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!
Sangrita is a traditional Mexican accompaniment to tequila, a delicious, umami-filled chaser made from tangy fruit juices, spices, and sometimes a little tomato juice. (You can read more of the Professor’s thoughts on sangrita and see a previous recipe.)
Here is another recipe that I tried, that gives it a different kick. I like the use of Clamato — it takes this sangrita more in the direction of the flavor I associate with a Michelada or coctel de camarones.
This pairs beautifully with a reposado tequila, such as Don Julio (who kindly provided me a sample to try it out).
Coming in at 84-proof, Peligroso Silver Tequila may not exactly be “dangerous,” but it definitely has some heat to it. You can whiff the alcohol right from the glass — I’d have guessed it had an even higher octane than it does. You also get the agave aroma you’d expect from a 100% agave tequila. (And, as you know, the Professor doesn’t drink any other kind.)
The alcohol comes over on the palate as well, especially on the finish. It gives that lingering burn to the throat, in case you like that kind of thing. I found it a little harsher than I prefer. The flavor was also a little one-dimensional. There’s an earthy agave taste leading to some peppery bitterness and a hint of tobacco. Not really a well-rounded flavor like I was hoping for.
Not bad by any means, but not a stand-out in the category.
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.
While we celebrate Halloween in the United States, Mexico is busy observing Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. It’s a more serious holiday than Halloween, a time to remember family and those who have gone before us. But it’s also a joyous one, with celebrations featuring plenty of good food and drink.
And that’s why today we’re discussing tequila. I’ve talked before about some of the tequilas I like to drink, and one of the mainstays on the list is Don Julio Blanco. Most of the big spirits companies don’t do a great job with tequila. Their products are too artificial, too manipulated, too manufactured. But Don Julio tequila is a spirit I don’t hesitate to recommend.
When you hold up a glass of this tequila, you see the crystalline purity, while the aroma bursts forth: bright, saline, and herbaceous. Such a lush and appealing scent. You can tell that a great deal of the agave’s essence has been transformed into the spirit — exactly what you’re looking for in a good blanco tequila.
The agave is also up-front-and-center on the palate. It’s a little sweet at first, changing to salty and spicy after a moment. The delicious, vegetal flavor is just as lush as the smell. It also has a nice, viscous mouthfeel, with a brief, slightly bitter finish without too much heat. Don Julio made be owned by Diageo, the largest drinks company in the world, but the people making this tequila know what they’re doing.
Don Julio Blanco tequila is too good to shoot. It should be sipped and savored. Or, naturally, you can enjoy it in a fine cocktail like a Margarita or Paloma. Lately I’ve been enjoying it in a simpler preparation. Add a healthy measure of Don Julio to a glass with ice, throw in a squeeze of lime and a splash of agave nectar or simple syrup. Simple, but elegant and delicious.
Although mezcal is gaining in popularity in the United States, it’s still mostly unknown (or misunderstood) by the average consumer. This is a shame, as mezcal is a wonderful spirit with a great deal of potential.
To the extent that most Americans have heard of mezcal at all, they think of it as “that booze with the worm in the bottle.” This is, for the most part, wrong. There have been a few companies in the past that have sold their mezcal “con guisano” (with a moth larva in the bottle). But that was nothing more than a marketing gimmick. It has nothing to do with the spirit itself.
Mezcal is similar to tequila in that it is distilled from the agave plant — a succulent, by the way, not a cactus — and can only legally be made in certain regions of Mexico.
Most mezcal is made in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, and it is made from a variety of different types of agave, including espadin, tobala, and arroqueno. Tequila, on the other hand, is made in western Mexico, mostly in Jalisco, and must be made from Weber blue agave (agave tequilana).
An even more important difference between tequila and mezcal is the way that the agave is cooked before distillation. With tequila, the agave piñas are traditionally cooked in ovens (called hornos) using steam. With mezcal, the agave is roasted in a pit over a wood fire (usually oak or mesquite). This process imparts a smokiness to mezcal that to many is the trademark of the spirit.
(Note that not all mezcal producers produce their spirit in this fashion. Some utilize methods to minimize the smokiness of their distillate, while others dispense with the roasting altogether. Similarly, not all tequila producers cook their agave in hornos. These are matters of some controversy in the agave spirits community, and for good reason.)
Like most mezcals, El Buho is made from espadin agave in Oaxaca. It is roasted using mesquite wood, something that is immediately evident when you open the bottle. An initial smell of salt and pepper gives way to lots of wood smoke. A deeper inhalation leads to brininess, along with the expected ethanol.
For those who aren’t used to drinking mezcal, the flavor is quite unique. El Buho has a strong earthy taste of mesquite smoke that is complemented by scant sweetness and tropical fruit notes, and some roasted chili as well. There is almost a burnt tire quality to it — which sounds unappealing, but really isn’t. The finish is long and smoky, with the briny quality from the aroma returning.
El Buho is an excellent mezcal to start with, given that it costs quite a bit less than most on the market. It may lack some of the balance and nuance of the more high-end expressions, but it represents a very solid example of the genre.
Although El Buho is fine on its own, it would also be welcome in a variety of cocktails, including the Oaxaca Old-Fashioned.
Casa Noble tequila is produced at Distillery La Cofradia (NOM 1137) in the Central Lowlands of Jalisco, Mexico. It is made from 100% Blue Agave, and is distilled three times, rather than the more typical two. It is also notable for being organic, and for the distillery being certified green.
Casa Noble Crystal tequila is their unaged expression, and it comes in an attractive hand-blown glass bottle. The liquid inside complements the bottle, with its pure, clear appearance (befitting its name).
This tequila has a full nose — lots of herbaceous agave. The aroma is salty and just a touch fruity, rather like green olives. This may have been triple distilled, but there is still plenty going on here.
The flavor of Casa Noble Crystal is true to its scent. It is savory and salty — again, reminding me a bit of olives — herbaceous and vegetal, with only a little sweetness. You can really taste the fresh agave, just as you should be able to with a blanco tequila.
Overall, it is robust, earthly and flavorful, but not overly hot. Excellent to enjoy on its own or in a cocktail. A very nice example of an unaged tequila.
Blue Nectar is a new tequila that arrived on our doorstep. I’d barely heard of it before and didn’t really know anything about it. But since I love tequila, and have been drinking more of it lately than anything else, I was eager to learn more.
Blue Nectar Tequila Silver is triple distilled from 100% agave grown in the lowlands of Mexico. (Double distilling is more common.) This is the region of Amatitán, not far from Guadalajara.
Blue Nectar is made at distillery NOM 1459, which also makes Don Azul, Gran Tulum, and Los Tres Tonos tequilas, none of which I’m familiar with. Some of the better known tequilas from the area, made at different distilleries, include Herradura and Jimador.
This tequila comes in a very attractive, modern-looking bottle that is tinted slightly blue. The tequila itself, however, is crystalline in appearance and pure.
Once poured, Blue Nectar smells crisp and briny, with a warm, vegetal aroma of agave. The flavor is also briny, slightly spicy on the tongue, and not too sweet. That is followed by a brief finish.
No flavor really dominates this spirit. There isn’t much taste of agave, as you would find in a more authentic tequila. (The triple distillation probably adds to that.) There’s an overall balance to it that is agreeable, but somewhat forgettable.
Blue Nectar Tequila Silver has a pleasant flavor, but it lacks much distinctive character. I would certainly drink this if someone poured it for me, but at its price level I don’t think I’d seek it out.
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.