Tequila - How to Drink it and Remember
A quick online search of the word Tequila brings up over 50 songs written about that magical elixir from Mexico, with most referencing forgotten nights, impromptu “hook-ups” and one insisting that Tequila induces a woman’s clothing to simply “fall off”. Others discuss the practice and execution of tequila in a shot glass followed by exercises involving salt and sour citrus. Surely there has to be more to this 2,000 year-old beverage than drunken nights and next-morning headaches !
On a recent trip to Mexico I decided to take a deeper dive into Tequila and to get to know and understand this “Mexican water” that seemingly turns non-Mexicans into mush. One of the first things I learned is that the “/salt/lime/shot” approach is referred to as “Tequila Cruda”, and, party resorts aside, is a practice generally frowned upon by the Mexican people. Tequila should be given the same time and respect that is often awarded to spirits and wine - afterall, no matter which style of Tequila you savour, its journey to your glass took a minimum of eight years.
Yes – 8 years.
Tequila does indeed date back over 2 centuries and is produced from the Blue weber Agave Plant, which is a giant spiky-looking monster plant that grows to maturity in the desert in eight years. Each plant is a “one-time” use plants, as it is the core or ‘heart’ of the plant that is cut out and used for Tequila production. Once the cores are removed, they are then steam-cooked to get them ready for fermentation, involving either wild or cultured yeasts. Distillation of Tequila is carried via pot-stilled method (ie how some whiskies are made) and are generally distilled twice in order to expel unwanted impurities, flavous as well as to bring the alcohol value up to desired strength. From here, the Tequila can be bottled, or aged for a period of time, all depending on the style that the producer wishes to produce.
With regards to styles, there are 5 types, all related to how long they have been aged. What is important with these is not the brand but what each style represents:
Blanco/Sliver/Plata – these are clear spirits that range from no ageing at all, to up to 60 days “resting” in stainless steel tanks before bottling. Unaged tequila will showcase the raw taste of the agave plant with noticeable vegetal and earthy tones. Plata tequila tend to be mainly used for mixed drinks and cocktails.
Joven/Gold – usually headache in a bottle as they are only roughly 51% Agave. Most often these are unaged tequilas that have had additives such as faux colouring, syrup, glycerin and oak extract to name a few – it is these additives that have been causing Gringo’s much regret over the last several decades. In fairness, there are a few decent bottles out there, however, if you must indulge, play it safe by incorporating them into string flavoured cocktails (but better yet, just avoid – your brain and liver will thank you).
Reposado – these are “rested” tequilas that have been aged in wood casks from a minimum of 2 months up to 9 months. Barrel ageing affects tequila that same way as wine and spirits, with minute exposure to oxygen changing he complexity as well as the flavours of the oak imparting unique qualities. 2 to 9 months in oak softens the Tequila, adds a light straw-like colour as well as some mellow oaky notes. These are the mid-tier of Tequila’s and work very well in mixed drinks, juice blends Reposado and grapefruit juice is a personal fave) – they are also smooth enough to be sipped on their own
Anejo – indicates an “old” or “aged” Tequila. For this style, French oak or used bourbon barrels are used, with the ageing process lasting a minimum of 1 year. Most are aged between 18 to 36 months are produce a darker coloured spirit with vigour and complexity. Some of the best Anejo’s are aged up to 4 years in barrel – this seems to be the limit though before the fundamental flavour characteristics of the Tequila spirit diminish. These are smooth, complex and rich – very similar to high end whiskies. Slight chilled, they are best sipped with time and respect.
Extra-Anejo – this is a relatively new style that is experimenting with ageing tequila more than 4 years in wood barrels. The earthy, vegetal notes tend to disappear with stringer butterscotch, caramel and oak infused flavours dominating. As with Anejo Tequila’s, these are sippers (no shots with these)!
The many styles mean there is a lot of versatility in enjoying Tequila – from mixed drinks, to high end cocktails, through to refreshing juice blends and contemplative sippers. With the Summer months soon to be upon us, I encourage you all to experiment (respectfully) with the different styles – no doubt you’ll find one (if not more) that will have a permanent home in your liquor cabinet.
3 key take-a-way’s are:1) Always look for the words “100% Agave” on the bottle; 2) Respect and enjoy the taste, and; 3) Do not ever attempt a “Suicide” shot – some young gents from Wales described this as snorting the salt, shooting the Tequila and then sqeezing lime in your eye socket …………….. they may have been doing shots of Gold Tequila before they spoke to me ………………
For more information on Tequila or to book your own Guided Tasting please contact Somm4All today – firstname.lastname@example.org.