National Tequila Day

When National Margarita Day passed through back in February, most of my focus was on the actual cocktail.

This time, I can delve a little deeper and expand on the origins of tequila.

If you travel northwest from Guadalajara for 65 km, you will reach the outskirts of the city of Tequila, originally founded by Franciscan monks in 1530.

Here, the native blue agave plant is grown. It is also grown throughout the state of Jalisco, including the highlands known as Los Altos, where apparently the final product is sweeter and fruitier than what the lowlands produce.

The red volcanic soil surrounding this area provides a wealth of nutrients for the agave.

300 million of these plants are harvested from here alone each year. Agave plants are not cactus, they are a succulent with long fronds resembling aloe vera. Once a plant is harvested, it has given up it’s life for our pure (possibly drunken) entertainment in the end.

The heart of the plant, el pina, is cut out which looks like a pineapple and weighs in anywhere from 60 pounds to a few hundred pounds.

The heart is the part that is steamed, crushed and fermented into liquor. This video shows you a traditional method of steaming agave.

To capture the full, more modern process, this 7 minute video covers all of the stages of production.

First made in the 16th Century near today’s city of Tequila, because Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy.

Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira, began mass producing blue agave into tequila at the first factory near what is now Jalisco. Eight short years later, government found a way to tax his product. Back then it was called Tequila Extract.

The first license was issued to the Cuervo family.

Tequila’s first export to the United States occurred by Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila. He shortened the name of the distilled beverage to just Tequila.

Sauza’s grandson, Don Francisco Javier, made the effort to create a quality tequila and stipulated that “there cannot be tequila where there are no agaves!” His work involved creating the law of “real tequila can only come from the state of Jalisco.”

In the same way that Champagne is only Champagne if it is made in the Champagne region, Mexico this same rule for tequila. By 2003, Mexico had ruled that the tequila must be bottled in Mexico to be sure of its authenticity. Each bottle contains a serial number giving you the location of the distillery in which it was made.

There are over 900 brands of tequila in Mexico alone.

Tequila vs Mezcal

They really are the same because they come from agave plants. However, if you refer to a tequila as mezcal, you may be offending someone. Tequila comes from the blue agave plant, or agave tequilana, and mezcal comes from any other agave plant.

According to Mexican law, the production for tequila can only take place in Jalisco, a northern state of Mexico and in 4 other states: Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Michoacán, and Guanajuato.

If you are distilling blue agave and you are outside of any of these places, you cannot call it tequila, you will only be able to call it mezcal, by law.

Most mezcals are made from espadin agave but can be blended with other agave plants to develop differing flavours. There are over 30 varieties of agave plants. Many factors affect taste including whether the agave is grown in the highlands or the lowlands where the final product has a more herbaceous taste.

As far as taste goes, mezcal has a smokier, sweeter, and sometimes richer flavour than tequila which is sharper and stronger.

To make things a little more complicated, tequila’s legal requirement stipulates it must be at least 51% blue agave. Some boast it is 100% but it is not mandatory to be called tequila. As long as it is minimum 51% blue agave and grown and produced in Jalisco, it can legally be labelled as tequila.

Jimadores are the people who manually extract the agave plant from the ground.

The remaining 41% might be sugarcane but it will have to be displayed on the label. Blended tequila such as this is referred to as mixto tequila.

Regulations also state that mezcal producers cannot produce tequila and vice versa.

LCBO carries a huge selection and keep in mind the allergies to the oak barrel if you enjoy red wine as well. You will be sensitive to the gold types: resposado, anejo. Try to stay with the white or silver

The Myth of The Worm

Maquey is the term for agave plants. Gusano de maguey are larvae that feed on agave but not the blue agave. That larvae, or caterpillar, would turn into a mariposa butterfly. If you bought yourself a bottle claiming to be tequila and find a worm in it, return it. It’s not tequila. And what distillery would allow a bug in your final product?

In Terms of Ageing

Abacado/White – 0 to 2 months – Bolder, harsh taste. These may be stored in stainless steel casks but does not age.

Joven/Mixto – 0 to 2 months – The same taste as Blanco; also does not age.

Reposado – 2 months to 1 year – Smoother and more complex. Aged in wooden oak barrels.

Anejo – 1 to 3 years – The same as Reposado. Aged in oak.

Extra Anejo – 3+ years. Also aged in oak.

Distillers purchase their barrels from whisky producers, the ones that will never be used again for certain types of scotch and bourbon, and tends to add a sweeter taste to the liquor than if they used other types of oak barrel such as French Oak or a brand new barrel.

Things To Do In Jalisco

National Festival of Tequila is held every year from November 3 to December 12. Enjoy parades, mariachi bands, cockfights, if you’re so inclined, mexican rodeos and fireworks.

You can follow the Tequila Trail or choose a distillery in or near where you are staying, take a few taste tests to explore the difference of flavours.

Don’t forget to book at least one distillery tour or take the Tequila Express.

Casa Sauza is located in Tequila.

La Rojena, founded in 1812, is still producing Jose Cuervo. It is the oldest distillery still in operation. You’ll notice that Casa Sauza is approximately a block from here as well. Visit both!

Tequila Herradura is a popular choice with its old charm hacienda.

Not too long ago, I visited the Dominican and purchased a bottle of tequila called Bear Hug from the duty free shop. I tried their sample and never looked back. Now, I have tried Patron and other basic tequilas and of course Jose Cuervo but, hands down, Bear Hug is the tastiest, easiest one you can drink alone. No lemon, no lime, no salt. Drop in an ice cube and sip.

Remember the name, Bear Hug. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I would have to go back to get more. It is not available in Canada. Yet. But I’m working on it.

The best thing to do is fly to Guadalajara and take the 2 hour bus ride or book a tour from Guadalajara. Choose carefully. They are not always what they claim to be. Check the reviews.

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on July 24, 2017



National Kahlua Day….Homemade Style

Posted February 27, 2017 by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe

We are still in Mexico for National Kahlua Day.

Kah-lua is a translation for the native Nahuatl people of Veracruz meaning ‘House of the Alcolhua People’ Some believe it is a slang Arabic word for ‘coffee’.

It is made from 100% Arabica coffee beans with rum, sugar and caramel. The coffee and sugar are grown side by side in the state of Veracruz. The rum used is derived from their sugarcane grown under optimum warm growing conditions.

So if you have a decaf coffee and kahlua to avoid the caffeine as I did, it’s redundant. There are 10 mg of coffee per 100 ml of kahlua. 25% of what is in coffee! That explained the coffee rush.


From the mountains of Veracruz, Mexico, Kahlua was born. In 1936, four friends joined forces to begin the world renowned drink. The Alvarez brothers were local coffee growers. A chemist, Montalvo Lara, provided the knowledge to transform the ingredients into a cruder version of today’s kahlua. Senior Blanco came up with the idea. Four years later, it made its way to the United States and has grown in great popularity. In 1980, it became the #1 selling coffee liqueur in the world.

In the 1950’s, a Mayan statue collector, Jules Berman (1911 – 1998), worked at Kahlua who put his statues in every advertisement the company posted. It was a hit and continues to today. His collection is now on display in Los Angeles museums and galleries.

It takes 7 years to produce a finished product. The coffee beans, themselves, take 6 years to reach the harvest point. They are grown in the shade so it takes longer. Harvesting of the coffee ‘cherries’ is between October and March.

The traditional method is a dry method when the bean is extracted after the cherry has gone through the drying process. It will have a lower acidity level and an intense, exotic flavour. A newer version uses a wet method which produces a cleaner, brighter, fruitier coffee.

The dried beans are put in burlap bags to rest for 6 months then are roasted, ground and brewed.

The distillation of the sugar turns the liquid into rum then it is aged. Distillation is the process of heating a liquid mixture to form a vapor then cooling the vapor to get a purified form of liquid.

At this point, it is combined with the coffee and rests again for another 8 weeks. The the vanilla and caramel are added. Now it is filtered and bottled.

In the 1960’s, a team of only women led the Kahlua company. They were known as the ‘Kahlua Ladies’.

Taken before the somewhat botched attempt at layering
Taken before the somewhat botched attempt at layering


Calgary produced the first B-52 in 1977. It is layered in a chilled shot glass starting with Kahlua, then with Bailey’s, and last, Grand Marnier (or another orange flavoured liqueur).

Peter Fich, a head bartender at Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta first invented it. The drink was, of course, named after the music band, The B-52’s. He apparently named many drinks after celebrities, music bands or songs.

One of the first customers for this shooter owned restaurants in various cities in Alberta and liked the drink so much that he put it on the menu. Which is why it is believed to originate at the Keg Steakhouse in Calgary. We can just be proud it’s Canadian!

Not exactly how it should look
Not exactly how it should look

Layering these shooters is not easy. Have a few taste testers on hand so you don’t have to down them all!

How I love thee, kahlua, let me count the ways…..cocktails, shots, coffees, desserts, such as cakes, pies, cookies and a banana bread. See below for instructions.

Black Russians, invented in 1949, are made with kahlua and vodka. White Russians are the same but with milk. The Black Russian is labelled as the most popular cocktail using kahlua.

What’s your favorite?

Mudslides are equal parts Kahlua, Baileys and Vodka, 1/2 oz. each, with 1 oz. of milk.

Espresso Martini’s are mixed with 1 part Kahlua, 2 parts Vodka and 1 part espresso. Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass

Mexican Coffee is made up of 1/2 oz. kahlua, 1/2 oz. tequila and 1 cup of strong, hot coffee, topped with a scoop of melted vanilla ice cream.

Even add it to your Hot Chocolate. MMMMocha!

Add kahlua to desserts, cookies, pies, almost anything with chocolate. An example is the Banana Bread with chocolate and kahlua (below).


The distillation process can be witnessed at Kinsip House in Bloomfield, Ontario which is in the beautiful Prince Edward County. They have tours year round and it is best to pre-book, especially in the winter months.

Call them at 613-393-1890 if you’re interested in learning this process. It’s best to have a group of 6 people but will do them for less. The cost is $5.00 per person. Personally, I would take the special tours with tastings. For $10.00, you get the tour plus tastings of 3 different types of spirits of your choice or, for $15.00, you get the tour and all 11 types of spirits.

Not So Local

At this time, tours are not possible at the Kahlua Company. However, tours of coffee plantations in Coatepec, Veracruz are available. Non-direct flights to Veracruz start about $600.00 round  trip and last approximately 10 hours, longer if there are more stops. Fly to Mexico City and it will likely be cheaper and in about 8 hours. If you want to rent a car, it will take about 4 hours to reach Coatepec and 5 to reach the coast of Veracruz. Price to rent a car is $45.00 and up or a week. Here are a few ideas of what to do there.


My own attempt at making kahlua turned out decent despite the lighter color.

Boil 1/2 cup water and 3/4 sugar (I used brown sugar). Add 1/2 cup corn syrup. Remove from heat. Add 1 tablespoon coffee.

Instant grains will remove the step of straining it later. I used ground coffee which will leave sediment at the bottom. Notice the grit.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla then 1 cup of rum. Odd but some recipes I found used vodka. I doubled the ingredients and it yielded a full 24 oz bottle with a couple of ounces left over.

Since I knew I would have to filter this, I popped in a couple cinnamon sticks. In a week, I’ll let you know it turns out.

I would recommend using homemade kahlua for baking the desserts. The recipe for the banana bread used almost 2 cups which gets expensive. A 750 ml bottle from LCBO costs $28.95. To refill this bottle with the homemade (doubled) batch, it cost me a total of $17.00.

To make the banana bread, I followed this link. I made a few changes because of my food limitations. Such as using brown rice flour instead of cake flour.

Tossed bananas slices with brown sugar and cinnamon
Tossed bananas slices with brown sugar and cinnamon
After kahlua and vanilla are added
After kahlua and vanilla are added
At this point, I forgot to add the yogurt so it's too thick
At this point, I forgot to add the yogurt so it’s too thick








I mixed the kahlua and chocolate properly! Bitter! Don't lick the spoon!
I mixed the kahlua and chocolate properly! Bitter! Don’t lick the spoon!
One third of batter separated and mixed with kahlua mix
One third of batter separated and mixed with kahlua mix
Before swirling with knife
Before swirling with knife









After baking
After baking
The finished product! Delicious...even though I forgot the yogurt
The finished product! Delicious…even though I forgot the yogurt









Please Drink Responsibly