It’s that time of the year again! Tequila time! As always we start the margarita season with Cinco de Mayo. From what it seems, tequila is a love it or hate it sort of drink. Everyone has said either “I love tequila! I always have a good time” or “man, I hate tequila, I just can’t drink it, too many bad times.” We have all been there. One thing I’ve learned is that the type of tequila you drink can make all the difference.
Tequila is made with Weber Blue agave, which is more related to asparagus then cactus despite common belief. Blue agave is one of several different agave types used to produce lovely alcoholic beverages: tequila and mescal (mezcal). Legally tequila distilled with only blue agave and only comes from three different areas in Mexico: Tequila, Guadalajara, and Jalisco. Despite the popularity of tequila, it is still known as a “rough” product as in it isn’t as popular as some may think, at least world wide. A lot of that has to do with what little we know about it. Unfortunately it also has a lot to do with that love it or hate it mentality. Another reason is also because it is a relatively new product on the market, at least when compared to scotch, cognac, gin, or vodka. It isn’t as highly sought after, yet. As the popularity of tequila and mezcal grows so does the knowledge of the quality products out there. There is some great stuff too. Yes, of course, it does cost a pretty penny, but like scotch, it’s worth it. There are different classes of tequila (blanco, repesado, and anejo) that identify different levels of aging and quality. Blanco is unaged, hence the clarity. Gold, not to be confused with repesado, is actually the same as blanco. It is not aged, but it is colored with caramel color, sugar, oak extract or glycerin and is often called a mixto. Reposado is aged tequila that is aged in French or white oak for a minimum of two months. Anejo, is extra aged tequila and it is aged for a minimum of one year in French or white oak as well. There is an even higher class of tequila too called extra anejo. Extra anejo is aged for a minimum of three years in French or white oak and this is where things get really classy with tequila. Some of your upper echelon extra anejos can cost thousands of dollars per bottle and are comparable in taste and quality to some of the best whiskies and brandies in the world.
As I mentioned briefly, tequila is made from blue agave. However, a bottle labeled “tequila” isn’t necessarily real tequila. Tequilas such as these are also known as mixtos, which means that it can be made with up to 49% of non-agave sugars (including syrups), and not all of these actually come out of the designated regions known to produce tequila. Distillers are only required to use 51% blue agave to be classed as tequila, hence the 49% void of mystery sugars. Avoid these if possible. So, what should we look to buy in tequila? Anything with the words “100% De Agave” written on the label is a good place to start. If tequila is advertised as 100% de agave it means they used 100% blue agave to make their tequila, typically meaning it is a quality product. The good thing is that these more quality tequilas are becoming more readily available. One of the best reasons to invest the extra few bucks in that nicer tequila is because the hangover the next day won’t be as intense. Due to these tequilas being made from natural sugars and nothing artificial they are less likely to cause that sugar induced coma we call a hangover.** Another reason is that it just tastes better and in those quality aged tequilas you get the smoothness coupled with a caramel finish that can be comparable if not better than some of the other high quality products out there.
A little side note here on mezcal. Tequila and mezcal are not the same thing. They are made out of agave but tequila must use 51% blue agave where as mezcal can use any type of agave. Also they are distilled differently, you can always tell mezcal from tequila because of its smokey aroma and taste, its also not as “sweet” as tequila. A common myth is that mezcals with the wee little worm at the bottom are quality high end mezcals. Unfortunately, no. The worm is actually a marketing ploy that is used in cheaper and lesser tequilas and mezcals to take advantage of those who don’t know any better. In fact, premium mezcal producers have lobbied to ban this worm from any bottles, however they were unsuccessful. Mezcal also has a similar aging classification as tequila: joven (white), dorado (golden), reposado or anejado, and then anejo. Mezcal has proven to be a new up-and-comer in the liquor world but still has yet to gain its popularity. I love mezcal and I highly recommend it especially to my smokey whisky fans out there.
One of the more famous cocktails, if not the most, that is made with tequila is the margarita. A cocktail that better represents summer and vacation than anything else out there. Everybody loves them. A helpful hint for all of you out there when ordering them at the bars this lovely vacation season, when getting margaritas do not spend the extra money on ultra-high end tequilas like Don Julio 1942. For one, that is a sipping tequila, and if it had a conscious, it’d jump out of your margarita. Two, you’re not going to taste it in the margarita. Save where you can so you can spoil yourself on stocking up your own personal bar with the good stuff.
Drink safely everyone and have a grand ol’ time!
** If you wish to test the theory of a lesser hangover do so in the comfort of your home or make sure you have a designated driver to save yourself from yourself. Also don’t skimp on the invites.