Tequila has come a long way from the days when every college kid did a shot of Cuervo. It has become one of the favorite spirits used by top mixologists around the country and even high-end bars. The selection of brands and premium brands has tripled in the last decade. But there are still so many misconceptions about this mysterious liquor. So with the arrival of Cinco de Mayo, I decided to de-bunk some myths and set the record straight with facts and not-so-facts of this agave-based spirit. Salud!
There’s a worm in the bottle.
A bottle of tequila has never and should never have a worm in it. Some low-grade mezcals (a spirit which shares many similarities with tequila, but is not the same) can contain a worm. But no matter what kind of alcohol you’re buying, a worm (or any other creature) in the bottle is a very bad sign.
Margaritas are the only tequila cocktails.
We all love Margaritas and the occasional shot, but tequila can also be used in a variety of ways and in some splendid concoctions. By tradition, all Margaritas must contain tequila and lime juice - that's it, the rest is up to you. Try it 'straight up' sometime! That way, you get a truer taste of the tequila not masked by mixer and ice water. From classics like the Paloma and Tequila Sunrise to new creations like my Jalisco Flower and Tequila Negroni, there is a lot to explore. While the Margarita is the world’s most famous agave-based cocktail, there are plenty of other delicious concoctions that are worth your consideration. Like the already mentioned and simplistic Paloma, which traditionally combines tequila, fresh lime juice, grapefruit soda and a pinch of salt. It’s perfect to batch for big parties since you don’t even need a shaker.
Tequila is only for shots.
Usually if you ask for tequila in a bar, it will be served in a shot glass. While that may be good for slammers, I would recommend treating the spirit as you would a single malt Scotch or an aged Whiskey. A wine glass, a Champagne flute or even a rocks glass will allow it to open up so you can enjoy the aromas, flavors and nuances.
Many people enjoy a well-made Margarita any time of year. But for this Cinco de Mayo, there is no reason that you shouldn’t go beyond your comfort zone and try a variation on it or something completely different. You should always start with an excellent 100% blue-agave tequila. Blanco (white) is a good base, but as you get comfortable with the spirit, experiment using Reposado and Añejo versions for a drink with a more robust flavor. Reposado represents a more aged-tequila and Anejo represents the highest quality and aged-tequila. Both of these can be used in cocktails, but preferable by themselves or in a cocktail with limited ingredients to fully appreciate it. Just look at the color of the liquid: more age = more gold color. Try Sauza Silver, Lunazul, Patron, or El Jimador (great value) or some great organic tequilas, like Casa Noble, 123 Organic Tequila, IXA Organic, or even brilliant Del Maguey Mezcals.
Tequila is very mixable and works well with a variety of fruits, besides the typical lime. Try pomegranate, watermelon, peach, blackberry, strawberries, or grapefruit. You can also muddle a handful of blueberries and blackberries, or chunks of watermelon and peach in your shaker before pouring in the remaining ingredients. Add a bit of grapefruit juice or soda, watermelon liqueur, mint, dill, cilantro, or chilies. A Blackberry Margarita or Watermelon Margarita are some of the creations used on my cocktail menus at RYS for summer soirees.
Don’t be afraid to spice up your ‘rita with a pinch of rosemary or cilantro, or a little jalapeño or habanero chile. But remember, less is really more when it comes to herbs and hot peppers. I make a great tequila infusion using the serrano pepper in blanco tequila.
To bring balance to the drink, you’ll need a sweet element, whether it’s simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water) or organic agave nectar. Mix agave nectar with equal parts water to dilute it (too think to pour otherwise and create an agave syrup). Citrus liqueurs like Cointreau and Grand Marnier also sweeten things nicely, but also look out for elderflower liqueur, watermelon liqueur or apricot liqueur.
With any good Margarita, there is a harmony among the alcohol, the citrus and the sweet flavors, so keep on tasting until you get it just right!
On Cinco de Mayo, there are three things you are pretty much guaranteed: tequila shots, mariachis and Margaritas. I have nothing against this holy trinity, but try shaking things up for the annual tradition this year.
Here are some of my tequila-based cocktails to enjoy at your Casa or favorite watering hole -
- 2 fresh dill sprigs
- 1 oz IXA Organic Tequila
- 1/2 oz KOVAL Orange Blossom Liqueur (if not available in your state, use Combier Liqueur d’Orange)
- 3/4 oz fresh white grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz organic agave syrup (1:1 agave to wáter)
- Grapefruit soda top
- 1-2 dashes of grapefruit bitters (optional)
- 1 dill sprig and lime wedge for garnish
How to make - In a mixing glass, muddle dill sprigs with agave syrup and lime juice. Add ice and other ingredients, except grapefruit soda. Shake well and fine strain using a strainer into an ice-filled collins glass. Top with grapefruit soda. Garnish dill sprig and lime wedge.
Spicy Tequila Sunrise
- 1 jalapeno pepper without seeds and 1 orange slice
- 1.5 oz Casa Noble Crystal Organic Tequila
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz organic agave syrup (1:1 agave with water)
- 3/4 oz fresh orange juice
- 1/2 oz pomegranate juice
- Soda water top
- Orange twist garnish
How to make - In a mixing glass, muddle jalapeno and orange slice with agave syrup and lime juice. Add ice and other ingredients, except pomegranate juice and soda water. Shake well and fine strain into a ice-filled collins glass or large highball glass. Top with pomegranate juice then soda water to create cascade effect. Garnish orange twist.
- 2 seedless watermelon chunks
- 1.5 oz 123 Organic Tequila (Uno)
- 1/2 oz elderflower liqueur
- 1/2 oz organic agave syrup (1:1 agave to water)
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz white cranberry juice
How to make - In a mixing tin, add all ingredients and ice. Shake well and fine strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Garnish lime wheel.
Tequila Blackberry Collins
- 5-6 blackberries
- 1.5 oz 4 Copas Organic Tequila Blanco
- 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 oz. organic agave nectar (1:1 agave to water)
- Lemon soda or soda water top
- Lemon twist to garnish
- 2 blackberries, to garnish
How to make - In a mixing tin, add all ingredients. Add ice and shake well. Fine strain into an ice-filled collins or highball glass. Top with lemon soda or soda water. Garnish with a lemon twist speared with one blackberry.
Adios Amigos y Amigas!