There’s not much that’s dignified or delicious about taking a shot of tequila. Sprinkling grains of salt onto your hand from a bottle that’s sticky for reasons you don’t want to think about. The awful, harsh flavour as the shot hits your tongue and attacks your tastebuds. And the mouth-twisting lemon to erase any trace of the drink, simply proving that tequila is totally disgusting.
But, surely, tequila can’t be all bad. If Mexico gave us guacamole, burritos and chocolate, tequila isn’t the issue here. It’s the drain water posing as tequila that the rest of us are drinking giving the decent stuff a bad name. There must be types of tequila that don’t have the flavour of the aftertaste of vomit. There must be a way to consume it without having to mask it with salt and lemon.
The first mistake most of us make is drinking tequila that isn’t produced using 100 per cent agave sugar. Tequila is made from the fermented juice of the agave plant. It’s a long old process: first the plants take eight years to mature. The plant’s core is then distilled. Similarly to champagne, only the drink made in Mexico can be rightly called tequila.
“The tequila that first arrived in the UK and Europe was mixto tequila. This means that only 51 per cent of the sugars came from the agave plant, the other 49 per cent came from other sources like grain or sugarcane,” explains Eduardo Gomez, director of Mezcal and Tequila Festival London. “Usually these tequilas were low quality. The hugely popular gold tequila was coloured with caramel which causes that horrible hangover the morning after.”
When selecting a tequila, avoid anything aged above four years, says Andrei Talapenscu, head bartender at Pullitzer in Amsterdam. Arm yourself with a few key terms: Blanco describes tequila two-months-old or less; Reposado is that which is between two and 11 months; Aneja is tequila aged between one to five years; and Extra Anejo a minimum of three years.
“After the four-year mark not much happens to it, and evaporation from the barrels makes the process very costly. So, let’s stick to Blanco, and have it the Mexican way,” suggests Talapenscu.
Taking shots of tequila is the next faux pas to leave behind, adds Andy Kerr, the co-owner of London’s Discount Suit Company bar. “Treat it like a sipping whiskey or rum. Nose it gently with small sips and let it open up for you. Use a tasting glass or wine glass to really open the flavours up. The best atmosphere to try it is when you’re relaxed with mates. It doesn't have to be in a shot but shots are still definitely allowed!”
Cocktail lovers, says Gomez, should try Bloody Marys with tequila instead of vodka. Or swap a G&T for a Paloma, served with tequila and grapefruit soda rather than tonic served over ice.
“Tequila and tacos goes hand in hand,” adds Josh Rooms, the bar manager of Cartel in Battersea, which stocks 70 types of tequila. “Anejo go incredibly well with slow cooked beef marinated with chipotle chillies, tomatoes, white onion and cooked with chorizo.”
Still, even these top bartenders have had some fun with a few shots of cheap mixto.
“I remember my first experience with a cheap 'tequila-flavoured spirit',” says Talapenscu. “We had back-to-back shots and an attempt to play pool which turned into a sword fight using the pool cues. I’m pretty sure I lost the fight and ended up sleeping on the beach that we were on.”