Tequila has come a long way from the days when every college kid did a shot of Cuervo or was the spring breaker’s drink of choice. It is now one of the favorite spirits used by top mixologists around the country. 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 Cinco de Mayo just a week away, I decided to set the record straight with facts and not-so-facts of the 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 wide range of other 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 are lots 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 incredibly simple Paloma, which combines tequila, fresh lime juice, grapefruit soda and a pinch of salt. It’s perfect 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 or someone’s home, it will be served in a shot glass. While that may good for slammers, I would recommend treating the spirit as you would a single malt Scotch or 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 with using Reposado and even Añejo for a drink with more robust flavor. Reposado represents a more aged-tequila and Anejo represents the highest quality and aged-tequila. Try Sauza Silver, Patron, or El Jimador (great value).
Tequila is very mixable and works well with a variety of fruits, besides the typical lime. Try pomegranate, watermelon, or grapefruit juice to the standard recipe. 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. I have a killer Blackberry Margarita and Watermelon Margarita on my cocktail menu.
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). Citrus liqueurs like Cointreau and Grand Marnier also sweeten things nicely, but also look out for the St-Germain 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 want you to seriously consider shaking up your annual traditions a bit this year.
Next up...Kentucky Derby