Before I begin, I’d like to sing the praises of my lovely friend, Arielle, who is a huge contributor to my writing motivation and daily inspiration for spreading love, light, and delicious vegan recipes across the land. If you have not checked out my suggested links, I highly recommend you visit Love Them Apples, her vegan recipe/story blog to see the gorgeous and mouthwatering photos of her creations. *sigh* I lust after her pies.
This particular article was inspired by Arielle’s impending birthday. She asked what a mindful, healthful person should consider as a special birthday drink. My answer: A “real” margarita made with pure ingredients and fine tequila. Happy birthday, dear Arielle. I hope your day is as magical as you.
If the best tequila you’ve had is Patron Silver or Cazadores, you’re missing out. One of the most educational booze-related experiences I’ve experienced to date was a private tequila tasting I (reluctantly) attended upstairs at Malo in Silverlake. Prior to that evening my reasons for drinking tequila were as follows:
- It’s what they put in margaritas. (Exceptions include the wonderful, but acquired taste of wine margaritas, a la Gardens of Taxco)
- Shots! when i was like, 21 i thought shooting tequila made me look hard AF.
- To get drunk – or – because it’s the last bottle in the back of the liquor cabinet after a big party that isn’t créme de menthe or vermouth. And you can’t drink créme de menthe at Hangover Breakfast. Really, just don’t.
This one event completely changed my opinion of tequila. I gained an immense appreciation for a liquor with which I’d previously had a rocky relationship and regarded with, at the best of times, nothing less than guarded disdain and suspicion. I was surprised and pleased to learn that tequila can be just as complex and delicate as a fine scotch, or any other artisan liquor.
Here’s the thing: Tequila that isn’t well-made makes me mean. The last time I drank too much cheap tequila, I was enjoying a celebratory dinner with a group of fellow elementary school teachers. The night quickly degenerated when the Big Boss left his credit card with us and went home for the night. Blurry pictures: we threw our glasses aside to drink straight from pitchers with long straws. I remember swinging on the heat lamps on the patio and climbing the wrought iron fence while cackling like a demented monkey. When I woke the next morning, several of my teacher-friends were passed out in my living room, one without pants. That’s what cheap tequila does to me, and that’s why I don’t drink it anymore.
Good tequila, however, not only infuses one with that special warmth and full-body tingle that only tequila can imbue, but it seems to exclude the more dangerous aspects of that happy violence cheap tequila triggers. Before you choose your special tequila, let’s learn a little about the different production and aging methods.
Agave is Love
Here’s something you might not know: Tequila refers not to the alcohol itself, but to a small group of regions in Mexico (close to the town of Tequila), and is exclusive to those areas. Anything produced outside of these areas designated by Mexican government must be called “distilled agave spirits.” (This is why it’s often referred to as “Mexican Champagne.” ) (Just kidding; I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who says this, especially since I just made it up a second ago.) The regulatory committee for tequila standards is aptly named NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana), and has stringent standards (much like German beer regulations) as to precisely what ingredients and production methods constitute a true tequila. There is even a marked difference in the flavors of tequila produced by agave from lowlands versus highlands.
Tequila is made from the piña (the inner core/stalk) of the blue agave plant, and must be carefully planted, tended, and harvested by hand by jimadores, the agave field workers who use knowledge passed down through generations to lovingly nurture their agave plants and coax from them a perfectly balanced spirit. Once harvested, the piña is roasted, distilled, aged, and bottled.
Understanding Aging and Labeling
- Blanco or Silver: A clear tequila bottled after the first distillation. This type is not aged, or aged less than two months in neutral barrels or stainless steel containers. The flavor of this type tends to be more harsh than aged versions.
- Gold (also Young, Joven): A mixture of blanco and reposado.
- Reposado: This is aged two months minimum, but less than a year in oak barrels.
- Añejo: This is aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels. The size and age of the barrel affects the complexity of flavor, so the size of the barrel in relation to the aging process is also regulated in guidelines set by NOM.
- Extra Añejo: Finely aged, a minimum of three years in oak barrels. Dark gold in color with highly complex flavor. Like wine and scotch, the previous contents of the barrel (such as bourbon or younger tequila), its makeup (usually Canadian, French, or US white oak), and preparation (such as charring) imparts a significant amount of flavor into aged tequilas.
What’s the Best Tequila?
Just like other complex spirits, the answer to that question is a matter of taste. The most enjoyable tequila I’ve tried so far is the anejo 7 Leguas, which is difficult to find; I have yet to see it in a retail location but it can be purchased online. This tequila has a nice smokiness and finishes with sweet caramel notes. Depending on what brand and age of the tequila you choose, you can expect anything from a strong vanilla aroma to the pronounced fruity flavor of the agave itself.
Tequila.net is a great site with in-depth ratings and customer reviews for many more tequila brands than I personally know. I suggest you start here and read what aficionados say before you choose your bottle, if you don’t have much experience with brands less well known than what you’d find in your average liquor or grocery store. I found the reviews for tequilas I’ve tasted to be accurate; most of the reviewers really seem to know their tequilas.
Pour an ounce of tequila into a snifter and let it breathe. Inhale it. Really take the time to taste it, especially if you’ve never tried really good tequila. Once you’ve become intimate and subsequently fallen deeply in love with your booze, mix up a kick-ass, REAL margarita and enjoy this underrated spirit to its fullest potential.
- 1/2 oz. agave nectar
- 1/2 oz. water
- 2 oz. Tequila
- 1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Put all ingredients in a shaker with a couple ice cubes and shake well. Skip the salt – you don’t really need it with these brilliant flavors. Enjoy.