Archeologists tell us that this was likely a hearty starchy brew that could double as a meal, but ancient Greek brewers were not unknown to add a level of sophistication to their brews, using herbs like thyme, coriander, and chamomile.

The advent of distillation, though, opened an entirely new world to their craft and spawned a completely new branch of the alcoholic arts, of which, broadly speaking, there are today, three; brewers, winemakers, and distillers. These arts often intertwine in products such as fortified wines (Madeira, Marsala, Port, Sherry, and Vermouth are examples) or  Sake, often called “rice wine” when, in actuality, it is a brewed beverage. Additionally, the distilled alcohols are often flavored by aging in used wine barrels, or, as in the case of Brandy or Cognac, are essentially distilled wine.

It seems intuitive, then, to think that depending on what sugary mash is the base of the fermentation, the flavor of the end product will be subtly or significantly different. Original vodka, made from potatoes (starch / sugar, essentially the same thing as far as the yeast is concerned as enzymes are used to convert the starch into simple sugars, the favorite food of yeast) is said to have a completely different flavor and mouth feel than the much more common grain vodkas found in the West. (Unscrupulous producers of cheap grain vodka sometimes add a bit of glycerin to mimic the mouthfeel of an original potato vodka. Ugh. They also “brag” about distilling it “twenty times” as if it were a badge of honor, when in reality, they are just trying to literally distill the crap out of it.) In any case, Vodka is often referred to as a “neutral grain spirit” and as such, has very little natural flavor. Hence, the proliferation of “flavored” vodkas, of which there are, today, endless varieties.

Conversely, some base stocks do impart a distinct flavor to the resulting ferment, rum leaving the caramelized sugar cane or molasses flavor in the final product, and tequila, by law made from blue agave plants, retaining its very unique and identifiable vegetal “cactus juice” flavor and delightful sweetness. Technically, the Weber Blue Agave from which “real” tequila is made isn’t a cactus at all, but rather a succulent, which take approximately eight years to mature to harvest. And, unlike a grape vine, which can be picked clean and then will grow a new crop the following year, the agave plant is harvested whole and “used-up” in the process, so tequila producers have to plan ahead, way ahead.

Of course, as with any particular variety of “hard likker,” tequila comes in an endless range of honesty, quality, and enjoy-ability.  There are those who say that they never touch the stuff, because of a one-night stand that resulted in a violent hangover and a three-day headache. Likely, they were not victim to tequila, but rather to an adulterated swill made from as little as 10-15% cheap tequila, made potent by the addition of grain spirits, made golden by the addition of caramel, and made sweet by the addition of cane sugar. Fine tequila is no more likely to hurt you as is good scotch or any other unadulterated premium liquor. Enough of any of these will make you regret the sunrise, but that’s not the liquor’s fault, it’s your fault.

So, let’s pop a cork and sip some utterly delicious tequilas, shall we?

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