Origins of Tequila
Between the History and the Legend
For how long has tequila existed? It is difficult to provide an exact date. However, we can rightfully claim that, as a self-respecting Mexican spirit, tequila has a Mestizo origin, given its wonderful blend of pre-Columbian and Spanish traditions.
The oldest references to the use of Agave in our country go back to the pre-Columbian cultures and peoples of Mesoamèrica. Agave had myriad uses including: making beams, nails, roofs, and fences for household maintenance; it made useful threads, needles, and pins for mending and making clothes; and it was used in remedies to purify the kidneys and erase markings on the skin. Indigenous people used the Agave for these and many other purposes according to the chronicles that have survived to this day.
In the minds of pre-Columbians, such a useful and beneficial plant could only be of divine origin. According to Nahuatl spirituality, the Agave or Maguey represented the goddess Mayahuel-a divinity that possessed four hundred breasts to nurture its four hundred offspring; and the Centzon Totochtin, or divinities of drunkenness, which were an object of worship among the peoples of the Mesoamerican high plateau.
From Metl, the Nahuatl word for Agave, pre-Columbian societies obtained a ritual spirit, the Pulque, which was appreciated not only for its ceremonial character but also for its nutritional and restorative attributes. Not just anyone could enjoy Pulque; for instance only the elderly, pregnant women, the ill, those sentenced to death and, in some occasions, warriors preparing for battle drank it.
Let us briefly explain the methods used by ancient Mexicans to obtain spirits from the Agave. One of the most common techniques used for producing Pulque has lasted throughout the centuries. The method consisted of cutting and carving the cone of the plant so its juices would flow into an open cavity. The obtained liquid, called Aguamiel, or mead by the Spaniards, was crystalline and viscous, sweet and refreshing. The juice would undergo fermentation within a few hours, acquiring a pearly colour and alcoholic properties.
Another system used in obtaining liquid from the Agaves involved cooking the cones of the plant in underground ovens. The process resulted in a sweet juice, which, once fermented, acquired an intoxicating quality.