Tequila is so evocative of the country it is made in. Think hot sunny days; dusty, colourful Mexican streets; fresh and flavourful produce; the bright brass sound of mariachi; the simple cantinas serving cervezas and our hero spirit.
Tequila is not a spirit that you want to slam back, it is a drink that you slow your life down for. You sip and savour it, just as the patrons do in those cantinas.
This hasn’t always been the case, however. For a little while, tequila lost its way, especially in the latter half of the 20th century. In short, some producers abandoned the time-honoured traditional, artisanal production methods in favour of more efficient ones. Machines were created to remove as much of the sugar from the agave plant as possible, in order to get the most amount of liquid from fermentation and distillation.
Some companies started using a mix of agave and other sugars for the base material of their tequilas. These products were called mixtos. They were allowed into legislation in 1964 with a minimum requirement of 70% agave making up the recipe, however this was reduced to 51% in 1970.
Complexity and flavour were lost, with some companies making little more than alcoholic paint strippers. As a result tequila gained a reputation as a party drink. It became something to throw back and shudder over, because who enjoys drinking something that tastes so rough and ready?
The quality revolution
Fast-forward to the last decade, and the conversation has changed again. Recently there has been a movement back towards 100% agave tequilas. Producers and drinkers are looking for complexity of flavour, and the concept of sipping tequila has become more popular.
For those who want to do so, in order to truly appreciate the nuances of a top tequila, choice of glassware is important. Tasting tequila in an ISO glass or small wine glass is preferable.
As well as sipping it solo, one of the most underappreciated aspects of tequila is that it can make an excellent accompaniment to food. Quality blanco tequilas – made entirely with agave – match especially well with fish and seafood. This is because the minerality that can often be found in the tequila plays well with the flavours.
Dishes with citrus also work particularly well. And of course there is Mexican cuisine – tacos, tostadas and mole, enchiladas and elote just for starters – which is a natural bedfellow for tequila.
Reposados and añejos are better suited for dessert pairings. Generally reposados often work well with more creamy desserts such as crème brûlée. Meanwhile añejos match with deeper, richer-flavoured desserts – think chocolate mousse or chocolate torte.
With or without food, tequila should be sipped, not shot.
Best tequilas for sipping
Calle 23 Criollo
This special limited-edition tequila is made with criollos – a mutation of Blue Weber agave that is smaller and boasts a higher sugar content. This has a rich palate that is at once earthy, mineral and buttery, with vegetal agave notes, salt and pepper, menthol and kiwi fruit. Sold in a hand-blown bottle, it is one beautiful tequila to own. Alcohol 49.3%
Codigo 1530 Origen Extra Añejo
One of the big points of difference that Codigo 1530 has over other tequila brands is its exclusive use of ex-Napa Valley Cabernet barrels. This extra añejo is aged for over six years in these casks. The result is a deep, rich spirit with flavours of red wine, Christmas cake, vanilla and coffee grounds. Alc 40%
Curado Blue Agave
Curado is an exploration of agave varieties from different regions. The brand has three expressions, each representing a different type of cooked agave, which has been infused in tequila to give a rich agave experience. The Blue Agave expression infuses Blue Weber agave, resulting in a palate boasting plenty of sweetness, with marmalade, heather honey and brown butter, plus spicy chilli, sesame and hazelnuts. Alc 40%
Don Fulano Añejo
A blend of different aged tequilas, with the youngest having been aged for at least two-and-a-half years in new and used French limousin oak. This añejo boasts a delicate nose with a lifted florality: bergamot and lavender mix with tobacco, toffee and wood shavings. This complexity continues on the palate, with orange and blackcurrant mingling with chamois leather, varnished sideboard, caramel and vanilla. Alc 40%
El Tequileño Reposado Rare
Heralded as ‘the world’s first and only reposado rare’, this quality mixto tequila has been aged in 25,000-litre barrels for six years. To put this into context, reposados are only allowed to be aged for between two and 12 months. Sweet aromas of vanilla, Werther’s Originals, bay leaves and Granny Smith apples lead onto a sweet and spicy palate of butterscotch, Szechuan pepper, green capsicum, pencil shavings and vanilla. Alc 40%
G4 Tequila Blanco
Made by Felipe Camarena, G4 is a testament to the mad scientist approach he takes in producing his tequilas. From modifying steamrollers to crush his agave, through to collecting and using rainwater in this tequila, he doesn’t take any shortcuts. The result is an expressive, floral nose and an oily, viscous palate with incredible minerality, cream, agave and spicy white pepper. Alc 40%
Gran Patrón Burdeos
A super-premium tequila in the Patrón stable, Gran Patrón Burdeos is aged for a year in American and French oak barrels, before it is distilled again and finished in first-growth Bordeaux casks. A memorable liquid, it’s silky smooth, full of red fruits thanks to the wine cask influence, alongside sweet honey and granola, with deep notes of cocoa, coffee and vanilla. Stunning. Alc 40%
Fortaleza Blanco Tequila
Maintaining the traditional practices of making tequila in its tiny distillery, everything in Fortaleza is done by hand, right down to the agave-shaped bottle stops being made and hand-painted on site. The blanco is simultaneously rich and fresh, with grassiness, lemon zest and mint overlaying buttery agave and olive notes, with a touch of sea salt. Alc 40%
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