The Truth About Your Arizona Tequila

Categories: Hooch

Mexican Moonshine Facebook/Jeff Turner
This tequila is as Arizonan as Roger Clyne himself, right?
It's no big secret that tequila isn't tequila unless it's made in Jalisco, Mexico. Like Champagne and sparking wine, there's tequila and there are agave spirits. I'm tempted to wax poetic and go full bard status here, so there are some things you should know about just what is in the name tequila and whether it really is any sweeter than its U.S.-made agave spirit brethren.

See also: How to Make Bourbon with Arizona Distilling Co.

To say tequila is a political issue is a massive understatement. Everything from its production to its designation to its marketing can trigger heated debate, so here's what you need to know. Tequila is the heritage name (like Champagne) of a distilled spirit made from Jalisco-grown blue agave and produced in Jalisco. There also are some limited areas in parts of the states surrounding Jalisco (Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas) where agave can be harvested and legally labeled as tequila, but it is restrictive and it still must be produced in Jalisco.

Marrovi/Wikimedia Commons
True tequila must comes from the dark green regions, while mezcal comes from the light green regions.
Those things have to be the case, according to the Mexican government's guidelines, in order for it to be called tequila. All else are agave spirits, unless of course it's mezcal, which is processed differently and can be harvested from a broader geographical area (seven states) than tequila.

However, whiskey fans probably already know what I'm about to say next. Think of Jalisco like Kentucky and agave spirits like bourbon -- sure, some have the exclusive affinity for Kentucky bourbon, but that doesn't mean bourbon made outside Kentucky can't also be tasty.

In the quest for U.S. distilleries to begin producing tequila-like agave spirits, take note of St. George Spirits' Agua Azul project in 2007. Master distiller and proprietor Lance Winters says the quest to make an agave spirit to their standards then was a long and exhausting trip involving convincing Mexican authorities to allow them to buy Jalisco-grown agave, partially processing it before it got to the border so it was copasetic on the U.S. government's side, and then another four or five days of further processing it so it would be ready for fermentation.

From 40,000 pounds of agave, Winters and his team yielded 470 gallons high-proof agave spirit called Agua Azul.

"It was lovely. It was wonderful, but by the time we were done we were so emotionally, psychologically, and physiologically beat up that it wasn't the type of thing we wanted to turn around and do again immediately," he says.

Some Arizona-based tequila makers, like Roger Clyne's Mexican Moonshine, 3 Amigos, and Luna Malvada, produce their tequila in Jalisco and then import it to the United States. Cruz Tequila is produced in the highlands of Jalisco by three Arizona State University grads. Their tequila has won honors in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in the past.

However, producing in the U.S. is certainly another beast, and one which the Arizona Distilling Company is looking to undertake in the near future. Although owner Rodney Hu says they are still figuring out where the agave they use will come from, it will definitely be distilled in Tempe, which will be a feat in itself.

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Jerk Cook
Jerk Cook

That's like saying its not cocaine unless it comes from Columbia. lol

Jazzy Hid
Jazzy Hid

Typical gringos trying to steal and bank on some other country's product, which is also a huge part of its history and culture. Tequila that's not from Jalisco is not Tequila and will never be Tequila. No matter how many loopholes you go thru to put that label on your product, you are nothing but a petty crook stealing what you couldn't come up with on your own.

Angie Bellinger
Angie Bellinger

When I drink tequila, I drink Mexican Moonshine #RCPM


Did you know that many craft distilleries get much of their liquor from larger companies like Seagrams and just repackage it.  How do you think these places that just opened have whiskeys aged 5,7,12,15 and 20 years?


You seem really confused.  People have been fermenting all kinds of plants and making booze for eons.  It isn't stealing to make your own and not import it from another country.

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