Where is Tequila From?
That tequila is from the Tequila region is like an absolute truth that has been built over the years and from several trenches – historiography, industry, film, literature, music -, so the question “What if the tequila was not originally from Jalisco?” As if it sounds like blasphemy.
Who has put the finger on the sore is the researcher of the University of Guadalajara, René de León Meza, who in 2017 published the article “Reflections on the late origin of the production of tequila in the town of Tequila” in the Colombian magazine Borders of history.
Before proceeding, a pertinent clarification: tequila was not always called tequila. All historians agree that the distillate of agave that was produced in western Mexico, from the Colony, was called mescal wine. So it was for more than 300 years, until at the beginning of the 20th century, and before the substantial increase in commercialization in the country, what was known as the mezcal wine of Tequila remained simply in tequila.
“I did not investigate tequila, but how the land of that region was exploited during the first two centuries of the Colony,” says René de León Meza. However, more than 10 years ago he noticed a detail: none of the documents he consulted mentioned the distillation or sale of mezcal wine. That led him to read and reread all historians on the subject, who have claimed that since the sixteenth century the agave was cultivated to produce mezcal wine in the region that today comprises the municipalities of Tequila, Arenal, Amatitán and Magdalena.
All research on the history of tequila say that this region is the cradle of drinking, but none provides “documentary evidence that demonstrates the presence and exploitation of that plant in the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries,” as read in the academic article by René de León.
This motivated him to broaden his search in all the available archives about the New Galicia, such as the Archbishopric of Guadalajara, the Jalisco Notary Archive, the Municipal of Tequila, the Royal Audience of Guadalajara, among others. “I have 17 geographical descriptions of that region of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in neither the indigenous nor the authorities declare that there is mezcal wine there in Tequila,” adds De León.
On the contrary, he began to find references in other areas of New Galicia such as the Sierra de Nayarit, Colima and the south of Zacatecas.
The first appointment is from the Archive of the Archbishopric of Guadalajara, a document dated 1616 relating to the province of Ávalos, between the current states of Colima and southern Jalisco. In it the ecclesiastical council is asked to force those who exploit a new drink “that is booming” -with the name of mezcal wine and which was “very profitable, healthy and valuable” – to pay tithe for the cultivation of agaves .
Another region where the agave was grown was in the Sierra del Nayar, in the villages of Huajimic and Huaynamota, today Nayarit. Domingo Lazaro de Arregui, in 1621, in his Description of the New Galicia, wrote that the natives made good mezcal wine and described the plant and the way in which this intoxicating drink was obtained. “It leaves no doubt that it is the plant that today is scientifically known as tequilana weber agave,” says René de León, doctor of history from the Colegio de México.
The third oldest reference was found in the Archive of the Royal Audience of Guadalajara, in the books of the Fiscal Branch which describes everything that was collected in the New Galicia. De León Meza found that in 1718 the inhabitants of Momax, Tlaltenango and El Teúl, in the south of Zacatecas, paid the corresponding tax for the production and commercialization of mezcal wine.
And then, what happened in the Tequila region? The first reference on agave cultivation found by De León Meza was until 1727, but it was until the last third of the 18th century that this crop became the second most important agricultural product for the Tequila region. Then come the well-known history, the consolidation of tequila in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which has been widely documented by tequila, businessmen and historians.
The production of tequila outside of Jalisco
In the Sierra de Nayarit and in Colima production of blue agave mezcal was interrupted at some point in history, however, in the southern towns of Zacatecas that border Tequila and Amatitán, there are at least eight small mezcaleras that do not They have stopped producing mezcal wine with blue agave.
Aurelio Lamas, producer of the Mezcal don Aurelio, in Teúl, Zacatecas, replies reluctantly. “I’m not interested, we’re doing well with mezcal. We are small companies, we do not compare ourselves with the large tequila producers in Jalisco. “