by Bone Garden Cantina - November 17, 2017
Sip it? Shoot it? Lime? Salt? What IS the proper way to drink tequila? Read on, reader. We’ll teach you.
“To taste tequila is to taste Mexico,” says Ana Paula Pelayo of the Dos Armadillos tequila distillery. What a perfect way to think about tequila. For over five hundred years, the art and craft of tequila has been intertwined with Mexico’s history, culture, economy, geography and traditions. It’s a complex, sophisticated spirit meant to be sipped and savored, the way the people of Mexico have enjoyed it for generations. So why is it that when most gringos think of tequila, memories of college drinking days and asking your friends about where they got their fake ids from so you wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to drink tequila to your heart’s delight, bad judgment and blackouts usually come to surface? Many people cringe at the thought of sipping tequila, remembering the brutal hangover they experienced the first/last time they were brave/dumb enough to lick the salt, shoot the tequila and suck the lime. Body shots, anyone!? If your tequila experiences are anything like this then you, my friend, have been doing it wrong. If you are new to tequila, then you’re in luck – you can succeed where so many spring breakers have failed. Because we’re gonna teach you how to drink tequila like a BOSS. Certificate not included.
1. Choose 100% Blue Agave
Everyone say, “No mixtos.” Tequila is distilled from the blue agave plant. And all quality tequilas are made from 100% blue agave, just as they have been for centuries. Mixtos were largely an invention of tequila runners in the southwest who were bringing tequila into the United States during prohibition. Because tequila was a clear/white, unaged spirit and the gringos loved brown liquors, our entrepreneurs of the past cut pure, 100% blue agave tequila with cheap sugar cane alcohols, sweeteners, caramel coloring and flavors like oak extract. *Cue the hangover. Now they had gold tequila that, when brought over the border, was lovingly referred to as Mexican Whiskey. The popularity of mixtos in America, and the ability for tequila producers to turn a time-consuming, labor-intensive, hand-crafted spirit into a profitable export, meant that until recently many Americans had never experienced pure tequila. It’s all the added stuff in mixtos that cause the dreadful hangovers and, more significantly, mask the complex and natural taste of pure tequila. So how do you know what you are drinking? A bottle of mixto tequila is gold, amber or even clear in color, making it a a little confusing to identify. So check out the label. A mixto label will say something like “Made from Agave” or “Made with Pure Agave.”, but it won’t say “100% Agave.” So to drink tequila like a boss, be sure you see the words 100% Blue Agave on the label of the bottle.
2. Sip / Don’t Swill
Each quality, 100% blue agave tequila has a complex flavor profile with distinct characteristics. This is because tequila is made from an indigenous raw material (the agave plant) that is native and unique to Mexico. Blue agave plants grow in various micro-climates across the state of Jalisco for seven to twelve years before they reach the end of their lifecycle and are mature enough to be harvested for tequila production. As the blue agave plants mature, they must endure a decade’s worth of seasonal changes, potential droughts and other threats to their survival. The agave plant’s long growing cycle is why local climate, soil, and topography all impact how a tequila ends up tasting. The two main areas in Jalisco’s tequila region are the Valley and the Highlands. Soil in the Highlands is characteristically an iron-rich red. Agave here tends to grow larger and more mature, producing tequila that is sweeter, while aromatically spicy, fruity and rustic. While in the Valley, the fertile, dark brown earth produces agaves rich in volcanic mineral – resulting in drier, more earthy, vegetal and woody flavors.
Another important aspect that impacts a tequila’s flavor and quality is human tradition. The art of making tequila is often passed down from one generation to the next in Mexico, meaning that each tequila is crafted a little differently based on a producer’s family history. This is why tequila is such a fascinating spirit to savor and understand – a tequila will have a unique flavor profile based on both the environmental factors of the agave plant and the centuries-old traditions that are still in practice today. When you down a quality, hand-crafted, 100% blue agave tequila in one big gulp/shot, you miss all of this delicious complexity and agave flavor. So sip your tequila. The first sip can be a little intimidating and you might feel an alcohol burn. A good strategy is to “nose” your tequila and try to pick up aromas in the glass. Then let the first sip or two coat your tongue and warm up your mouth. As you continue to sip, the flavors will begin to reveal themselves.
3. Forget the Salt/Lime
Modern trends in drinking tequila are known for salt and lime – originally paired together as an aid for the sharp burn of cheap tequila. This trend began in the 1930’s with an agave shortage that led the government to relax regulations on tequila production. The decision allowed distillers to add non-agave sugars to their fermentation, resulting in a lower quality, mixto tequila – thus the necessity of salt and lime. The salt seasons your tongue and throat to cut the harshness of the tequila, with the lime known as the chaser. Both aid in numbing the mouth, which prevents you from experiencing the full flavor profile of the spirit. That might be necessary when drinking cheap, mixto tequila. But ah, ah, ah. Bosses only drink the best.
4. Pair with a Sangrita
Instead, pair your tequila with a traditional sangrita! Unlike the numbing effect of salt and lime, this non-alcoholic beverage is served to compliment the taste of 100% blue agave Tequila. So where do you get sangrita? Many tequila bars prepare a house recipe, but it’s often not on the menu. And like opinions, everyone has their own recipe. The basic ingredients everyone agrees on include freshly squeezed lime juice, orange juice and hot sauce or chilis. Sangrita is red in color (the translation is, after all, “little blood”) and should be slightly spicy and slightly sweet. Some add tomato juice, but others vehemently oppose this. Another popular ingredient is pomegranate juice. There are even delicious green sangritas out there waiting to be discovered – usually prepared with cilantro, jalapeño and pineapple. Regardless of recipe variations, the traditional method of drinking it is to alternate sips of tequila with sangrita. This allows you to experience the tequila more fully by cleansing the palate between sips, making the drinking experience last longer and more enjoyable. So relax, boss, and take your time with your tequila.
So that’s it! You’ve now officially learned how to drink Tequila like a boss. You won’t get a certificate, but you will be the boss the next time you belly up to a tequila bar. Well done! Now come by and see us at Bone Garden Cantina where you can choose one of our 100% Blue Agave tequilas. We don’t sell mixtos (just say no!) and we are picky about our selections – so you can feel confident that you are getting a high quality tequila crafted in a traditional way. And don’t forget to pair it with our in-house, fresh made sangrita (note: it’s not on the menu, so just ask us for it). Hasta pronto!