Hopefully you won’t try to worm your way out of celebrating today’s holiday. In fact, you should embrace the spirit! July 24 is National Tequila Day.
Chances are, if you think of tequila, margaritas come to mind. Or a catchy song by The Champs. You know the one…it’s got real challenging lyrics.
Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, primarily found in and around the Mexican state of Jalisco. Aztecs used to make a fermented beverage from the agave plant called pulque, when they weren’t busy building pyramids and sacrificing humans. Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1521 and, when their brandy ran out, turned to the blue agave plant themselves, creating North America’s first distilled beverage. Originally called mezcal wine, it went through several name changes – mezcal brandy, agave wine, and Juan – before finally being called tequila after the nearby town of the same name, which means “the place of harvesting plants.” The first licensed manufacturer was a gentleman by the name of José Antonio Cuervo, who was granted a parcel of land from the King of Spain in 1758. Tequila didn’t really take off until after 1821, when Mexico gained independence. During the Mexican Revolution, tequila became a symbol of national pride and patriotism. During Prohibition it was smuggled across the border into the U.S., helping to solidify its popularity here; during WWII, European liquor was hard to come by, and tequila’s popularity rose to ever higher levels. Mexico passed regulations in 1944 stipulating that in order to be called tequila, blue agave must be distilled in the state of Jalisco.
As for the worm in the bottle? It’s nothing more than a marketing ploy dreamed up by Americans in the 1940s in an effort to boost sales; they created a myth the worm in the bottom of a tequila bottle contained magical and aphrodisiac properties, and gringos everywhere should consume it as a rite of passage. True tequila never actually contained a worm, though it is sometimes found in bottles of mezcal, which differs from tequila in that it may be distilled from plants other than blue agave. Technically it’s not even a worm, but the larvae of a moth that feeds on the maguey plant used to distill some varieties of mezcal. Bet you feel like a real sucker now if you’ve ever eaten a “worm” from a tequila bottle!
Obviously, tequila is strongly associated with the margarita; even though we recently celebrated this holiday, it gave us a good excuse to whip up another batch of margaritas, which are one of my favorite alcoholic beverages. You’ll notice the fine quality imported tequila we used to honor today’s holiday. Jose Cuervo, eat your heart out.