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How to drink Tequila like a Mexican

While a lick of salt, hurried shot and wedge of lime might be representative of many people’s experience of Tequila, its reputation as a slammer spirit is slowly disappearing.

The world is waking up to Tequila with the category quickly becoming the choice of drink for a new generation of consumers focused on seeking out super- and ultra-premium expressions. Tequila exports exceeded US$1 billion for the first time in history in 2014, according to the National Chamber of the Tequila industry (CNIT), growing by 10% from US$997 million in 2013 to US$1.1bn.

Dozens of ultra-premium brands are now enjoying marked success, while Diageo signalled its confidence in the category by acquiring the Don Julio Tequila brand from Casa Cuervo in exchange for its Irish whiskey Bushmills late last year. Meanwhile Hollywood actor George Clooney has launched his own premium Tequila, Casamigos, no doubt helping to further raise the reputation of the spirit.

Made from the blue agave plant, Tequila can only only be called such if it is produced in the state of Jalisco in Mexico, home to the city of Tequila. Mezcal is a style of Tequila produced outside of this region. While the slammer approach to Tequila is common, most Mexicans would recoil in horror to watch a fine extra Añejo necked down with a lick of salt, preferring instead to sip it neat.

Click through to discover how best to enjoy Mexico’s national spirit, as the natives do…

Choose a 100% agave Tequila

An Agave Plant

Most people’s experience of Tequila is marred by not understanding it as a category and its levels of quality, leading to a lifetime of drinking fairly average, often cheap Tequilas.

To get the most of the spirit, always buy 100% blue agave. Unless the bottle states that is is made from 100% blue agave, non-agave ingredients will make up its its content that are usually of lower quality and can affect the taste.

Bottles labelled “made with blue agave” usually indicates a mixto. The Tequila Regulatory Council states only that only Tequilas distilled with 100% agave can label their products as “100% agave”.

Drink old

Tequila might not have quite the ageing capabilities of Scotch, but it does improve with age becoming more mellow and drinkable. The older the Tequila, the better the quality is likely to be, so its worth spending a bit more on an older bottle. Tequila falls into five categories based on its age as follows, from the youngest to oldest.

  • Blanco – unaged Tequila that has spent less than two months in steel or oak barrels
  • Joven – unaged as above but coloured gold
  • Reposado – aged between two months and one year in oak barrels
  • Añejo – aged  for between one to three years in oak barrels
  • Extra Añejo – aged for more than three years in oak barrels, a category established in 2006.

Because of the high evaporation rate of Tequila, due to the country’s higher temperatures, ageing a Tequila for longer than six years is largely not worth the effort as much of your product would be lost, making what is made very expensive.

One of the world’s oldest Tequilas is AsomBroso Extra-Aged Añejo Tequila, 11 Year Old. At US$1,200, it is made from 100% blue agave and matured in French oak barrels. Its bottle was inspired by an eighteenth-century crystal decanter discovered in an English castle by the brand’s founder Ricardo Gamarra.


Serve it in a “little horse”

Riedel’s Ouverture Tequila glass

Tequila is most often served neat in a narrow shot glass called a caballito, “little horse” in Spanish. The glasses are typically taller and thinner than the stubby versions in the US and UK.

In 2002 the Consejo Regulador del Tequila approved an “official tequila glass” called the Ouverture Tequila glass, made by Riedel.

No licking of the hand, thank you very much

While western palates might be accustomed to knocking back a shot of Tequila having licked a packet of salt off the back of your hand and then shoving a lime wedge in your mouth, this is no way to drink a fine Tequila. This method, known as “Tequila cruda” and sometimes referred to as “training wheels” or “lick-shoot-suck”, did originate in Mexico, but it is more commonly associated with a younger generation of Mexicans drinking very young, lesser quality Tequila.

To drink Tequila as the Mexicans do keep it simple, sipping it neat sipping from a caballito. If preferred, try dipping a wedge of lime in some salt and suck on it in between sips. In some areas, it is popular to drink Tequila with a side of sangrita – a sweet, sour, and spicy drink made from orange juice, grenadine, or tomato juice, and hot chillies.

Mix it up

Ask anyone what their favourite Tequila-based cocktail is and they will most likely say the Margarita – a drink credited with helping make the spirit popular in the US and around the world. A traditional margarita comprises Tequila, Cointreau and lime juice with the glass typically rimmed with salt or sugar.

While the cocktail’s exact origins are unknown, one suggestion is that it was invented in 1938 by Carlos “Danny” Herrera at his restaurant Rancho La Gloria, halfway between Tijuana and Rosarito in Mexico, for customer and former Ziegfeld dancer Marjorie King, who was said to be allergic to many spirits but not Tequila.

However the more commonly accepted story is that is was invented in October 1941 at Hussong’s Cantina in Esenada, Mexico, by bartender Don Carlos Orozco for Margarita Henkel, the daughter of the then German ambassador. The cocktail comprised equal parts of Tequila, Mexican orange liqueur called Controy and lime and was served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass.

Another popular Tequila-based cocktail in Mexico is the Paloma, Spanish for “dove”, a made by mixing Tequila with a grapefruit-flavoured soda and served on the rocks with a lime wedge.

A word on the worm

The “Tequila worm” is perhaps the biggest misconception associated with Tequila.

It is more strongly linked to Mezcal, an agave-based spirit produced outside of Jalisco in Mexico, however only certain bottles of the spirit, usually from the state of Oaxaca, are actually sold with a worm. The worms are the larvae from the Hypopta agavis moth, which lives of the agave plant and occasionally got cooked up in the distillation process.

The concept of dropping a worm into a bottle of Tequila was dreamt up in the 1940s by Jacobo Lozano Paez as a marketing gimmick, which proved successful. It has since become tradition, outside of Mexico, to eat the worm.

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