We all know that friend: she’s the daredevil, the troublemaker, the rabble-rouser. While you were trying to stop Gin from dancing on the table, and talk Vodka into joining the party, Tequila just stole your parents’ car keys and is headed out for a joyride. More than any other spirit, tequila definitely has the reputation for getting people into the most trouble and causing the worst hangovers. There’s no real scientific justification for this; on the contrary, it seems to be more behavioral. If you say that “tequila makes me crazy” (as Kenny Chesney seems to believe) then you’ll opt to drink tequila when you want to have a crazy night. It also doesn’t help that tequila just happens to be the spirit that is most often consumed as a shot. Throwing back shots of any liquor isn’t going to go very well, and you don’t have to be a psychic to know there’s probably a nasty hangover in your future. When mixed into cocktails and consumed normally, tequila can offer the same versatility as rum.
Out of all the distilled spirits, tequila is the one that is the most like wine, meaning that it’s affected by all the same kinds of factors, such as climate, soil, harvesting, and handling. The making of a great tequila is a thoughtful and careful process. Tequila can only be made from blue agave that has been in the ground for over 10 years. The plants are harvested only when the farmer says they are ready, and are then cooked and shredded to draw the juice out to be fermented. The best tequilas come from the higher elevations in the Mexican state of Jalisco, and are made from 100% agave with no other sugars added in. There is also a second category of tequila known as “mixto” which can contain up to 49% additional sugars, and is considered to be far inferior. When purchasing tequila, you should look for the 100% Agave designation on the label. In addition to falling into one of these two categories, tequila is also classified by how long it has been aged, very much like rum.
Blanco tequilas (also called white or platinum) have undergone no aging and have clean, grassy aromas and flavors. Reposado tequilas have been aged in oak barrels for at least two months and up to one year. The barrel aging softens the grassiness somewhat and brings in some sweeter and spicier aromas and flavors. Anejo tequilas have been aged in smaller oak barrels for at least one year and up to three years. This extra time spent in the barrel softens the tequila even more, adding spiciness and even some vanilla notes. Finally, Extra Anejo tequilas are matured in oak barrels for at least three years or more. As you would expect, their flavors continue to intensify because of the time they spend in oak. The tequilas that I use at home are Espolon and Casamigos.
While tequila can only be made from blue agave, Mezcal can be made from several wild and cultivated varieties. Once harvested, they are also cooked and shredded before the juice can be extracted. When making mezcal, the agave plants are cooked for several days or weeks in pits filled with hot rocks, which gives mezcal the smoky character that it’s known for. Mezcal can also be aged in much the same way as tequila, and is designated as Blanco, Reposado, or Anejo, depending on what (if any) barrel aging has taken place. Del Maguey Vida Mezcal is excellent (and affordable), and their Mezcal Chichicapa, although somewhat pricier is well worth it if you want to venture into that next level.
We’ll start off the week with a recipe for a classic Margarita, supposedly invented by Carlos “Danny” Herrera, owner of the Tijuana restaurant Rancho La Gloria, in 1938. He claims to have been inspired by a dancer, Marjorie King, who was allergic to everything but tequila, but didn’t like drinking it straight.
2 oz Epsolon Tequila Blanco
3/4 oz Cointreau
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz agave
Lime wedge for garnishing
Rim half of a bucket glass with the kosher salt and add some ice. (I usually rub just a tiny bit of the agave on the rim first so that the salt will stick). Place the remaining ingredients in the bottom half of a shaker and then add your 1 large cube and 2 small. Shake for 15—20 seconds or until cold. Strain using a Hawthorne strainer and pour into the glass, being careful not to hit the salt rim. Garnish with the lime wedge. Enjoy!