Why Tequila Can't Be Made Outside Of Mexico

In 2021, the global tequila market was worth nearly $10 billion. Tequila drinkers reside all over the world, and the industry continues to grow. The flavor profile of this liquor, often defined by subtle sweetness or floral tones, is beloved by many. But despite its ubiquity in the alcohol market, true tequila only comes from Mexico.

Similar to how true champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, true tequila is defined by its state of origin within Mexico and the agave used to make it. While there are many agave-based spirits made in other parts of the world, these liquors are not certified tequilas. Mexican regulations carefully stipulate what can and can't be called tequila, and even offer a certification code so that consumers can be wise about what they are buying. This ensures that the rich spirit we love maintains quality, even as its industry grows.

What is genuine tequila?

Tequila is regulated by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT). This council is composed of main actors within the tequila industry, to ensure high quality and consistency throughout the profession. The CRT has specified exactly what can and cannot be called tequila.

To be tequila, it has to be made from the agave tequilana/blue Weber (blue agave) plant grown in specific regions of Mexico. These regions are Jalisco, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Michoacan. Jalisco is where the city of Tequila is located and is the place where the first big tequila distillery was founded.

Additionally, to be tequila, it has to be made with at least 51% blue agave. These plants grow in Mexico and "jimadores" are the people who cut off the leaves to harvest the center, which is the part that is used for tequila. The agave is roasted and fermented, creating a deeply flavorful spirit. Any agave-based spirit that is made outside of these five states in Mexico or does not have the appropriate blue agave concentration is not actually tequila.

Where to buy tequila

Fortunately, legitimate tequila is not hard to obtain — most places that sell liquor will have some on hand. But there are a couple of signs to look out for to make sure you are buying the real deal. First, look for the CRT "Norma Oficial Mexicana," or NOM. The NOM is a four-digit code issued by the CRT. It references the legitimacy of the distillery, and finding this code on the bottle means that you have true tequila. If you're looking at a label and it doesn't have a NOM but says something like "agave spirit," it likely means that this liquor is made from agave but not actually from the recognized regions of Mexico that make it tequila.

Second, look for something on the label that tells you the percentage of blue agave in the spirit. The CRT requires that the alcohol must be at least 51% blue agave to be called tequila, though if the percentage resembles this it may say "mixto" on the label. Premium tequila, however, will be 100% blue agave. Lastly, you'll know you've found the real deal when you open the bottle and taste the rich, artisanal flavor.