Tequila should be sipped

Try Sipping Tequila!

I can’t stress this enough. In Canada and the US, tequila is just drank wrong! For all the time that goes into growing the agave, then the energy put into production and aging this is a spirit that really should be enjoyed slowly.

Tequila as a shot

Why do we slam back a shot of tequila and chase it with a beer? One of the points I like to make in my bartender training classes is that if it was tabasco in that shot glass, you too would want to throw it back and attempt to erase the after effects as quick as possible. This is definitely the case with bad tequila. The kind of tequila that smells vile. The same liquor you smelled in your vomit the next morning after a night of too many poor decisions. It’s a spirit you swear off as ‘never again’. That’s what happens when you drink bad tequila.

Of course, this doesn’t explain why Eastern Europeans toss back shot after shot of chilled, flavourless vodka. We’ll have to save that discussion for another post.

Why do we drink bad tequila?

Tequila is something that many people really don’t know much about. Hell, most bartenders know nothing about the spirits they are serving. I am no longer surprised by bartenders with 20 years of experience that think all Vodka is made from potatoes. 

Without education, we have to rely on experience. Without our own experience, we rely on anyone else with enough convincing power to have us try something new. Peer pressure doesn’t help. Someone buys a round of shots and we all seem to have to do one… whether we like it or not. Are those shots of tequila the good stuff, or the cheap stuff?

Poor quality tequila is in the well because it’s cheap! All of your well spirits are typically on the cheaper side because the house is looking to make the most they can from their bottles. When mixed with any of your juices or sodas, the nasty nature of most spirits is masked by those fruity flavours.

Serve the poor tequila up with a lime and some salt. Use a half glass of tomato juice, or a light beer. Anything to chase away the badness. Enjoy a good tequila like a fine cognac!

Be wary of the Mixtos

For being primarily drank only in Mexico for a very long time… the market was limited. Blue Agave takes 8-10 years to mature, and when the inulin is at it’s maximum the core of the plant is harvested. Think about how that plant has been nurtured. 8 years is a long time, plus hand harvested makes you think there is a lot that goes into processing the raw materials.

The heart of the plant still needs to be roasted, crushed and fermented. After all that work to make the alcohol, a pot still is then used to then distill the spirit. That’s a lot of work, which is why the Mexican government allowed producers to cut the expensive agave sugars with cheaper corn or cane sugar. A mixto is just that. Cheaper raw materials mixed in to keep the production costs down. 

agave being pit roasted for mezcal production
This is part of Mezcal production, which is not cheap
Photo by analuisa gamboa

Producers, without naming names, have found ways to make their inexpensive product look and taste like premium brands. Food coloring is typically added to make the mixto appear more like the higher priced aged products. Glycerin may be added to improve ‘smoothness’ which typically only comes with extensive aging. 

Try mixing up a cocktail

Tequila though just isn’t well known for being in cocktails. You could slip a lower quality tequila into a cocktail to disguise some of that nastiness. Do a little research first on your spirits though, and before mixing in other flavours try and enjoy the spirit on it’s own. A couple dollars more on a bottle can make a huge difference in your enjoyment.

We do cover a few different tequila cocktails in the Start Bartending Program. Learn some tequila cocktails! Substitute some of your more standard spirits in those classic cocktails for a more characterful spirit. Expand your cocktail knowledge. I’m thinking of the Brave Bull, or the Bloody Maria as great tequila cocktail examples.

Sip agave-spirits like whiskies

Look for 100% agave on the bottle. Mixtos will have some of those cheaper sugars mixed in. 100% agave ensures that the spirit in that bottle was made from only sugars from that blue agave plant. Distillers will take the time to craft their spirit to balance flavour and smoothness.

Pour yourself a short glass, no ice, and sip slowly. Let those vegetal flavours absorb through your mouth. Note the spiciness of the agave and any edges/sharpness that wake the inside of your cheeks. I like the blancos and reposados because of the prominent agave flavours. I have a short glass of El Jimador silver in front of me now!

I know Herradura was the first to get into aging tequilas as part of their product development. The longer aged tequilas, for me, seem to approach the complexity of whiskies. They aren’t whiskies and I won’t pretend they are. I want my tequila to taste like tequila. I know I’m not alone out there.

Life is too short for bad tequila

I like to say that anyone who has had ‘a bad experience with tequila’ has really just had ‘an experience with bad tequila’. Read that last sentence one more time and try to not agree with it.

Do your research! There is a pile of variety in the different bottled agave spirits out there. Each producer focuses on something a little different. Not all tequilas are equal! My girlfriend really likes the Clase Azul Plata that I got her, but at $200 a bottle I can’t keep supporting that habit. In my quest to find more cost effective alternatives that she is equivalently happy with… I have discovered a variety of different bottles. Some I definitely will never touch again, others I have been pleasantly surprised with.

No, I haven’t found a bottle that works yet, but it is a good mission for me to have. Find a place that serves flights of tequila, order a few to taste, then see what works for you!  

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