What is tequila?
Tequila is only made from the BLUE Agave (Ah-GAH-Vey) plant native to Mexico. Other liquors are made from other Agave plants but TRUE Tequila must come from BLUE agave.
And like Champagne – it MUST be made from plants grown in a very specific region of Mexico – that surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 km northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the north western Mexican state of Jalisco.
Distilling Agave to make booze dates all the way back to the Aztecs – who called their version Pulque (POOL-kay). When the Spaniards turned up in 1521, they adopted the ancient Aztec drink and modified it using European distillation techniques and this has slowly evolved into the modern day drink we now know as Tequila.
Reading and understanding a Tequila label.
Tequila is either 100% Agave or “Mixto” (MEEKS-toe) – which can contain up to 49% sugar and water. The 100% Agave Tequila is much more “in your face” with rich, aromatic flavours to the fore. The Mixto is more restrained and less flavoursome, but surprisingly not sweet given the addition of the sugar. Its flavours can linger longer in the mouth (more length in wine terms). Despite what you may think, one is not necessarily better than the other – they are just different expressions of the Agave plant and each type has its fans.
So within the two main types of Tequila (100%v Agave and Mixto) there are several different types to look out for:
Tequila Plata – (Silver, White or Blanco)
This is a white spirit and it is generally not aged (some may be aged for up to two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels). Silver or White Tequila shows the simplest flavours and is also considered the best for cocktail mixing as its subtle flavour does not over-whelm the other ingredients in the cocktail. It’s available in all levels of quality from low to high and is the ideal starting point for new Tequila drinkers and is especially popular with the Vodka geeks.
Tequila Reposado is aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels of any size. It’s lighter but more complex flavours make it a very popular type with regular Tequila drinkers. It’s very versatile and can shoot it, sip it or mix it.
Tequila Oro (Gold)
Gold Tequila is typically a Mixto, where colorants and flavorings have been added prior to bottling. These “young and adulterated” Tequilas are less expensive and used in many bars and restaurants for “mixed drinks”. There are exceptions however, as a “Gold” or “Joven” Tequila can also be the result of blending a Silver Tequila with a Reposado and/or Añejo Tequila, while keeping the 100% Agave classification.
“Añejo” (On-YAH-ho) Tequila must aged for at least a year in barrels that are no bigger than 600 litres. This imparts a very robust, smokey flavour and darkens the spirit to a medium amber. Anejo is usually smoother, richer and more complex. Extra Añejo must be aged for at least 3 years. If you are a gin drinker then the stronger more complex flavours of Anejo will probably suit your palate better then the simpler Plato.
How to Drink It
In Mexico people often drink it straight, sometimes with a side of Sangrita. Drinking Tequila straight is not a lot different to drinking good whiskey. Drink out of a snifter glass at room temperature or on rocks. Unlike wine, there is no need to swirl the glass to release the aromas – they will become more prominent as you drink. Outside Mexico, however, it’s common for tequila to be served as a shot, along with salt and a slice of lime or lemon. These additions help to compensate for the harshness of lower-quality tequila.
Although tequila has worn the reputation of party drink for some time, there are many ways to drink it without making your head feel like a piñata the morning after. Here are just a few.
Method 1 of 3: Sipping Neat, Enjoying Slowly
Choose a tequila that is made from 100% agave.
If you are planning on sipping your tequila and enjoying it like most Mexicans do, be sure to choose 100% Agave Tequila.
- Many bartenders and tequila experts recommend choosing a family-owned tequila over a large conglomerate. If you can find a tequila that’s part of a small, family-owned business, chances are overwhelming that it will be 100% agave, and simply that it will taste better.
Choose an Añejo tequila. Because añejo tequilas are aged for at least a year, they make for better sipping than a tequila that is rushed to maturity or those that are front-loaded with tequila flavor but lack any body or complexity to round it out. These añejos are often compared to aged cognac.
- Añejos tend to be more expensive than reposados or blancos, but not outrageously so. You should be able to find a good añejo for under $90.
- Drink añejos at room temperature. Adding ice to it dilutes the flavour and can mask the tequila’s different components.
- If you become serious about sipping tequila, consider getting a tequila glass to enjoy your añejo in. Many also enjoy the tequila in a snifter.
Enjoy your tequila with a little bit of sangrita. “Sangrita” means “little blood” in Spanish, called this way because of the color of the liquid. The sangrita is non-alcoholic. Pair the sangrita with your sipping tequila in a separate shot glass and take turns sipping the tequila and sangrita. To make sangrita, mix together, then refrigerate:
- 1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 cup tomato juice (not V-8)
- 1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
- 1 tsp grenadine
- 12 dashes hot sauce — e.g., Tabasco
Follow the sipping protocol. (Optional.) If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the thought of sipping tequila the right way, here are some tips on how the experts enjoy their vintage tequila.
- Pour about one ounce of tequila in a tequila glass or snifter. Hold the glass at the stem (not the bowl), raise the glass to eye level and look at the tequila’s colour.
- Swirl the tequila gently in its glass. Note how the tequila clings to the walls of the glass, looking for the “string of pearls” effect.
- Take a small sip, swishing the tequila around in your mouth for about 10 seconds, letting the alcohol travel over different parts of your tongue.
Swallow and repeat! Fancy, huh?
Method 2 of 3: Shooting Tequila, Imbibing Quickly
Choose a blanco, oro, or reposado tequila to shoot. Oro, meaning “gold,” tastes similar to blanco and costs about the same. Remember to choose 100% agave tequila.
Shoot neat and unchilled. You don’t have to go through the salt-and-lime routine if you don’t want to. Take room-temperature tequila, pour it into a shot glass, toast, and pour it down your gullet.
Shoot with salt and lime. The salt-and-lime method of shooting tequila has been around for a while, though it’s not clear that it’s a popular way of shooting tequila in Mexico. One report suggests that the oldest known mention of the salt-and-lime technique, from 1924, reverses the order: First lime, then tequila, then salt. Either way, it’s a popular way of shooting tequila, even if it’s detested by snobs the world ’round. Here’s how:
- Lick the skin between your thumb and index finger. Shake a little bit of salt on your skin, which should stick to the moisture.
- With a tequila shot and lime wedge in hand, lick the salt on your hand and shoot the tequila. Try to get the tequila down in one gulp if you can. You are shooting it, after all.
- As a “chaser,” suck on the lime wedge after shooting the tequila. The acidity of the lime won’t taste as sharp after the alcohol.
Method 3 of 3: Mixing Tequila, In a Cocktail
Enjoy your tequila in a classic margarita. A margarita can be frozen or classic. If you really want to savor the flavor of the tequila, go for a classic margarita, as the frozen margaritas are laden with sugar and water. To make a great margarita, follow this recipe:
- Pour the following ingredients into a cocktail shaker half-full with ice:
- 2 oz. blanco, oro, or reposado tequila
- 1/2 oz. orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Triple-Sec
- 1 oz. freshly-squeezed lime juice
- 1/2 oz. agave nectar sweetener
- Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds and strain into cocktail glass with a salted rim.
Enjoy your tequila in a “tequini,” or tequila martini. A tequini takes all the sophistication and class of a martini and squeezes a little bit of fun into the mix. Imbiber beware, however, because this brother is boozy! Turn the tequini into a sweeter tequini by using a reposado tequila and sweet vermouth.
- Into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, mix:
- 2 1/2 oz blanco tequila
- 1/2 oz dry vermouth
- Dash of Angostura bitters
- Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds and strain into a martini glass.
- Garnish with an olive, lemon twist, or jalapeno pepper.
Enjoy your tequila in a tequila sunrise. Called “tequila sunrise” because of the layering of red and orange, this recipe is another reminder that tequila and citrus make a really nice pairing.
- In a highball glass with ice, pour in:
- 2 oz. blanco, oro, or reposado tequila
- Enough orange juice to fill the glass almost to the top.
- Stir ingredients, and then dip two dashes of grenadine syrup into the drink by tilting the glass slightly and funneling the syrup quickly down the side. The grenadine should sink to the bottom and slowly rise through the drink.
- Garnish with stirrer, straw, and cherry-orange.
Try a twist on a Bloody Mary, called a vampira. This is also sometimes called a “Bloody Maria.” The vampira cocktail is a Mexican twist on the classic bloody Mary recipe. It’s light and spicy, and manages to be original without betraying the essence of the prototype.
- Fill a 10-ounce glass with ice. Into the glass, pour:
- pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 oz. blanco tequila
- 1 teaspoon Mexican hot sauce, e.g. Cholula
- 1 oz. Clamato
- 1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Top up the drink with Mexican Squirt or another grapefruit soda, and garnish with a lemon wheel.
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What is “Mezcal?”
Pretty much all Agave based liquors that are not made from Blue Agave or from a specified region are called Mezcal (Mess-call). Mezcal is made from the Maguey plant and produces a drink that is much harsher to drink. Generally speaking Mezcal is lower quality and less refined that Tequila.
What’s with the Worm!
First up, REAL Tequila NEVER has a worm in it. If you have a worm in the bottle you don’t have a genuine 100% Agave Tequila. Worms were first added to the bottles back in the 1940’s as a gimmick to get tourists to buy the cheaper mezcal. Our advice? Stay away from bottles with worms in them!
Some brands to consider.
Here are a selection of Tequila’s available from our online store.