A TASTE FOR TEQUILA
Explore refined and artisanal tequilas that are flavourful enough to be enjoyed on their own, as sipping drinks.
Some spirits are so inseparable from the context of their signature cocktails that they don’t immediately come to mind as solo sippers: think of gin without the tonic, or white rum without summer-ready Mojito fixings. Similarly, the Margarita has indisputably made its base spirit a star of the summer drinks scene—but tequila has much more to offer than a supporting role in cocktail recipes.
A new wave of traditionally made spirits, tasting strongly of the regional terroir, traditional methods and unique styles of artisanal makers in their homeland, is inspiring drinkers to sip them solo, to appreciate their nuances. If that description suggests Scotland or Kentucky as much as it does Mexico, then consider tequila as your new-favourite sipping spirit, alongside straight pours of Scotch or bourbon.
Whether you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo or looking for a new hot-weather drink, try these tequilas alone, liberated from the typical lime-and-salt sides.
Tequila is made from the succulent-type agave plant, which can grow around two metres tall and wide. The best comes from Weber azul (Weber blue) agave, named for the French botanist who classified it. Mezcal is a word that can be used to generally describe any agave-derived spirit (including tequila, raicilla and bacanora), though specifically it’s often used to describe smoked-agave spirits from southern Mexico, around Oaxaca.
Fine tequila is labelled “100% agave,” “100% puro de agave” or similar. Tequila labelled mixto or abocado may contain sweeteners or colouring or mellowing agents; these can be great as good-value cocktail-mixing options, but generally not for solo sipping.
Though more than 80 per cent of the spirit is made around the town of Tequila, northwest of Guadalajara in the coastal Jalisco region, it can also be produced in the regions Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Michoacán—and nowhere else in the world. The four-digit Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) of authorized producers must appear on the front or back label of each bottle.
Tequila is made by cutting the spiky leaves or pencas off the agave plant core—called a cabeza (head) or piña (for its resemblance to a pineapple)— that can weigh 50 kilograms or more. It’s cooked and crushed, traditionally by a stone wheel called a tahona. Then the liquid is fermented, sometimes with leftover agave fibres known as the bagazo. The fermented agave mosto is then distilled into tequila.
The origins and Spanish-language meanings of the names of some well-known brands (below) reveal the history and process behind tequila, some of which has been produced in Mexico by traditional casas for hundreds of years.