Salud to National Tequila Day!
There are certain dates we anticipate - like Christmas on December 25th, New Year’s on January 1st, the autumnal equinox on September 22nd, and as sure as death, Americans know their income taxes are due on April 15th. But in the Internet marketing age, it seems every product has a National this or that day we’re supposed to remember now too, and I mostly ignore them. There’s National Popcorn Day (January 19), National Jelly Bean Day (April 22), National Ice Cream Day happens to also fall on National Violin Day (December 13th). Am I remiss in not “celebrating” by eating mint chip to an Itzhak Perlman recording? But National Tequila Day on July 24th?
Heyooooo! Let the agave flow!
Why should we care? Because the category is exciting and better than ever now, thanks to smaller producers who pay attention to tequila’s true essence, flavor and traditions. Last Week at Tales of the Cocktail, the seminar Digging Into the Roots of Tequila, explored this topic from the perspective of botany and conservation. As moderator Elayne Duff pointed out, good tequila is dependent on the quality of the agave fruit, and “...where it comes from matters.” Most tequila is produced in the state of Jalisco, Mexico and some of its outlying areas - Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan and Tamaulipas, and there are defined highland and lowland growing regions. Highland tequilas tend to be fruitier, while lowland are typically earthier. Tequila is produced from only one species of agave (of which there are hundreds), Blue Weber. Studies have shown that there is almost no DNA difference between highland and lowland fruit, which means a tequila’s flavor is all about its cultivation and production.
As panelist and cocktail educator Don Lee pointed out, making tequila is not like producing anything else in the spirits category and takes way longer from field to bottle, because the ingredients themselves, unlike grain for whiskey, vodka or gin, or sugar cane for rum, have to age a significant amount of time before fermentation. The youngest age for what is considered a mature agave fit for tequila production is at least six years, and most quality tequila uses agave aged ten or more. Then of course, depending on expression (blanco, reposado, añejo or extra añejo), the distillate is aged longer before bottling.
Emphasis on quality
Tequila has come a long way, niños! You so do not need salt and a lime wedge to drink neat tequila if you order correctly, so if you’ve grown accustomed to only drinking it that way, try it without. Sadly, many consumers are introduced to the category with some nasty, commercial, artificially-colored stuff that isn’t as old as it appears. But all one needs to do is check the bottle. Make sure the product is 100% agave. This ensures a couple of things:
1) You are drinking the real deal. 100% agave tequila is like sex or pizza. Even when it’s not that great, it’s still pretty good.
2) More importantly, it’s not a mixto. Meaning, there are no additives such as coloring, chemicals or other spirits. FYI, mixto labels are not required to say what’s in them. They’re like the hot dogs of tequila. Don’t do it.
Some new brands to try:
Suerte: Named for the farmer’s rabbit who, according to legend, was found in the agave fields getting tipsy on fermented fruit and thus “discovered” tequila. Available in blanco, reposado and añejo (unaged, aged 7 mos to a year and 24 mos respectively), these have a light, clean taste that really allows the essence of the agave to shine through without too much fuss.
Casamigos: Yup, the George Clooney tequila. Looks, talent, brains, poise, business sense... and when he went into the celebrity product game, wouldn’t you know it, it’s actually good! Supposedly the story goes that he used to have the stuff made exclusively for private consumption, but then decided to share. Tastes a bit like what I would imagine kissing George is like - vibrant and juicy, with a pleasant spicy aroma and a smooth, soft finish.
86 Company Tequila Cabeza: The tequila made by bartenders (Simon Ford, Dushan Zaric and Jason Kosmos), for bartenders, from a traditional tequilero that has been producing for three generations. This well-researched spirit is the perfect canvas for cocktails, with a zippy, yet full-bodied flavor that doesn’t get lost when it meets other ingredients.
Calle 23: A highland tequila that is exceptionally fruity (tart apple, pear, grapefruit) and balanced. Available in blanco, reposado and añejo, depths of flavor build with the aged expressions. Fruits become richer (fig, plum) and take on spicy and sweet characteristics without too much of the oak overpowering the taste of the tequila.
Most of us find tequila by way of the simple, elegant and delicious margarita. It is, in essence, a simple sour cocktail that can easily be built upon. Recently, many bars and restaurants have created their own signature versions - heating it up, adding alternate fruit juices, herbs and fancy rims.
But sometimes it’s worth revisiting in its simplest form. Futz with it if you must.
2 oz tequila (blanco or reposado works best)
1 oz orange liqueur (we suggest Cointreau)
½ oz fresh squeezed lime juice
¼ - ½ oz (depending on desired sweetness) of agave syrup or simple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin with ice. Shake, shake, shake, shake! Until chilled and well combined. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.
Salud to National Tequila Day!