Over the course of the last few years, tequila—long the unofficial beverage of bad decisions and even worse hangovers—has successfully rebranded itself as a luxury item, crawling out of liquor-soaked dive bars and into high-end cocktail lounges across the world. Since 2005, tequila sales have nearly doubled in the US, with Americans spending $2.3 billion on the industry in 2015 alone.
Still, despite its new, more polished image, there’s something about the legend of tequila that remains cloaked in mythology and mysticism, more so than the European ancestry of liquors like whiskey, vodka, and brandy. Traditionally made from the blue agave plants of Santiago de Tequila, a small town some 40 miles southeast of Guadalajara in Mexico, the drink has been said to have medicinal powers, helping those who imbibe it beat colds, lose weight, and rest easier at night.
Even in 2016, few drinks are more steeped in ritual and tradition. From the licking of salt and sucking of limes, to the worm left floating at the bottom of the bottle, to the drink’s murky relationship with mezcal, the details matter when it comes to tequila, and are taken seriously by those who have come to pray at the altar of agave over the years.
Throughout the decades, chefs, writers, comedians, and musicians have all gone on to forge their own relationships with tequila. Whether the beverage served as the punch-line in a George Carlin joke, or the muse for one of Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fueled adventures, in honor of National Tequila Day we celebrate the liquor’s place in American culture, and the famous drinkers who've come to love, hate, and fear its powers.