DEPENDING on who you ask, the word “tequila” will conjure up an story, most commonly one entailing regret in having had an excess of the spirit. Despite its infamy, tequila in itself is a representation of a multitude of stories and flavors that one has to learn to fully appreciate and feel. It is, after all, a distilled spirit dating back from the 1600s — which means it has a lot of stories.

It was the main topic in the “World of Tequila” Master Class held earlier this month at The Island in Taguig’s Bonifacio Global City, hosted by worldwide Tequila giant Jose Cuervo, and the first of its kind in the Philippines. The master class is being held across Asia.

Jose Cuervo Global Brand Ambassador Stelios Papadopoulus insists it’s much more than a liquid fire in a shot glass raised up high and downed in a matter of seconds.

“What people have in mind is that tequila is all about shots but actually, it is not only about shots… I want people to delete everything they know about tequila and start all over,” he said.

Tequila’s origins can be traced back to the Mexican town it is named after. Located in the western area of Jalisco, Tequila (the town) is the birthplace of the distilled alcoholic drink made from the blue agave plant. Often mistaken for a cactus, the blue agave is actually a member of the lily family. The plant takes more than seven years to reach maturity and demands appropriate desert conditions in order for it to mature. Only the heart of the spiky plant is used to produce tequila.

When mature, the plants’ leaves are removed, leaving a central core referred to as the piña (no relation to the pineapple) which is heated and crushed to release its juice. The juice is then fermented and distilled.

Like the names Champagne and Cognac which can only be used when referring to the drinks made in their namesake places in France, a tequila can only be manufactured in Mexico. A majority of tequila production is still located in Jalisco, but Mexican authorities have given some other Mexican towns the license to produce tequila in limited quantities. Tequila is considered the national drink of Mexico, a statement that the distilled spirit embodies the Mexican spirit.

The rich soil of Tequila is where Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo first grew blue agave in 1758. His son, Jose María Guadalupe de Cuervo, got permission to produce tequila commercially from King Carlos IV of Spain in 1795 — and he called it Vino Mezcal de Tequila de Jose Cuervo. As time passed, the family grew the business, bottling the drink while other producers were still using barrels. Today Jose Cuervo is produced at the La Rojeña distillery in Jalisco, which was founded in 1812.

And just how is Tequila supposed to be appreciated in its purest form? Going back to the tequila masterclass, Mr. Papadopoulus said tequila is best enjoyed neat as one sips it from a special tequila glass. One can truly enjoy the crispness of tequila this way, rather than downing it fast from the typical shot glass. When sipping tequila, one’s mouth should be opened slightly since tequila’s high alcohol content is enough to overwhelm on the first glass. Sipped properly, the sweet notes of the spirit — thanks to the blue agave — can be identified, and one can also detect a smoky kick that depends on how long the tequila has been aged.

In terms of variety, here is the lowdown as discussed during the master class:

• Blanco is a clear tequila that has not been aged and has been packed shortly after being distilled.

• The Reposado is a slightly more golden tequila which has been aged for a year, at most.

• Finally, the Añejo is a darker and more robust tequila that aged for more than a year.

Tequila is a versatile spirit since it can be enjoyed clean or mixed in a cocktail.

A less well-known fact about tequila is that it is a staple in many cocktail recipes and, as Mr. Papadopoulus enthused, “It is a bartender’s best friend.”

It’s easy to misunderstand tequila but being reintroduced to the spirit in the World of Tequila master class, one learns of tequila being a quilt of stories and character.

As Mr. Papadopoulus puts it, “Tequila is not just a spirit; it’s the whole history of Mexico in your glass.” — Gillian M. Cortez