My first experience with tequila came pretty early in my drinking career. My second experience was delayed for several years.
We had a lot of fun that night, until the cops rounded us up and told us to go home. We weren’t hurting anybody or anything, but we were loud and walking through a residential neighborhood late at night. I remember being barefoot. I remember a terrible hangover. I remember not being able to even smell tequila much less drink it for a long time.
Everybody who drinks knows the mythology of tequila, mostly that it makes those who drink it crazy. More tequila stories have the words “bad decision” in them then any other kind of liquor. Songs are written about it, from the 1950 instrumental “Tequila”, to The Eagles sweet “Tequila Sunrise”, to Joe Nichols singing “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.” When Jimmy Buffet tells us he’s got booze in the blender, he’s talking about tequila, for sure. Tequila leaves a mark.
The ritual of drinking a shot of tequila is part of the draw. No other shot is so dramatic. One. Two. Three. Quick lick the salt off your hand, chug the shot, suck the lime, slam down your glass. Laugh like a maniac. You’re drunk. And no, you can’t fly.
Most people get who aren’t looking to get totally wasted, but want to enjoy an adult beverage, get their tequila in Mexican restaurants via the house margarita, frozen or on the rocks, with salt or without, but always a miraculous shade of radiation green. I’ve had great and lousy margaritas. The great ones come when I ask the bartender to make me a margarita from scratch and I choose what kind of tequila to use. When the drink comes out of the slushy machine, they are usually fine, but I worry that I’m going to get an over-sweet, under-tequila-d drink. I have a fix, though. If I get a margarita that tastes too sweet, I order a side shot of tequila to pour in. It takes away some of the sweet taste and gives me a nice buzz. I’ve heard it makes me more flirtatious with the waiters. Whatever.
Over the past couple of years, entrepreneurs have been trying to make tequila more respectable and less the party animal of the liquor shelf. A larger variety of tequila cocktails is available, and there is a push for drinking tequila on the rocks and sipping it as one does with Bourbon or Scotch. The push is for people to drink 100% agave tequila, therefore higher quality tequila.
Generally, Mexican restaurant margaritas and bar shot tequila use cheaper tequila, known as Mixtos, with less than 51% agave and diluted with sugarcane and corn distillates. If you drink that on the rocks, it will not be smooth. Harsh is the word is the word, and that’s why it can be used in easily in margaritas where the flavor is masked by sugar, or in bar shots where the flavor is masked by naïveté.
100% agave tequilas are drinkable from the bottle. Unlike Bourbon and Scotch which can age for more than a decade, extra aged tequilas are ready in 3 years. The longer a tequila is aged, the smoother and more complex the flavors can become. An unaged white (blanco) tequila will taste harsh compared to an older tequila, but still taste better than Mixtos.
I’m personally a fan of Reposado tequila which is aged about two months. Reposados can be dark or light in color depending on the type of wood it was aged in. It sounds cool when I order it. Looking cool while I have my one Reposado on the rocks has totally replaced looking cool while downing tequila shots. Age has made me smoother and more complex, as well