The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Tequila. Are we just licking up salty lies and biting the lime of untruth?
Lie #1: Eating the Worm Will Make You Loco
There’s a lingering idea that certain types of tequila come with a worm in the bottom of the bottle, and that eating it will fuuuuuck you uuuuup. That’s probably why Axl Rose used to sport an “Eat The Worm!” shirt, which a surprising number of websites offer knockoff versions of. The worm — actually, the larvae of the moth Comadia redtenbacheri, aka “maguey worm,” which are also eaten in various ways — can occasionally be found in bottles of mezcal from the state of Oaxaca, but not tequila. The worm is basically a solid marketing gimmick, but serves no other purpose — despite rumors that an intact worm is a sign of a high-quality spirit, its only true value is in being able to shout, “Hey guys, watch me eat this worm!”
Rumors of hallucinogenic worm properties, meanwhile, came from some confusion between the words mezcal and mescaline. Mescaline will absolutely make you hallucinate: Hunter S. Thompson was a big fan, and it’s what caused Jean-Paul Sartre to believe he was being constantly pursued by crabs, the mad, lazy-eyed bastard.
Lie #2: Tequila Only Exists For 2 A.M. Shots
While it could definitely be argued that there’s no objectively “wrong” way to drink any sort of booze (unless, like Ted Stryker from Airplane!, you have a drinking problem), there’s nothing “authentically Mexican” about downing shots. Tequila is traditionally sipped, neat, the drinker alternating it with sips of sangrita. Sangrita (not to be confused with sangria!) means “little blood,” and while there are quite a few variations, it’s generally a tart, peppery mix of fruit juices and spice. Also not traditional: throwing up all over yourself.
Lie #3: Ask For Tequila And You’ll Get Tequila
A lot of what’s sold as tequila really shouldn’t be called tequila. Tequila has an Appellation of Origin: Just as sparkling wine made outside the Champagne region of France isn’t technically allowed to proclaim itself champagne, and you can’t grow Idaho potatoes or Florida oranges in Hawaii, a 1977 Mexican law — the Declaración de Denominación de Origen Tequila — specifies that tequila has to be made from a specific plant (blue Weber agave, aka agave tequilana) grown in a specific area (the Mexican state of Jalisco and its neighboring principalities in Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Guanajuato).
One hundred percent Blue Agave Tequila is what it sounds like, while the cheaper Tequila Mixto can contain up to 49 percent other plants and sugars. Anything with less than 51 percent blue agave — and a lot of shitty, cheap rail “tequila” is anything but — isn’t legit. It might be “agave elixir,” “distilled agave,” “destilado” or another mezcal (a group of drinks of which tequila is one subcategory, and which can be made from any agave). Sure, you might think it all tastes the same at 4 a.m., but your hangover sure as hell knows the difference.
Lie #4: Doing Tequila With Salt and Lemon Enhances the Flavor
Sandwiching tequila between two fairly unpleasant experiences is actually intended to mask the flavor of bad tequila (or as above, tequila-adjacent beverages), and likely stems from the early days of distillation. A “tequila suicide” — in which you snort the salt, down the tequila, then squeeze the lemon into your eye — is even less traditional, but ultimately probably not that much more unpleasant.
Lie #5: Tequila Will, Like, Fuck You Up
Yes, alcohol is bad for you, and the only doctor likely to prescribe tequila is Dr. Inkingproblem. That said, there are loads of health benefits to tequila, at least in moderation. It can be used as a sleep aid — not just in the “pass out in the road” sense, but an actual one — and is also thought to aid digestion and lower cholesterol. In the 1930s, Mexican doctors even recommended drinking equal parts tequila, agave nectar and lime juice to treat colds, because you can’t have a cold and be drunk at the same time — that’s just science.