A few months ago, I did what I could to introduce the relatively uninitiated to the world of single malt scotch. Most people don't even think about scotch in their youth, understandably so. It's expensive, and like brandy is normally considered an "old man drink". Today I'm going to be addressing a wildly different spirit. It's one just about everyone encounters in their younger days, then wants nothing to do with ever again. It is time to set things straight, and rehabilitate the reputation of tequila.
The Shit You Drank As An Undergrad
As I see it, the reason tequila gets such a bad rap is because cheap tequila is really, really awful. Like, use-it-to-clean-the-toilet-bowl-you-puked-it-in awful. And unlike rum, vodka, cheap whiskey, or gin, young people for some reason torture themselves by taking this crap straight. I've never found a use for the salt - I have high blood pressure anyway - but the lime barely touches the burn and certainly does nothing to help with the aftertaste.
If you see a bottle in the tequila section of the liquor store and it does not have the "100% Agave" on the label, it's for mixing only. And not even mixing with something gentle like Sprite. This stuff only belongs in a heavily flavored cocktail like a Margarita, or in your own mix with sickly-sweet ingredients like orange pop or Blue Curacao.
Real 100% agave tequila is ordinarily classified by age into Blanco (youngest), Reposado (barrel-aged 2-12 months), Anejo (1-3 years), or Extra Anejo (3+ years). That's fine if you're shopping in Mexico and have access to the zillions of distilleries, but less so if you're in Canada and the good stuff is hard to hunt down. Instead I'd rather provide my recommendations for what I drink and how I take it. I also can't recommend enough that if ever in Mexico, you must track down the tequilas from the domestic-only market. Mexicans save many of the best labels for themselves.
There's still something to be said for a good old tequila shot, but there's no reason to make it painful and nauseating.
Cazadores and Hornitos sell Reposados that really aren't good enough to sip, but they're light years ahead of the impure stuff. Hornitos has more of a bite but less of an aftertaste, Cazadores a less intense attack but longer finish. I prefer Cazadores, some prefer Hornitos. Hornitos is also sold in a budget-size bottle. El Jimador, the other reposado widely available at this price point, is a good deal harsher. I've got a bottle that's been relegated to mixing only.
Sipping Over Ice
This is the biggest category of decent tequila, with a pretty big spread on price. These are almost all reposados, with the addition of Cazadores' anejo bottling.
Casamigos is owned by George Clooney and friends, Cabo Wabo by Sammy Hagar (the second singer from Van Halen), and Patron is renowned as a drink of choice for starlets and rappers. In all honesty, the differences between them are pretty minor, along the lines of different gins.
Likewise, Don Julio is probably the most revered name in good tequilas, though again, it doesn't distinguish itself all that much from the others except by price tag.
For my money, the best bang for your buck in a sipping tequila is Lleyenda de Milagro's reposado. At $45 a bottle, it's half the price of Patron or Don Julio, and 20-25 dollars cheaper than Cabo Wabo and Casamigos. I personally think it tastes better than Don Julio, Cabo Wabo, or the $70 Herradura reposado (that I don't recommend), but again these are young spirits. Differences in taste are relatively minor.
A Word On Mezcal
Mezcal isn't widely available in Canada, but it's something you should make a point of trying. It's cheap as hell in Mexico, and it's only in bottles of mezcal that you'll find the "worm" as a marketing gimmick. Sold as a young spirit, mezcal has a smoky flavor that's reminiscent of a mild-to-moderately peated scotch (like a Bowmore 12 or McLelland's Islay) as compared with ordinary tequila. I've used it as a substitute for vodka in a Caesar, dubbing my invention a "Bloody Zorro".
Premium tequila isn't easy to come by either in Canada. Sometimes you'll only find it in the upscale LCBO outlets in Ontario that have a Vintages section. No premium tequila is cheap, even at the duty-free. Still, when you taste this stuff (neat or chilled), you will be stunned that somebody dared to call that shit you tried back in the day tequila. Premium tequila is as tasty as a fine cognac or scotch, albeit for very different reasons.
Don Julio 1942 is excellent. I really can't say much more than that. A high-end price tag but a high-end spirit.
Esperanto comes and goes from Canada's liquor stores, but arrives in what might be the nicest-looking bottle of any spirit out there. I wouldn't bother with the blanco, but the aged bottlings are fantastic. My bottle of the Anejo sits on display in my den/parlour room, and once the tequila's gone it will make a perfectly good decanter.
Much as I dump on Jose Cuervo's cheap stuff, they release a limited edition Reserva de la Familia each year. The bottle arrives in a box with specially commissioned art, also new each year. It's a blend of their finest anejo tequilas, and pound-for-pound it's as refined a drink as any single malt.
Nectar Of The Gods
Finally we come to Clase Azul, a distiller of organic-agave tequila that started distribution to North America just a few years ago. This is a divine, exotic drink that is as different from Sauza swill as Jack Daniels is from Blue Label. The first bottle I bought, while returning from Cancun, fell from my hands at Pearson airport. It's not often that I cry, but seeing this stuff drip under the baggage carousel had me inconsolable for days.
So that's that. We're in summer, so light, sweet, and chilled is the order of the day. Put away the heavy single-malts, the cockles-of-the-heart-warming brandy, and throw back some tequila over ice.
Happy tasting, mis amigos!!