Tequila -- originally known to Americans as mescal brandy -- first made its way into the United States in the late 19th century, as railroad transportation expanded. In the 20th century, tequila helped the United States weather its two great alcohol crises. With Mexico just across the border, tequila became the drink of choice in the Southwest during Prohibition, according to spirits writer Anthony Dias Blue. When distilleries turned to industrial production during World War II, Mexico again helped fill the void. Tequila exports to the United STates skyrocketed to 1.2 million gallons in 1945, compared to just 6,000 gallons before the war.
Not exactly, but sort of. Tequila is made from the blue agave, which, when its leaves are sheared, leave a massive pit referred to in Spanish as the "piña," or pineapple. The agave juice that will be fermented and distilled into tequila comes from heating and crushing the piña.
Tequila is the first indigenous North American spirit. When the Spanish colonized Mexico, they brought distillation with them and applied the principle to juice of the blue agave, from which the locals had traditionally made a less potent drink called pulque.
The budget-conscious need not worry. There's plenty of bottles -- el Jimador, Espolón, and 1800 among them -- that you can pick up for less than $25. The main rule of thumb to remember when shopping around is to avoid anything less than 100 percent blue agave. Such products tend to add sweeteners to aid the fermentation process, leading to an inferior beverage and, possibly, an unnecessarily painful hangover.