Not Your Father’s Tequila!
Mention the topic of tequila to your average North American, and you will likely get a response similar to this: “Tequila and I don’t get along. Got wasted on it back in college one time and woke up with a massive headache.” As someone who has been preaching about the pleasures of fine tequila for over 10 years, I can tell you that is the response about 95% of the time.
Tequila has been maligned due to several misconceptions. Most people on our continent associate a tequila experience with lime, salt, loud music, shouting, a server pouring “shots” directly into their mouth from the bottle, large quantities of the liquor in a short period of time, and…..a huge headache the next morning. We’ve probably all had this type of tequila experience. Therefore, consuming shots of tequila is thought to be over the top. Something respectable people don’t do.
But that’s not what tequila is all about, and, more likely than not, the liquor involved in the experience described above wasn’t even real tequila. That liquor was probably a “mixto,” which is a liquor partially made from blue agave that can contain up to 49% sugar cane alcohol. Mixtos are very common in the US. Many of them contain the word “gold” in their name and are gold in color to give the appearance that the “tequila” has been aged for a long time in oak, which it hasn’t.
In reality, mixtos are unaged (and so usually very harsh), and the color comes from added caramel coloring. They are a fraud perpetuated on the North American market. They aren’t sold in Latin America as the Latins know enough to steer clear.
If you want to enjoy tequila, the only ones worth drinking are made 100% from agave. You will be able to easily identify this type because the label will say “100% de Agave” or “100% Agave.” If the label doesn’t say this, the tequila is a mixto. Slight digression—by law, no tequila contains a worm in the bottle. If there is a worm, you are drinking a mezcal (tequila is a sub-category of mezcal).
Fine tequilas come in four basic varieties: (i) silvers or blancas, (ii) reposados, (iii) anejos, and (iv) extra anejos. The silvers come right out of the still and are either immediately bottled or are aged up to 3 months. Since they don’t spend much time aging in oak, they offer the purest agave flavors. Reposados are “rested” in oak barrels anywhere from 3 months to one year. Anejos are aged from one to three years. Extra anejos are aged a minimum of three years.
The aging process mellows out the tequila and adds complexity in both taste and aroma, such as a caramel or floral scent. Fine tequilas are made to be enjoyed much as you would a cognac or fine wine. They are meant to be savored….slowly. If you approach tequila in this fashion, you will open up a brand new universe of sensory pleasure.