Written by: Jay Schroeder, seasoned tequila expert.
All around the world, tequila and mezcal are having a moment. While craft spirit geeks nerd out on the insanely complex world of mezcal, tequila is also getting its due by gaining widespread acceptance as a go-to spirit. An increasing number of folks are abandoning vodka and gin and hopping on the tequila train.
Tequila has never been more popular, and brands new and old are rushing to grow in this booming market. What’s an enterprising tequila drinker to do? How do you know what’s good, bad or ugly? Where should you be spending your hard-earned dollars (or pesos)? And once you do, what’s the best way to enjoy Mexico’s favorite spirit?
Look for 100% Agave
Nobody wants to talk about laws when drinking, except for maybe those that allow drinking to happen (big ups to the 21st Amendment). When it comes to tequila, the laws that govern it are super important, and they can help guide you toward buying a better bottle.
Tequila is made from the agave plant, and that’s where it gets a lot of its flavor and personality. By law, tequila can be made from as little as 51% agave sugar, with the rest comprised of sugar cane. Such products aren’t required to say this on the label and are allowed to call themselves “tequila.”
Confusing, right? Look for a bottle that says “100% agave” on the label. By law, these have to be made entirely from agave sugar and nothing else. Finding a tequila that’s made from 100% agave insures that, at a minimum, everything in the bottle started its life as an agave plant. This goes a long way toward ensuring you’re in the direction of the good stuff.
Don’t Believe the Hype
Remember when I said that the tequila market is booming? That’s still a thing. There is no shortage of large corporations and celebrity-owned brands that are vying for your cash. Marketing hype does very little to guarantee that the tequila you’re getting is actually any good, and I’m willing to wager that very few celebrities are tequila experts.
If you want to know what’s quality, spend some time hanging around bars that specialize in tequila and seem to know their stuff. They can expose you to some pretty great lesser-known, but high-quality brands. You might even be able to save some bucks by holding out on the marketing hype and letting experts guide you.
How You Drink it Matters
The way you drink quality tequila can have a huge impact on how much you enjoy it. Let me step back and say that when it comes to drinking tequila, there is no “right” way. In a margarita? Go for it. Drowned in grapefruit soda? I’ve got your back. Ripping shots with salt and lime? There’s definitely a time and place. With olive juice? You may want to think about your life decisions, but I still support you.
That being said, when it comes to the good stuff, tequila can definitely stand on its own. Not everyone enjoys sipping on 40% alcohol spirits, but if you’re open to the possibility of drinking tequila on its own, there are a couple things you can do to better enjoy it.
1. Warm up your palate
Tequila is generally 40% alcohol by volume, and for most people, that can taste a little hot. But if you take a small sip of tequila and move it around your mouth, it will allow your palate to wake up and get ready for the concentrated spirit you’re about to drink.
2. Let it breathe
After you’ve taken the warm-up, take a slightly larger sip and hold it in your mouth. The second tequila hits your tongue, the alcohol in it will start to vaporize, which will spice things up. Gently breathe in through your nose, and then exhale through your mouth. This gets rid of some alcohol vapor and allows you to take your time in enjoying the flavor and texture of the tequila. At this point, you should be basking in the rich, sweet flavor of roasty cooked agave.
The only real way to become good at anything is to practice. Book a trip to Riviera Nayarit and make your way through tequila country in Jalisco, where you’ll get plenty of practice and learn more about tequila.