Today is National Tequila Day. (Tomorrow — no lie — is National Hot Fudge Sundae Day.) Around here, we don’t care about that. But we do care about tequila. Mostly drinking it. Although we also care about mixing it into cocktails and then drinking it.
There are a whole slew of posts on Professor Cocktail about tequila. Here are a few I’d like to highlight:
In celebration of Tequila Day, the Independentnewspaper (UK) asked some experts to recommend their favorite versions of Mexico’s national drink. Here are there selections, along with my commentary.
1. Tapatio Blanco Tequila — Hard to argue with this. It’s a very good tequila, reasonably priced. A little hard to find most places, unfortunately.
2. Calle 23 Anejo Tequila — Never had it, but people say good things.
3. Tequila Ocho — A little expensive, but definite quality. If you want a blanco to sip neat — or to make a killer Margarita — you can’t go wrong with Ocho.
4. Fortaleza Añejo — Never had it, although I tried the blanco at a bar and it’s very good. Very authentic.
5. Jose Cuervo Riserva de la Familia — Never had it. But it’s well regarded, and proof that Cuervo can make good tequila when they want to.
6. Patron Silver — Better than the reputation it gets from booze snobs, although not as good as the reputation it gets from the general public. It’s a pleasant, straight-ahead blanco. Probably not worth the premium price, but definitely reliable.
7. Casamigos — Never had it. Some people like it, I’ve heard.
8. Siete Leguas Reposado — I’ve not had the Repo, but the Blanco is good. Not great, but definitely good.
9. Herradura Tequila — Like Siete Leguas, this isn’t an outstanding tequila, but it’s certainly a darn good one.
Of these 9, Tapatio would definitely be my top pick. Salud!
The world of tequila operates, to a large extent, in the shadows. The basics are known: Agave tequilana (aka Blue Webar Agave) is harvested and cooked, the juice is extracted and distilled, and the result is tequila. But, as always, the devil is in the details.
There are many spirits companies that utilize production methods that are not only not evenly remotely traditional (despite their frequent claims), but they can even be damaging, both to the agave ecosystem and to the environment. And the resulting product often resembles true tequila is only a casual fashion.
As a result, I have put together a list of recommended tequilas. These are brands that use either traditional methods, or reasonable modern versions of them. (For example, they may use a stainless steel autoclave rather than a clay horno to steam the agave.)
In most cases, that means these are made by smaller companies, and thus their products may be harder to find and/or more expensive. But I think you’ll find that the effort is worth it.
I have not tried all of these (yet) myself. Living in a state like Virginia that is very un-tequila-friendly makes it challenging. But all of the products on this list are regarded as being at least good by the tequila community, and most of them are held in high esteem.
If you purchase or drink any of the tequilas on this list, you can be sure that you are getting a high quality product that is either made in the traditional fashion, or at least replicates it using modern techniques that I, at least, consider acceptable. (And, above all else, responsibly made tequilas do not use a diffuser at any stage of production.)
Responsibly Made Tequilas
Arette ArteNOM Blue Nectar Casa Noble
Siembra Azul/Siembra Valles
I would also like to list a few brands that have some questions about them, but are still, in my opinion, good products that I enjoy drinking.
Cinco de Mayo is coming up, so you’re probably going to drink some tequila. A lot of people think they don’t like tequila — it seems a lot of us have had more bad experiences with it than any other spirit. But most of that is due to over-consumption and, even more importantly, drinking lousy tequila.
Tequila is an amazing spirit: delicious, versatile, and affordable. Its vibrant, earthy flavor and balance of spicy and sweet is a real revelation. You just need to make sure you buy a good brand. (Most important tip: the label must say “100% agave” on it.)
This is not a list of the best, nor the cheapest, nor anything like that. This is simply the tequilas I’ve found myself drinking the most of in recent months — and I like all of them.
The newest tequila on this list, and one that is becoming a favorite of mine, even though I’ve only enjoyed it on a few occasions. Designed by the world-class bartenders of The 86 Co., this is a tequila formulated for cocktails that is delicious to drink on its own. Spicy and fruity while still retaining a pleasant lightness, the additional proof (43% abv) helps it shine bright even when mixed.
This is the tequila I reach for when I want to drink something elegant and smooth, but still bursting with flavor. It’s not cheap, but I think it’s a great example of how a big company can do things right.
This is the “everyday” tequila I use most often. Makes great Margaritas or Palomas, and is always a crowd-pleaser. It has the basic flavors you expect from a blanco tequila, all combined in a silky whole. It doesn’t have the big, vibrant flavor of something like Tapatio, so it’s an excellent entry-level tequila.
This might be my favorite tequila of all. It’s briny and sweet, and vegetal and spicy, all in amazing balance with each other. This is my go-to tequila for people who want to try something more sophisticated. The only thing wrong with it is that it’s hard to find.
Probably my favorite “budget” tequila, you can often find this on sale for under $18. It tastes good and mixes well, and while it lacks the balance of some of the others on this list, it’s solid and reliable and easy to find.
The world of tequila is a complicated one, torn between large commercial producers that use the latest technology, and smaller, more craft-oriented producers that do things the way that distillers have for generations.
There is not necessarily a clear advantage to taking one path or the other – great tequila can be made by companies both large and small – but there is certainly a fascination with and appreciation for those who take the extra time and effort to follow tradition.
Selección ArteNOM Tequila is a company that celebrates that tradition. They find great spirits produced by small distilleries, in a variety of locales and utilizing a variety of techniques, and bring them to a wider audience.
Their Selección de 1414 Reposado is produced by the Vivanco Family in Arandas, located in the Highlands region of Jalisco, Mexico. They grow their own agave and distill it into their own tequila, putting their personal stamp on everything they do. And that dedication to quality and control shines through in the final spirit.
Despite spending ten months resting in used American white oak barrels, this spirit is very pale in color – only slightly darker than the typical blanco. Naturally, it is 100% agave, in this case Blue Weber. It has a rich and appealing aroma of agave, both vegetal and sweet.
Once sipped, those same qualities come across on the palate. There is sweetness and a mild vegetal tang, accentuated by a touch of brine. It’s mild, but still very tasty, with spices including cinnamon and clove. Seleccion 1414 Reposado has a lot of different flavor components that are working together in balance, which makes it both complex and delicious.
It has a medium-long finish, not too hot or spicy. Only at the end does it kick in with a little something extra to remind you that you’re drinking a real tequila. But it never beats you over the head. This is subtle, rather than bold.
Overall, Selección ArteNOM Reposado is sophisticated and rich, highly recommended for both sipping and mixing. (It made an outstanding Margarita, although I felt it disappeared in the Paloma.)
Shake ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Can also be served on the rocks. Garnish with a lime wheel and a sprig of cilantro.
In a clean bottle, combine a good quality triple sec with several sprigs of fresh cilantro. (The exact amount will depend on how much liqueur you're infusing, and how strong you want to the cilantro flavor to be.) Let the cilantro macerate for at least 2 to 3 days, shaking the bottle periodically. Once ready, it should last in the refrigerator for several weeks, if not longer.
September 16 is Mexican Independence Day. I know what you're thinking: Isn't that Cinco de Mayo? Good question! But no.
September 16, 1810 was the day that the war of independence broke out between Mexico and Spain. (Mexico, of course, was part of the Spanish Empire back then, and under the rule of a Spanish Viceroy.) Various factions of Mexican life formed an uneasy alliance to rebel against Spanish rule.
The war continued for the next 11 years, after which Mexico finally defeated the Spanish. Peace was declared with the Treaty of Córdoba and Mexico was free…to appoint themselves an emperor. But don't worry, he was gone within the year.
So where does Cinco de Mayo (the Fifth of May) come into play? That was 40 years later. Mexico once again came under the thumb of a foreign power, this time the French. In 1861, French forces invaded Mexico, trying to capitalize on the political instability and general chaos that were the order of the day. But on May 5, 1862, the Mexican Army won a decisive battle near the town of Puebla.
Sadly, the Mexicans were to go on and eventually lose the war. This lead to the installation of Emperor Maximilian I as El Jefe. He's the guy who was buddies with Napoleon III, in case you remember him from your history classes. But Maximilian I only ruled for three years before Benito Juárez and his rebels got ahold of him and introduced him to a firing squad.
Cinco de Mayo as a holiday is largely an invention of Mexican-Americans, popularized in particular by the Chicano student movements of the 1960s. It has little meaning in Mexico itself, and here in the United States it has become little more than a marketing-driven holiday, used to promote partying and beer sales. (Not so different from the Fourth of July, really, which we use to sell mattresses.)
So if you want to celebrate the real deal Mexican independence, today is the day. History lesson aside, we can always use a good reason to celebrate, and September 16 is an important day in Mexico. Let's join with our neighbors to the south and do a little celebrating of our own.
For suggestions of some different brands of agave spirit to try, check out Professor Cocktail's Tequila Taste Test. Or see this review of Z Tequila (Blanco, Reposado and Añejo).
2 oz. Tequila 1/2 oz. Lime Juice 2-3 oz. Grapefruit Soda Pinch of Salt (if desired)
In a highball or collins glass, add tequila, lime juice and salt. Add ice and stir. Top with grapefruit soda and garnish with a lime wedge.
Professor's Note: For grapefruit soda, I like Jarritos (if you can find it) and San Pelegrino Pompelmo. For the record, I prefer mine without salt.
Adapted from a recipe by Trader Vic.
2 oz. Reposado Tequila 1/2 oz. Crème de Cassis 1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice 2 oz. Ginger Beer
Shake the first 3 ingredients with ice, then strain over fresh ice in a highball glass. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge.
1 1/2 oz. Tequila Don Julio Blanco 1 1/2 oz. Guava Nectar 1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice 1/3 oz. Agave Nectar 1 Slice Jalapeño
Shake ingredients vigorously with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (If desired, you can salt the rim of the glass.)
Professor's Note: Kern's makes a good guava nectar. There are also Mexican brands like Jumex and Goya that you can find in the Latino aisle at the grocery store. To make this cocktail really "top shelf," try using Tequila Don Julio 70, a clear añenjo tequila.
2 oz. Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion 1580 1 oz. Apricot Brandy 1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
Shake with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Recipe by Jacques Bezuidenhout
1 1/2 oz. Partida Reposado Tequila 1 1/2 oz. Manzanilla Sherry 3/4 oz. Mathilde Pear Liqueur
Stir ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Want to know how Professor Cocktail makes a Margarita? You'll find out here: Margarita recipe. (Scroll to the bottom.)
Finding spirits beyond the usual stuff can be hard. Sure, it's easy to pick up a bottle of Popov Vodka at the corner liquor store. But what if you want some El Dorado Rum or a bottle of Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon? In that case, you probably need to order it online — and Caskers is a great place to try.
Caskers has a small, but carefully curated selection, which means you can find some really good quality stuff there. The prices are okay — I'd say about in the middle of what you can expect to pay. They're not the cheapest, but you'll pay more most other places.
One of the things I like best about them is that they don't soak you on the shipping like some stores do. They periodically run free shipping specials — like the one they've got going right now. Between now and Labor Day, all orders of $150 or more qualify for free shipping. Also, they ship to most states, which is good for those who live in places with lousy stores. Like Virginia.
Please note: I'm not being compensated to say this stuff. This is not an ad. However, if you go through the link and buy something, I earn some referral credit. But I wouldn't send you to them if I didn't think it was a good service. So be a mensch and use my link, please.
I first became aware of Z Tequila when they won two Double Gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition earlier this year — an impressive feat for a small distillery with very limited distribution (currently only in Texas and California). This was a tequila I had to find out more about.
Z Tequila is produced in the lowlands of Jalisco, Mexico under the direction of Master Distiller Pepe Zevada, a veteran of the spirits business for four decades.
In the past, Zevada developed and nurtured brands for several of the big companies, including introducing Tequila Espolon to the American market. When he was offered the opportunity to create his own craft tequila, he jumped at the chance.
All three tequilas are made from seven to nine year-old Blue Agave plants — older than the norm — and are bottled at 80 proof. The Reposado and Añejo are both aged in Canadian white oak barrels rather than the more typical ex-bourbon barrels. Zevada is trying some unique things with his tequilas, a refreshing alternative to the mass-market brands.
Z Blanco Tequila ($30) – I started with the crystal clear silver tequila, a spirit bottled straight from the still. A lively, vegetal smell is followed by a burst of flavor and heat on the tongue. This blanco has a lot of rich, tequila taste, but not a lot of subtlety. It was a little too much for me to enjoy on its own, but it was smoother with a little dilution, and mixed up very nicely in a Margarita. (Some people say you shouldn't make cocktails with tequila like this. To them, I say: it was delicious!) Final Grade: B
Z Reposado Tequila ($33) – The Reposado has a more welcoming presence. The color of light straw, this expression spends at least nine months resting in barrels. The aging has smoothed out some of the rougher edges, lending it a crisp, woody and dry taste. It has the floral aroma of agave, with a nice, spicy presence on the palate. A fine sipping tequila. Final Grade: B+
Z Añejo Tequila ($35) – The Añejo was my favorite of all. A lovely golden hue, this tequila is aged for nearly two years in oak, and it's all the better for it. All of the harshness that I found in the blanco is gone. Simultaneously more flavorful and yet subtler as well, the Añejo demonstrates the mastery of Zevada. It has a lovely balance between spicy and sweet, and a finish that keeps you thinking of this tequila for a long time. Very well done. Final Grade: A
My only complaint with these tequilas is a small one. I found the bottle tops to be annoying. They look like wood stoppers, but are really just decorated screw caps. The Anejo top broke off in my hand when I opened it, and the Reposado has a frustrating pour restrictor on it, causing the spirit to dribble into the glass. Not a big deal, but such fine tequilas deserve better.
In celebration of the launch of his new book, The Last Minute, my friend Jeff Abbott has created a cocktail. It's called, appropriately enough, The Last Minute. In this video, he shows you how to make one.
The Last Minute, the second thriller featuring Sam Capra, is already getting some great reviews. Booklist called it "a fast-paced thriller with a likable, morally conflicted hero," while Publishers Weekly praised it as "exciting."
Reviewing one of his earlier books (Panic) in the Chicago Sun-Times, I called it “compulsively readable…an engaging page-turner that makes for fast and enjoyable reading.”
Jeff's a good guy and a good writer — and he likes cocktails as well. What more could you ask for?