Most people have one of two reactions when they think about tequila. The first reaction is “You mean that delicious nectar that is grown and distilled in Mexico? Bring me a shot of it on the rocks, my good man!” The second reaction is a feeling of nausea, a tentative look towards the restroom, and blurry memories of a night on the town. The last thing you remember is someone shouting “Hey, let’s shoot some tequila!”
It is Cinco de Mayo, and we are going to celebrate all things Mexican. And as far as liquors go, it does not get any more Mexican than tequila. Tequila is the first distilled spirit on the North American continent, and we have the Spaniards to thank for that. When the conquistadors invaded Mexico in the 16th century, they had more pressing problems than making nice with the natives and establishing a place to stay: it is a long trip across the Atlantic, and they needed a stiff drink. The stuff the natives had, called pulque, tasted awful. The Spaniards applied some distilling techniques they used to create brandy and turned the stuff drinkable, developing what we know as mescal.
Mescal is the broader liquor category that tequila falls into. Think sparkling wine and champagne. Tequila, however, has some pretty strict standards that must be adhered to before the liquid inside can be called tequila. First, the agave used to make the tequila must be the Weber’s blue agave, a plant that can get over 6 feet high. Secondly, that plant must be grown in the Jalisco state in Western Mexico. Third, at least 51% of the liquor in the bottle has to come from the agave; the rest can be from other plants. The best tequilas are 100% blue agave, and most will announce that on the label. All of this is regulated and inspected by the Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM), which controls whether or not the bottle you buy is full of tequila or mescal. If you do not see NOM on the label, usually with a number near it, you do not have real tequila. These are all standards that are enforced by international law.
And before we move along, let us address the worm. The worm is never, ever, ever in tequila. If you find a worm in your bottle, you have a mescal, and a poor one at that. Some distilleries will add the worm (a larval form of a moth), to the bottle as a gimmick, but generally it is a bad sign if it slips into your bottle unannounced. Fortunately, they do not drink much while they are in there, and if you choose to eat it, you add some protein to your diet.
What type of tequila do you like to drink? Were you aware there were types? If not, here is a list of the officially recognized types of tequila:
- Silver (blanco) – if it is aged at all, it is for two months in steel or neutral oak barrels. Typically, it is bottled right after distillation.
- Gold (oro) – sometimes known as joven (young), it is a blend of blanco and reposado tequilas.
- Rested (reposado) – aged a minimum of two months, a maximum of one year, in oak barrels.
- Aged (anejo) – aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years, in small oak barrels.
- Extra Aged (extra anejo) – aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels
Most bars tend to carry blanco, oro, and reposado for your drinking pleasure. The more aged the tequila, the more the agave taste becomes mellowed by the contact with the wood. You will only find anejo and up in better Mexican restaurants and better restaurants in general.
When you mention sipping tequila on the rocks, as I prefer to do, most people will make a horrible face and look at you oddly. Because we all know how to drink tequila: you lick your hand between the thumb and forefinger, put some salt on it, lick the salt, shoot the tequila, and slam a lime wedge (or a lemon wedge, depending on where you are from). This is also known as using training wheels. You read that right, training wheels. And most of us, when we began drinking it, were trying to kill the awful taste of cheap tequila. But over the last few decades tequila has really matured. Brands like Patron, Cabo Wabo, 1800, Don Julio, and Jose Cuervo among many others have brought the reputation of tequila up from a hard party drink to a sophisticated sipping drink. Other lesser known (and well rated) brands include el Espolon, Tezon, Herradura, and Partida. Finding them in restaurants may be more difficult, but well worth the search.
Everyone in Dayton knows where to get the best margarita: Elsa’s Bad Juan rises head and shoulders above all other margaritas around these parts. Pepito’s in Kettering also makes a strong run at the top, at least according to activedayton.com’s latest “Best of” polls. And speaking of Best of be sure and check out some of these great Cinco de Mayo deals around the city. If you are going to stay home and party, here are two tequila drinks you can mix for you and your guests.
1.5 oz. tequila
1 oz. triple sec
.5 oz. lime juice
Using the lime wedge, wet the edge of the margarita glass you will be drinking from. On a plate, spread out a layer of salt, then run the outside of the wetted rim through the salt to create a rim. In a cocktail shaker, combine the tequila, triple sec, and lime juice with ice and shake well. Strain the shaken ingredients into the glass over ice. Enjoy.
This recipe puts a great deal of emphasis on the flavor of the tequila. If you want something with a little less of that flavor, add 2 to 4 oz. sweet and sour mix, depending on your tastes.
Now, if we are really celebrating Mexico and her heritage, how about trying the most popular tequila based drink south of the border, the Paloma.
2 oz. tequila
.5 oz. lime juice
Grapefruit soda (go with Jarritos for the holiday)
In a tall glass, combine the tequila and lime juice. Add your ice, then top it off with the grapefruit soda. Jarritos is available at Kroger, so finding it should not be difficult. Some recipes call for a pinch of salt as well, or a salt rimmed glass.
Do you know a place that secretly has amazing margaritas? Or has an exceptional selection of tequilas to try? Leave a comment down below and share the wisdom with the rest of us. After all, when Cinco de Mayo is all said and done, this may be the only way we can remember where we ended the evening. Enjoy!