Sunday was National Tequila Day, a time to celebrate a drink that has often gotten a bad rap -- at least among high-minded drinkers who disdain slushy, sugary, kiddie cocktails or knocking back a shot off a stranger's torso.
And don't get us started about the hangovers. Please. (Must have been something awful in all those body shots.)
Until recently, I was more a part of the problem than the solution when it came to respecting Mexico's national liquor. In fact, I used to think I didn't like tequila. Turns out I don't like cheap tequila, unless, of course, it's whipped into an icy frenzy served in a salt-rimmed glass. (Sorry, Scott) Even with a room full of limes and salt, I have never liked shooting tequila, cheap or otherwise.
So, it seemed time to get myself a bit of an education to discern whether I really didn't like the stuff or simply didn't know enough about it. Turns out the latter was definitely the case.
I recently hit up tequila expert and wine sommelier Carlos Miramontes, of Xcaret in Riviera Maya, Mexico, for some info, and he spoke of tequila ne'er-do-wells and their unseemly treatment of what turns out to be quite a delicious liquor when you find the one that's right for you.
After the jump, his top five tequila don'ts:
1. No expensive tequila in margaritas. Mirmontes says there's no better sign of a tequila drinker without a clue than hearing someone order "a margarita with a shot of your best tequila." It's like pouring Heinz 57 all over a dry aged, USDA Prime, bone-in rib-eye.
2. No shooting tequila. Tequila is for sipping, not for shooting. It's for tasting, not for getting frat boys drunk on spring break for as little of mommy and daddy's cash as possible. Tequila should be smelled and swirled and sipped and savored, including all of the sensations from the nose to the mouth to the throat.
3. No real tequila is made of less than 100 percent blue agave, nor is it made anywhere else other than the state of Jalisco. The sources of true tequila is fermented blue agave and the state of Jalisco. Mixtos has at least 60 percent percent blue agave. Other sugars are fermented to make up the other 40 percent, and they can make for a nasty hangover. You can call them tequila, but I would just call them a bad idea. (Some argue that only 51 percent blue agave is needed for tequila.)
4. No lime and salt when drinking tequila. Lime and salt are to help the drinker tolerate the taste of inferior hooch, but real tequila tastes good all by its lonesome. No licking, shooting and sucking necessary for the good stuff. (And you know what I mean, so forget the dirty jokes.)
5. No worm. The worm is said to have been little more than a marketing trick for tequila's less-loved brother, Mezcal, which is made by cooking the piña or heart of the maguey plant. They flavor is often called smoky. I would say petroleum-like. Either way, neither it nor tequila needs/has/calls for a worm. Putting one in there is just about selling as many drinks as possible at Señor Frogs.
There are three primary tequilas to be concerned with, blanco (white), which is unaged or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels; reposado (rested), which is aged a minimum of two months but less than a year in oak barrels; and anejo (aged), which is aged a minimum of one year but less than three years in small oak barrels.
There are also subcategories: Joven (young) and oro (gold), which is blanco combined with either reposado or caramel flavoring to create a "smoother" taste. Then there's extra anejo, which is aged, you guessed it, an extra amount of time -- more than three years.
Just like wine, it's all a matter of taste. The best one to drink is the one that tastes best to you. Forgot all of those, "I sense a note of coal from deep in West Virginia combined with berries picked fresh from the south side of the Andes mountains and just a touch of Madagascar cinnamon" wine snobs. There are bottom of the barrel brands, of course, but aside from the worst of the worst, it's really about what you enjoy drinking.
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And that was Miramontes real message. Tequila should be about tasting, not eating a worm or doing enough shots to earn a T-shirt or paying the highest price on the list. If you like it, drink it. If you don't, leave the lime and salt alone and forget masquerading.
I tasted a lot of tequila while I was at Xcaret that day and while I was in Riviera Maya that week, and I never felt the worse for it. That's certainly something I could have never said for tequila drinking before, in margaritas or otherwise.
Respect the tequila, and it will spare you the hangover.