|For far too many people, a whiff of tequila evokes memories of shots slammed, behavior best forgotten, and the inevitable nursing of a brutal hangover. But things have changed, and this is no longer the case. Premium and super-premium tequilas are changing the way we enjoy the spirit - it’s no longer quantity over quality.
According to Matt Carroll of The Patrón Spirits Company, this fabled Mexican liquor is simply misunderstood. "Most of the bad experiences people have had with tequila occurred when they drank ‘mixto’ tequila," says Carroll. "When someone enjoys a tequila made from 100 percent blue agave" he continues, "it’s a completely different experience."
This "mixto" tequila is cheap tequila made from 51 percent blue agave – the plant that makes tequila – and 49 percent "mixto", which is a mix of mostly sugar or rum, and a huge culprit of hangovers.
“"uper-premium tequilas are flying off the shelf" says Shawn Starbuck Kelley, director of public relations for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, noting that tequila is the fastest growing category at the super-premium level. She compares super-premium tequila to Scotch in terms of quality and craftsmanship, and cites that overall "people aren’t necessarily drinking more (in terms of consumption), just better quality, and tequila is proof of that".
So how did tequila go from a shooting to a sipping spirit?
"It’s all about education," says Patricia Vacsoncelos of Corralejo Tequila – a boutique producer recognized for distilling their liquor in copper stills, like Cognac. Vasconcelos, who travels the world teaching tequila seminars, says "A huge popularity of tequila lies in its culture and history. People want to hear the stories".
The History of Tequila
The story of tequila began in the Tequila Valley, located in Mexico’s state of Jalisco, near the city Guadalajara. Ninety five percent of tequila is made in this region, and one of the first distillery’s in the area was set up in 1795 by José María Guadalupe de Cuervo. The process of tequila begins when a blue agave plant – a giant pointy cactus – is ripe, usually at least a decade after it is planted. The agave’s leaves are chopped by a “jimador” leaving the core or piñas (Spanish for pineapple, because of the resemblance) which weigh an average of 40 to 70 pounds.
The piñas are then roasted in furnaces, and distilled and aged in oak – many are aged in old American bourbon barrels, which can only be used once. There are three main categories of tequila: blanco (white), aged under two months; reposado (rested), aged two to twelve months; and añejo (aged), aged over one year. To be qualified as tequila, the liquor must be made in designated areas of Mexico and must be made of 100 percent blue agave. (Which is a main difference between tequila and Mezcal, a smokier liquor also made from agave.)
Finding Your Favorite Style
"Generally, blancos are perfect as aperitifs over ice with a slice of orange because they’re clean and herbaceous" says Alejandro Enriquez, tequila sommelier, at the tony Esperanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas. "Reposados are great for cocktails because they have more complex flavors like citrus and spice, and añejo’s oakiness is ideal for connoisseurs who love to sip".
To help customers naviagte their options, many restaurants like Rosa Mexicana in New York City and Tres Agaves in San Francisco are offering up tequila flights so customers can discern the difference and pick their favorite type.
Ivette Manners, a New Yorker in her thirties, recently held a Friday night tequila tasting for her girlfriends, where they sipped their way through Milagro, which just released Limón and Mandarina all natural fruit flavored tequila, El Tesoro, and Don Julio tequilas, the latter which is the most popular tequila brand in Mexico. "I used to think tequila was something you drank on spring break" says Manners, "until I found out it’s really a fine liquor, and there are many varieties besides the one with the worm in it".
And, the varieties are endless. Agavero, a brand created from a blend of 100% blue agave añejo and reposado tequilas, is hand blended with the essence of Damiana flower, rumored for centuries to be a potent aphrodisiac. Additionally, ready-to-drink margaritas, such as Tarantula’s line of flavored Margaritas and The Margarita King Premium Margarita Cocktail have been quite a hit in the marketplace, making “popping and pouring” about as simple as it gets.
The chicness of tequila can be found at celeb hotspots like La Esquina in New York and the Velvet Margarita Cantina in L.A., both of which offer huge tequila menus. Even rap artists, trendsetters of American pop culture, are now calling for Patron in their songs, in addition to liquors like Hennessey and Moet & Chandon Champagne.
But what may keep tequila mainstream is not trendiness but tradition. Forty percent of tequila sales are generated in the Southwest, in heavily Latino populated states, such as California, Texas, and Arizona. Most Latinos don’t shoot their tequila. When Luz Maria Castellanos, a Los Angeles TV executive, got married six years ago, her father didn’t pull out an aged bottle of Bordeaux or Champagne, but instead a cloth-wrapped bottle of tequila. "I grew up sipping tequila and sangrita" says Castellanos who’s referring to a typical tequila accompaniment of grenadine, orange juice, and chiles. (There exists a minty green version that goes brilliantly with tequila blanco.)
Says Vasconcelos, "The bottom line is that tequila simply has such great allure. It’s so mixable, but also lovely straight".
And absolutely no one is forgetting about the power of the Margarita, which is the most called for drink in America. "Margaritas equal fun" says Carroll. And for Americans, joy will never go out of style.
1 oz. Agavero
Large Scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream
Fill a martini glass with ice cream. Float 1 oz. of Agavero over the top. Enjoy with a 1 oz. side shot of Agavero.
3/4 oz. Scorpion Silver Mezcal
3/4 oz. Kahlúa Especial (70 proof)
Dried Chili Powder
Coat rim of a shot glass with a mix of cocoa powder and chili powder. Add the Scorpion tequila and Kahlúa to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well to chill. Strain into the prepared shot glass.
1 1/2 oz. Tarantula Azul
1/2 oz. Triple Sec
1/2 oz. Fresh lime juice
3 oz. Sweet & Sour
1 splash Grenadine
Combine ingredients, except the Grenadine, in mixing tin with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour into a 14 oz. Collins glass, top with a splash of Grenadine and garnish with a lime wedge.
1 1/2 Parts Corazón de Agave
3/4 Parts Peach Brandy
Splash of Raspberry Liqueur
Squeeze of Fresh Lime Juice
Mix all ingredients in shaker. Serve in a martini glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Mexico on Fire
1 1/2 oz. Buscadores Añejo
1/2 oz. Amaretto
Champagne to fill
Place all the ingredients in a champagne flute. Serve with a twist of orange peel and a red cherry.
A fresh twist on a Cosmo!
1 oz. Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila
3 oz. Cranberry Juice
Splash lime juice
Combine Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila, cranberry juice and a splash of fresh
lime juice. Shake and serve in a chilled martini glass.
1 oz. Two Fingers Tequila
1 oz. Melon Liqueur
1 1/2 oz. Sweet & Sour
1/2 oz. Triple Sec
Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wedge.
1.5 oz. Jose Cuervo Citrico
6 oz. lemon Lime Soda
1 oz. orange juice
Combine all ingredients in a tall glass over ice. Garnish with a lime.
1 oz. Imported GranGala
1 oz. Patrón Tequila
1 oz. lime juice
Coarse salt; Wedge of Lime
Add sugar to taste
Rub rim of Margarita Glass with the lime and spin in salt. Shake Imported GranGala Triple Orange Liqueur, Patrón Tequila and lime juice together with ice in a shaker. Strain into a Margarita glass and garnish with a lime wedge.
Milagro Hermosa Sunset
1 1/2 oz. Milagro Silver Tequila
1/2 oz. Licor 43
2 oz. Pomegranate Juice
1 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Simple syrup
Mix ingredients in a tall glass over ice. Garnish with a lemon wedge.