There is a bar (probably more than one) in Arizona where the servers wear 19th-century style gun belts. But the slots in which gun shells would have been stored are now filled with empty shot glasses. The servers work the tables, and sell shots of tequila, for which they are amply compensated, proportionately commensurate with the number of shots they sell. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. Until tomorrow. But at the high end—much like it is for single malt Scotch whiskey—the rule of the day for top shelf tequila is to sip, consider and enjoy at great leisure.
Appreciating the Varieties of Tequila
Tequila is produced only in the province of Jalisco, Mexico, right around the town of Tequila. Its cousin, mezcal, is produced almost exclusively in Oaxaca, and these drinks should not be conflated.
Jose Cuervo Gold, immortalized in the Steely Dan song “Hey Nineteen”, remains a worthy drink, and there are plenty of other entry-level tequilas to explore. “Reposado”, literally meaning rested, is a legal term, dictating that the spirit has been in white oak barrel for a minimum of two months and at maximum one year. After one year, the term “añejo” is applied, literally meaning aged. There is even an “extra añejo” for those rare tequilas aged more than three years in barrel.
Color designations, such as silver or gold, pretty much match up with what you might think in terms of quality. Barrel aging smoothes the spirit considerably, and some elements of the oak add extra dimensions to the drink.
How to Drink Fine Tequila
It should go without saying, but high-quality tequila is something to savor and sip, not to shoot. It’s fine to drink it out of a shot glass, but something with a bit of space so the spirit can breathe is a better option. Proper tequila glassware is similar in shape to a champagne flute, but smaller, and can be purchased from glassware manufacturers like Riedel.
First, pour two to four sips of room-temperature tequila in your glass. Then, take a moment to enjoy the scent. Don’t inhale deeply—the high alcohol content will overwhelm other aromatic notes. Finally, as you sip, take the time to appreciate the different layers of flavors. What do you find in the start and finish? If you are tasting several varieties, begin with the lightest tequila and progress towards the darkest.
Expect delightfully intense citrus notes, more lime than lemon, along with some distinct herbal notes, mainly of thyme, sage and even coriander. Some tequilas feature an intense black pepper nose, which follows though late in the palate and on the finish, a complex, fantastic drink.
What to Look for in Rare Tequilas
The more rare tequilas are unique, often bearing very little resemblance to each other, which is one of their great charms. Prices can range from just above $70 a bottle to well over $140.
Some great examples include the Patron Reposado Barrel Select, Tavi Ultra Premium, Clase Azul Reposado, Don Julio Anejo 1942 and Cabo Wabo Reposado. When you find one you love, chances are you will return to it, time and again.
Do you prefer sipping on whiskey or wine? Learn what your signature drink says about you.
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