Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been incorrect for a long proportion of my adult life. There exists, out there in the world, a drink which we have forced to hide in the shadows, gathering dust on bar shelves across the country due to our own ignorance and misinformation.
As you have gleaned from the title, I am talking about tequila.
I can feel you all turning up your noses and reaching for the door as I type these words. I implore you to hear me out!
I know what you’re feeling and I probably know why. Tequila, as we know it on these isles, is surrounded by a miasma of bad decisions and worse mornings. Some of you are probably getting phantom tastes in your mouth of salt, lime and cheap, nasty tequila.
I had the exact same feeling, until I started my new job. In 3 days, I went from being a guy who would throw shots over my shoulder so I didn’t have to drink them (long story short, don’t do that) to being someone who actively looks for bottles so that I can try new tequilas
I only need a few minutes of your life and I can promise that I will convince you to at least give this drink a try. Even just once. Then, if you still don’t like it, you can at least be confident that you have formed your opinion with all of the facts.
Besides, you’re reading my blog. You clearly don’t have anything pressing right now.
Let’s get a few things out the way…
Salt, lime etc. is not how you drink tequila. If you are ever served that when you order it, politely but firmly hand the whole thing (drink included) back to them. You are not going to enjoy that experience and should just save yourself the trouble.
Good tequila doesn’t need anything but a bottle, a glass and a free afternoon/evening. It is a sipping drink. I know, I know, if you don’t shoot it, you’ll actually have to taste it and nothing will ruin your day faster.
I cannot stress this enough, that’s because you’re drinking crap tequila.
I’ll get into a few ways to tell if what you’re about to drink would be better served as a paint thinner but, for now, the quickest way to tell is, if they give you anything other than your drink and maybe a glass of water or sangrita, they’re doing it wrong.
Check the Bottle
The quickest way to know if what you’re about to drink is actually worth your time (and money) is a quick look at the bottle. If it says “Made with 100% Blue Agave”, then you’re in for a treat.
Real tequila (I know how pretentious that sounds, just play along while I convince you) is only made with Blue Agave.
I’m not a botanist so I am not going to go into a long winded diatribe about this particular succulent. I will, however give you a few salient facts which may make you think twice about reaching for the cheapest bottle you can.
Real tequila is like champagne. It can only be made with one type of agave (the Blue Weber) and it can only come from specific regions of Mexico (Jalisco, Nayarit, Michoacán, Tamaulipas and Guanajuato). There’s even a town called Tequila in Jalisco, so that’s where the name comes from.
Tequila always has been and, for the foreseeable future, always will be a hands on creation. The plants themselves take 8-10 years to fully mature.
That’s nearly a decade in the making. This drink is aged before it even hits your lips and that’s not even bringing into consideration the actual aged tequilas (which I will go into more detail on below).
The tequila you’re thinking of and which is probably giving you flashback headaches is a version called Mixto. Which is exactly as it sounds. Tequila mixed with other things to bulk it out.
Mixto actually started as a fairly noble idea. There was a shortage of the Blue Agave plant needed to make tequila and to keep the industry going the Mexican Government decreed that tequila had to contain at least 51% Blue Agave. The problem was that people saw that number as a challenge and ran with it. The 49% needed is usually a flavourless sugarcane spirit which is there to bulk up the numbers and, as a lovely little side effect, make you feel like someone punched you in the forehead so hard you can’t stop throwing up.
That’s the boring part…
Let’s get down to brass tax. It’s all fine and dandy that I’m sat behind this screen telling you what you’re doing wrong. But it’s about damn time I told you what you can do right because, trust me, when you drink the right tequila, you will wonder what the hell you have been doing all this time.
Blanco tequila or Plata is stored in steel or oak barrels immediately after distillation. If it is aged for longer than 2 months, you’re looking at a whole other category.
If you’re looking for a classic tequila taste which you can actually enjoy, this is what you’re looking for.
I couldn’t say one broad flavour for Blanco other than the tequila/agave taste is much stronger at this stage. The flavour changes depending on the soil, weather, height above sea level. You know, the usual.
Some fine examples of Blanco tequila are:
- Herradura Blanco – Herradura, which means horseshoe in Spanish, is grown in the lowlands which gives it a more earthy taste with a wonderful flourish of woodiness. Added knowledge, the distillery plays classical music to the barrels during distillation which makes this tequila super classy… don’t ask, just drink.
- Olmeca Altos Blanco – This is my favourite Blanco (for now). It tastes like alcoholic agave syrup. It’s sweet and citrusy without being saccharine and sour. It’s perfect for cocktails because all it brings to the table is the good parts of tequila without that bile inducing aftertaste.
Meaning “rested” in Spanish, and aged for between 3-12 months, the tequila starts to take on a more mature flavour. It becomes softer as it takes on the properties of the barrel it is stored in. There are a few cocktails which call for a Reposado tequila but the extra ingredients are there to enhance the original flavours of the tequila, not mask them or just use it for its abv. This is the start of your sipping journey.
- Corralejo Reposado – Sweet, citrusy and finishing with a little bit of pepperiness. I could drink this all day. I shouldn’t but I definitely could. There are just so many levels to it and they can drastically change depending on what you’re eating with it. Eating spicy food hides the pepper and lets the lemon and lime zestiness shine through. If you’re eating something sweet, you’ll get a bigger spice kick.
- Gran Centenario Reposado – This is a lovely, fruity tequila. The best way to describe it is grilled pineapple coated in a cinnamon caramel sauce. Which is then covered in tequila.
Anejo means “aged” in Spanish and, if you’re following the timescale here, you’ll know that it needs to be aged for at least 1 year to earn that title. After 3 years, you’re heading into the colourfully titled “Extra Anejo”. Anejo is the tequila for whisky and brandy fans. It’s soft, caramel, smooth.
I tried a few at work with my bosses (thanks guys) and the best way to describe it is, if someone asked you to describe how you image gold would taste, you would describe the taste of Anejo tequila.
- Centinela Anejo – Meaning “The one to watch and keep”, never a more apt name has been used. This was one of the first tequilas I tried and before I was even convinced that I could enjoy tequila, I loved this. Everything about it is incredible. It comes in a bottle you’d happily have on your shelf, it smells sweet but with a little bit of woodiness and tastes marvellous. Aged in Bourbon barrels, that flavour shines throughout each mouthful. If you ever have to opportunity to try this drink, grab it with both hands (the bottle in one and your glass in the other).
- Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia – The Rolls Royce of tequilas. Aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels, this is a wonderful drink. It feels strange to start by warning you about drinking sub-par tequilas, only to turn around and recommend one of the brands I think you should avoid, however, you should hear me out. I was slightly dubious about this one due to both the name “Jose Cuervo” and the incredible hangovers which they have caused and also because it seems to be a partnership with Rolling Stones. I am always wary of drinking things which have celebrity endorsements, especially alcohol, but I was assured that this was completely different and I should give it a shot. I’m so glad that I did. This tequila outmatches most whiskys I have tried, and that’s saying something. It’s velvety, smooth and tastes utterly sublime.
Find the rest yourself
That’s not a cop out on my part, it’s a challenge for you. I found myself in the very fortunate position of having “Tequila Training” at work and was allowed to taste all 5 of those above and more. I’ve found some I prefer over others but none that I dislike.
So, next time you’re at the bar and see their tequila selection. Grab yourself a small measure, take a seat and sip it slowly. Enjoyed properly, it lasts longer than a pint and gives you a much greater sense of satisfaction. Also, you’ll look pretty classy compared to the idiots who are squeezing lime into their eyes or whatever young people do nowadays.