For many tequila represents a drinking experience shrouded in misadventure and more often than not a hangover worthy of suicide. Even amongst some of the more discerning drinkers, tequila is an unknown entity. So we set about to put to rest the most common myths surrounding this splendid spirit. Let’s start with the big one.
1. ‘Tequila is made from cactus’
The raw material that tequila is made from is in fact related to the aloe vera plant. Under the legislation placed upon the production of tequila by Mexico’s governing board, the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), only one plant may be used. This is the majestic Agave Tequiliana Weber Azul. There are over 300 varieties of the agave plant, with many others being used in the production of other common products such as mescal or agave syrup.
2. Good tequila has a worm in the bottle
This is completely untrue. Some Mexican marketing trickery is at play here amongst the producers of tequila’s close cousin, Mezcal. Contrary to popular belief, the worms possess no hallucinogenic properties upon eating. Rather, it’s the bottle of tequila you drank to get it that has you feeling a little bleary-eyed. The worm serves a more practical purpose, with an intact worm being proof of high alcohol content.
3. Tequila is best imbibed with lemon and salt
Well, if you believe what we tell you, tequila is a beautiful spirit with great depth and complexity. Even the shyest and least trained palates can begin to appreciate the intricacies of tequila. So, it stands that killing the palate with salt and then drowning the taste with lemon does little to complement the complex flavours of your tequila.
Depending which piece of folklore you subscribe to, this tradition may initially be the work of Mexican doctors prescribing this method for imbibing tequila while overcoming a flu epidemic in the 1930s. Should you feel a little hesitant about taking your tequila ‘naked’, ask your bartender for a side of sangrita. Slightly akin to a virgin mary, this spicy little palate cleanser is the perfect accompaniment to your tequila.
4. The ‘gold tequila’ myth
In a strange quirk for this industry, producers are permitted under legislation to produce a low-quality product commonly called mixto or ‘gold tequila’. This inferior version of tequila is only required to contain fifty-one percent agave spirit and the remainder can be made up from neutral grain spirit and sugars. The golden hue in your mixto tequila is nothing more than a colouring agent. It is these inferior tequilas that more than likely have led you down that treacherous path that induced the worst hangover you have ever experienced. Insist on one hundred percent agave tequila one hundred percent of the time.
Rested or aged?
Tequila consumption has come a long way in the bars of Australia, but still has a way to go. A visit to some of the city’s better stocked venues including Maya Tequila Bar, Seamstress or Black Pearl - will reveal a solid selection supported by staff that are versed in the intricacies of this diverse spirit.
Much like it’s back-bar counterpart, the fabled Scotch whiskey, tequila has great depth and variation. Flavours differ widely depending on factors such as location and ageing. Tequila can be made from agave sourced from five regions around Mexico, yet ninety-eight percent of all production comes from the Jalisco region, with the town of Tequila at its heart.
Location becomes particularly important when determining your favourite tequila. The Jalisco region is split into two distinct growing areas, namely the highlands and lowlands. It’s important to try some typical highland and lowland styles to uncover which is a better fit for you.
The classic match up is Don Julio versus Herradura. Both of these tequilas are widely available in bars around the city and each typifies the characteristics most commonly found in tequilas from their region. Don Julio is a great example of a highland tequila. Herbaceous and slightly spicy, this example sees little or no ageing but picks up a few notes of vanilla and a slight sweetness. Herradura is a classic lowland tequila that benefits from growing in the volcanic rich lowland soils. This results in a tequila that is noticeably sweeter, but with earthy notes and a distinct citrus finish.
From here, things get a little more complicated; with most houses offering a range of their tequilas with aged finishes. Blanco is the starting point and most pure in appearance, being aged or rested from zero to six months. Reposado or ‘rested’ tequilas have been aged for six to twelve months. This incarnation generally retains strong flavours from the agave while lending sweeter accents courtesy of the barrel. Vanilla will creep onto the palate while the nose will soften, tending towards floral. Anejo or ‘aged’ tequilas have spent between twelve months and three years in barrels. Vanilla is accompanied by maple and chocolate while the nose becomes rich with sultanas or wood.
There’s also a relatively new class of super-premium tequilas aged in excess of three years. The house of Jose Cuervo have released the Reserva de la Familia, a thick and rich example of a well-crafted and aged tequila. Akin to a sherry in depth, this is a perfect digestif should the budget allow.
While tequila can be readily appreciated neat as a sipper or shot, it also forms the essential ingredient in some of the world’s greatest cocktails. Perhaps take your hand to the following tequila-based cocktails next time you’re entertaining at home or ask for them by name in any of the city’s better bars.
This drink was created at Tommy’s tequila bar in San Francisco, home to one of the world’s best selections of tequila. The substitution of Curacao for agave syrup makes a perfect complement to the tequila and creates a beautifully balanced margarita.
50mls Gran Centenario plata
30mls fresh lime juice
15mls agave syrup
‘The Devil’ is a beautiful translation for this drink that deceptively draws out the evil in you while charming the palate and enticing the eye.
45mls Herradura blanco
10mls Crème de Cassis
10mls sugar syrup
30mls fresh lime juice
top with ginger beer
This tasty tipple is the Mexican equivalent of the vodka, lime and soda. The Mexicans use a grapefruit soft drink called Squirt that sadly doesn’t grace our shores. They throw in a pinch of salt, which we recommend for the adventurous.
50mls Don Julio blanco
10mls fresh lime juice
top with Tiro sparkling pink grapefruit