A TASTE FOR TE­QUILA

Ex­plore re­fined and ar­ti­sanal tequi­las that are flavour­ful enough to be en­joyed on their own, as sip­ping drinks.

Food & Drink - - TRENDS - BY CHAR­LENE ROOKE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY JAMES TSE

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 101

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.

glos­sary

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.

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