What do you know about tequila and Cinco de Mayo?

‘HEY,” SAID the 50-something dude wearing dark sunglasses, inside, at night.

“Did you make this margarita?”


“Did you to use 100 percent blue agave tequila?”

“I made it with Cuervo Gold, just like you asked.”

“Cuervo is blue agave,” he said.

“If you say so.”

“It says so right on the bottle.”

I show him the bottle, which reads, “made with blue agave.”

“See? I want the good stuff for Mexican Independence Day,” he said before walking way.

It’s unavoidable. Something like this happens practically every year. Today is Cinco de Mayo, and when it comes to Mexican traditions, we North Americans can be woefully ignorant of our continental brothers and their traditions.

First things first, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the Battle of Puebla and not Mexican Independence Day. The battle was won by a Texan-led Mexican army against the imperialist forces of the French near the town of Puebla in Mexico on May 5, 1862. The battle kicked off the three-year French intervention in Mexican politics, which involved a Hapsburg Austrian Prince name Maximilian I, Napoleon III, the American Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. Civil War and the transitional nature of Mexican politics. Cinco de Mayo has never been a national holiday in Mexico — it is more of a voluntary one — and is celebrated most widely in the United States. You can thank the beer and tequila marketers for that.

Speaking of which, Jose Cuervo is the most popular brand of tequila in the world and, at almost a 20 percent share, in the global market. It is nearly twice the size of its next closest rival, Sauza. Cuervo claims to be the first “legal” producer of tequila in the world, beginning in 1795: an arguable fact, to say the least.

Certainly they are the largest exporter of tequila to the States. However, Cuervo Especial, the flagship product (commonly called Cuervo Gold) is not a 100 percent blue agave tequila. That is why it reads “made with.” Cuervo Gold is a “mixto” or 51 percent blue agave and 49 percent something else. That something else can include caramel coloring, natural oak or oak extract, glycerin and sugar syrup. Those in the know suggest those types of things contribute in part to hangovers.

Tequila is defined by Mexican law, and as such can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit,and Tamaulipas. Furthermore, Mexico is granted the international right to the word “tequila” by various trade agreements. The regulations regarding tequila are rather long and arduous reading, the end result being that tequila must be made from at least 51 percent blue agave (agave tequilana). The best tequilas however, are 100 percent blue agave, and are so labeled.

Tequila aficionados disregard mixto tequilas completely (see websites like the Tequila Whisperer, run by Mill Valley’s Michael Lipman).

However, the liquor companies know that a little knowledge can be a powerful thing, especially when a large component of their consumers wear their sunglasses indoors at night and couldn’t care less about Mexican history. In fact, they count on very little knowledge.

To wit I offer these thoughts:

• Sept. 16 is Mexico’s actual Independence Day and marks the beginning of first war of Mexican Independence (from Spain) followed by the First Mexican Empire, which was followed by the First Mexican Republic, which was followed by the Second Mexican Empire, which was followed by the Second Mexican Republic, which was followed by, well, you get the picture.

• Maximilian von Gotzen-Itúrbide is the current Hapsburg pretender (emperor in exile) to the Mexican throne. He lives in Australia, perhaps because Austria has banned many Hapsburgs from entering their native country since 1919. Not very popular those Hapsburgs, however, it is possible to friend “Maximilian II” on Facebook. Just FYI.

• Happy Easter! Today is also Orthodox Easter, which probably gets lost because Mexico has the second-largest population of Catholics in the world. More than Spain and Austria, the original Hapsburg dominions (and Italy, too) put together. Thank you again, Hapsburgs.