A Primer On Tequila
Like many foreigners who travel to Mexico, I was not keen to try tequila. I was fortunate to have a local friend give me a primer on tequila’s that are good for sipping but before that my only foray into the world of tequila involved shots from a bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold that was “gifted” to me by friends when I turned 19 – I am not sure if it tasted better going down or coming back up!
The reason Jose Cuervo Gold is so awful is that it is a mixto tequila. This means it contains only 51% blue agave, with the other 49% comprised of sugarcane juice among other additives – assuring you will be left with a massive hangover you will not soon forget! Most tequila originates from the state of Jalisco, in the the town of Tequila and is made from 100% blue agave. The most important thing to look for in a quality tequila is that it is made from 100% agave. Below are some of the common categories of tequila widely available throughout Mexico.
Blanco tequila is the purest form because it is not aged after distillation, it also must contain 38% – 55% alcohol. With this tequila you are getting the pure taste of the agave. If you are looking for one affordable bottle of tequila to keep in stock, a blanco tequila is a great choice for sipping or mixing in a cocktail.
My personal favorite is the Single Estate Tequila Ocho, which is an artisanal brand that can be purchased in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico at the La Europea location at Ayuntamiento 21. Good mainstream brands are Don Julio Blanco or Herradura Blanco.
Reposado (rested) tequila is aged for a minimum of two months to a maximum of twelve months in wooden bourbon barrels, which lends its amber color and imparts another layer of flavor and aroma. In some instances white oak barrels that are used for the resting process are charred beforehand to impart a smoky flavor on the finished product. These tequilas are in the mid-range price point and are versatile enough to be used in tequila cocktails or sipped straight up.
A solid choice for a reposado at a great price is Centenario but my first choice would be the Maestro Dobel Diamante.
Añejo (vintage) tequila’s are aged for at least one year and for as long as four years, often in used bourbon or whiskey barrels obtained from distilleries. During the aging process these tequilas take on the darker hues of whiskey, along with notes of caramel that are also similar to the characteristics of whiskey, in addition to agave. Añejo’s are some of the most expensive tequila’s and are best enjoyed by sipping them.
A great Añejo to try is from Cava de Oro but you will not find it in stores so it must be ordered from their website.
Cristalino is tequila’s most recent category. Don Julio 70 was the first cristalino introduced to the market in 2011. This tequila is aged for at least three years and goes through a charcoal filtration process that removes the whiskey notes imparted during the barrel aging process while restoring the crisp agave flavor of a blanco tequila. An unintended side effect is the removal of color during the filtration process.
My favorite tequila in this category is Don Julio 70, a marvellous sipper to be enjoyed chilled.
Taco Tour And Tequila
After revelling in the splendour of Centro Histórico, with its fascinating history and marvellous tacos, participants on our taco tour are then treated to some of Mexico’s finest tequila at the city’s most historic cantina. Guests are welcome to choose any category of tequila they like but many have only ever experienced mixto tequilas, so for this reason I encourage guests on our tours to try a quality blanco so they can experience the pure taste of the agave. Accompanying the blanco tequila is sangrita (little blood), a spicy red drink that acts as a palate cleanser taken between sips of tequila. Almost unanimously, people are surprised at how smooth and pleasant it is to sip tequila.
In the two years I have been living in Mexico I have grown to love sipping tequila. I started out thinking the more expensive ones must be the best but this is not true. Everyone’s taste is different and for me I prefer a chilled shot of blanco or cristalino. Try experimenting with different categories of tequila to find the taste that’s best for you. One of the great things I’ve learned about tequila is that if I sip only tequila made from 100% agave – not mixed in a cocktail or with beer or wine you will not have a hangover. Can’t beat that – Salud!