In our effort to point out differences in the production of various liquors, the VERSUS column compares spirits, one of which is always gin. This time, gin is compared to tequila.
Both agave, as the basic raw material of tequila, as well as pulque, its fermented juice, was used as a therapeutic plant by the Aztecs. Years earlier Galen (129-199 AD) had similarly suggested incorporating juniper berries, the fruit of Juniper, in various medicines. Using Galen’s suggestions the 13th century Dutch poet Jacob van Maerlant, in his work “Der Naturen Bloeme” (Nature’s Blossom), emphasizes the beneficial for man properties/therapeutic properties of juniper berries when these are immersed and boiled in wine. This is how, humans involved with the cultivation of agave and juniper. For therapeutic purposes.
Agave grows in Central and South America in more than 140 varieties. However, only the Blue Agave Tequilana Weber variety may is allowed to be used to produce tequila. Something similar happens with gin, for the production of which the berries of Juniper Communis are the only ones that can be used, although there are more than 25 varieties of juniper. The acceptable variety of juniper that is used for gin, grows in the branches of tall bushes or small trees found around the world from Northern Europe to the Mediterranean as well as Asia and (North) America. One quite noticeable difference of the two basic ingredients: Agave needs 8-15 years to fully develop, while juniper only needs two. As expected the second is the smallest of the two with juniper berries in the size of a pea, while the blue agave weighs several dozen kilos with an average of 45-60!
Something quite interesting, which also completely differentiates the two spirits is the fact that the blue agave (its honey-like syrupy pulp) undergoes alcoholic fermentation and then it’s transferred to the still for distillation. On the other hand, the liquid extract of the juniper cannot be fermented. Juniper is exceptionally rich in essential oils, therefore juniper berries are used only to borrow their aroma to the neutral distillate. The berries are soaked, boiled and -along with additional botanicals- lend their aromatic virtues to the previously colorless, odorless and highly alcoholic liquid. Another noteworthy difference: Other than the colorless blanco or silver tequila, all the others (reposado and anejo) are aged in barrels for a few months. On the contrary gin is usually not aged in barrels, since it would lose its fresh botanical character.
The production of tequila is legal only in five states of Mexico: Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Michoacán and Guanajuato. Gin on the other hand doesn’t have any such (terroir) restrictions. The London Dry Gins for example can be made anywhere on this planet. Additionally, as you may know tequila has been established as the national alcoholic beverage of Mexico. Gin is usually associated mainly with Londoners as well as Spaniards (and less with the Dutch). Fortunately, both gin and tequila fall under legal requirements that need to be followed to ensure that the product that is bottled and ultimately consumed by the consumer, is safe and above all delicious and of high quality.