There is no worm in tequila.
Before I get in to this, I have to draw a distinction between terms. Tequila is a variety of drink called, much like is a variety of drink called whiskey. All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. In order for mezcal to be tequila, it has to be made with at least 51% blue agave grown in the region around the city of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Mezcal can be made in a number of different locations in Mexico, and from a wide variety of agave plants. Incidentally, if you’re not drinking mezcal on a regular basis, you should be. And , too.
Tequila does not have a worm in it, and it never has. Some mezcals have a worm in the bottle, but certainly not all. Theories differ as to why. The worms are actually the larvae of a moth that lives in the agave plants, but that’s not why they’re in the bottle. There is no physical way for the worm to travel intact through the distillation process, so if there is a worm in the mezcal, it’s added during bottling.
Some say that the worms add flavor, other say that the worm proves that the mezcal is of sufficient potency if the worm is preserved. The most likely reason is marketing. It makes for intrigue and discussion… like this.
One of the finest distilled spirits I’ve ever tasted was a mezcal that was brought in from Mexico in a small blue flip-top bottle by a friend of a friend. It was distilled in a small shack somewhere in Oaxaca (presumably by moonlight) by a guy who’s been doing it forever using equipment generations old. I only had one small glass, and it tasted like butter and smoke and dreams. I don’t know if I’ll ever have its equal. There was no worm it it. If a worm was required for authenticity, this would have had it, because I’ve never had a more authentic beverage. So clearly it’s not.
Real tequila does not have a worm in it. Mezcal may, but it doesn’t have to.
P.S. I still have the little blue flip-top bottle. It still smells like butter and smoke, but the dreams have all floated away.
The featured image for this article is Tequila Worm Gone Wrong by flickr user Corey Theiss. It is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.