Tequila Time!

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Summer is here and as ever, we are on the eternal quest for the ultimate summer beverage. With so many creative and fabulous cocktails out there, how can you possibly decide on just one? The drink menus at bars and restaurants today are often staggeringly long. Narrowing your choices down can be challenging. But while some drinks are infinitely more appropriate for winter, such as Irish Coffee, a White Russian, or a snifter of cognac, others just scream summertime and are equally refreshing and delicious on a hot day.

If you’re not in the mood to try the trendiest new cocktail on the block and are perhaps leaning towards something more traditional, why not sample some tequila? You may be surprised. Serious tequila drinkers can be as finicky as scotch drinkers and are generally very well informed. They each have their own favorite brand and style and if prompted will happily tell you why, in no shortage of detail.Some tequila aficionados prefer their spirit crafted into the ever-popular Margarita, either blended or on the rocks, salted rim or clean. Some like the fine, aged sipping tequilas. Others still enjoy the smoky goodness of mezcal. But hold on! Tequila is tequila, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Time to learn something new.

Not just a faceless liquor serving as the base of a margarita, tequila is an historic spirit of Mexico, steeped in history, and offering a true flavor experience to those daring to step beyond the platter of tequila shots at the local Mexican joint. Contrary to popular belief, tequila is not made from a cactus. Tequila is a spirit crafted from the Blue Weber agave plant, a bluish green succulent, which is a cousin to the lily and the amaryllis. The heart or “pina” of the blue agave is cooked in a kind of pressure cooker which forces out the juice or “agua miel”. This liquid is purified, fermented, and double distilled to a minimum of 40% alcohol.

The best tequilas are made from 100% Blue Weber agave (or just “blue agave”). Blended tequilas or “mixtos” may be made from a mixture of blue agave and other agave plants. These lesser tequilas often lack the freshness and finesse of pure blue agave.

The blue agave plant is native to our southern neighbor, Mexico, known for its hot climate, beautiful beaches, and spicy food. It makes perfect sense that the spirits crafted within Mexico’s borders would be appropriate and in fact, perfect, for warm weather sipping.

By law, tequila can only be crafted in five Mexican regions that together make up the state of Tequila. The most important of the five is the state of Jalisco, where the actual town of Tequila is found. If created outside the state of Tequila, a spirit cannot legally be called “tequila”. The two largest tequila companies, Sauza and Cuervo, are both located in the town of Tequila.

Tequila is divided into five categories: gold, blanco (or silver), reposado, anejo, and extra anejo. Gold tequila is generally the cheapest. The gold color is achieved through the addition of caramel coloring to a lower quality tequila. Gold tequila holds little intrigue and should generally be avoided.

Blanco tequila is the most pure in flavor. While pungent in nature, blanco tequila carries the true essence of the blue agave plant, unaffected by wood or age. It has a clean taste and can easily be sipped alone, shot with lime and salt, or blended into an ice cold margarita or other festive cocktail.

A reposado (“rested”) tequila is aged in barrel for three to twelve months. The extreme heat of the production region accelerates the aging process and allows the tequila to take on light notes of vanilla and wood.  A reposado tequila has a more mellow flavor than a blanco and the color is generally a pale caramel shade.

Anejo (“aged”) tequila must be aged one to three years in old Kentucky bourbon barrels. Anejo tequila has a deep golden brown color and is smooth and full-bodied with delicate essences of vanilla and oak. Cocktails are generally made with blanco tequila although mixologists are now experimenting with reposado and anejo tequilas to add extra dimension to their recipes.

Like anejo tequila, extra anejo tequila is also aged in old Kentucky bourbon barrels but must be aged for four years and is always made with a distillery’s very finest spirits. Extra anejo tequila is the most expensive tequila. Rarely made into cocktails, extra anejo tequila is served straight up and sipped.

A discussion of tequila is not complete without touching on mezcal. Mezcal aficionados already know that all mezcal is tequila, but not all tequila is mezcal. In other words, mezcal can be produced both inside and outside of Mexico’s Tequila region, while true tequila can only be produced within the borders of the state of Tequila. Also, tequila must be made with blue agave while mezcal can be made with any agave plant.

Mezcal has a strong, smoky flavor that comes from the roasting (as opposed to pressure cooking) of the agave plant. It is more artisanal than regular tequila as each producer has his own secret method of roasting the agave. Mezcal is an acquired taste and a splash of mezcal added to any cocktail gives a distinctly earthy flavor and smoky aroma.

This summer, branch out a little. Many local restaurants and bars now offer interesting tequilas and mezcals. If you’re feeling daring, order one of the many Mexican-style cocktails you may have never tried before. They just might rock your world. Try something new. Add a splash of tequila to your life and enjoy!

Cheers!

Questions or comments can be sent to 4elizabethkate@gmail.com. Follow Elizabeth Kate on Instagram at @ielizabethkate!

 

 

 

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