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.
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.
The Long Island Iced Tea has one of the worst reputations of any cocktail. For good reason, too. Served by the gallon at every TGI Fridays and Applebee’s across the land, it’s usually made with way too much bottom-shelf booze and chemical sour mix from a bar gun.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s actually not a bad drink when made right. It’s not a sophisticated or nuanced cocktail by any means. But that’s not always what you’re looking for.
I’m not the only one who still has a fondness for this potent party bomb. Rockstar bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler enjoys them, too, and his recipe is basically the same as my own.
The key is to use high quality spirits and fresh lemon juice. If you make this with cheap triple sec or bottled sweet and sour, it’s going to taste like crap. (Just like you probably remember it.)
On the other hand, if you use the good stuff, it’s a surprisingly tasty and refreshing drink. The brands I used when I made this were: Stoli (vodka), Tanqueray (gin), Cruzan (rum), and Olmeca Altos (tequila). You don’t have to use those specific ones. Just make sure you reach for something good.
This twist on the immortal Old-Fashioned was created in 2007 by Phil Ward at New York’s famed cocktail bar Death & Co. It is, in Robert Simonson’s words, “the most renowned of the twenty-first-century variations of the Old-Fashioned, and one of the modern cocktail’s gateway drinks into the pleasures of tequila and mezcal.”
In order to make this drink right, high-quality tequila and mezcal are essential. In his book, Simonson recommends using El Tesoro tequila and Del Maguey mezcal. Those are both excellent choices. Although you can substitute another top-shelf reposado tequila, you’re probably better off sticking with the Del Maguey mezcal, as it’s the gold standard for the spirit.
Combine all the ingredients except the orange twist in an Old-fashioned glass filled with one large ice cube. Stir until chilled. Twist a large piece of orange zest over the drink and drop into the glass.
Adapted from a recipe in Robert Simonson's The Old-Fashioned.
From the mid-1840s until after the Civil War, the smash was America’s favorite mixed drink. Called by Jerry Thomas “a julep on a small plan,” the smash is a simple-but-delicious cocktail that emphasizes fresh ingredients, minimal preparation, and bold flavors. It’s the perfect style of drink for the summertime.
A smash is usually composed of a base spirit (whiskey, rum, brandy, gin, etc.), fresh fruit or herbs, and lots of crushed ice. It is meant to be cold and refreshing, a little liquid treat. Traditionally this was a small drink, intended to be quaffed quickly. But like most of us, it’s gotten bigger over the years.
I set out to make a drink with great summer flavors — tequila and watermelon go wonderfully together — and to ensure that anyone could easily make one at home. Nothing fancy here. But it’s still delicious.
5 oz. Fresh Watermelon (approximately 8 one-inch chunks)
8 oz. Crushed Ice
In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle the watermelon with the lime and agave until well combined. Add tequila and crushed ice. Shake vigorously, then pour unstrained into a goblet or Margarita glass.
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.