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May 6, 2011

For some this will be the last thing they will want to read today. Perhaps this post is a day late and a dime short. But I don’t think so.

Because I’m not going to tell you which tequila you should buy. Nor am I going to tell you what cocktails you should make with it. Instead, I want to simply talk about the spirit, since I have a feeling that this is one of the most misunderstood and often maligned spirits in the marketplace.

I have no idea how it happened, but somehow tequila got a bad reputation.
Maybe it had something to do with the movies.

But tequila is far too often thought of as something you drink to get wasted. It’s considered to be a spirit so foul that one must prep the palate with salt, knock back a shot, and chase the flavor away with a mouth puckering lime wedge.

Let me just say, this is not the tequila that I know.

For the record, I am no tequila connoisseur. I cannot tell you the characteristics of the different subregions of Jalisco. I have not even sampled a fraction of the varieties that are available on our shores. But I do know a thing or two about the subject.

At the very highest end of tequila are the long aged spirits. And you may have heard people compare these to fine brandy. Naturally these are for sipping and savoring, especially given their extravagant price tags.

I’m not talking about those.

The simple fact is that all aged tequila start out as a silver tequila: an un-aged, unoaked, perfectly clear distillation of agave. For those who don’t know, agave is a plant. It’s actually not a cactus but a succulent. Besides being made into tequila, it can also be turned into agave syrup and used to sweeten everything from organic tea to brownies. Bartenders might use agave syrup to make a modern variation on the margarita, eschewing Cointreau for something found closer to the base spirit’s home.

Brown booze gets its color two ways. Either it spends time in wood, or it simply has color added to it. The latter is a nasty trick used by large spirits manufacturers to make lesser booze look more appealing. However, wood and time have a great way of mellowing and softening young fiery spirits.

But I really get a kick of tasting distillate.

I can appreciate the complexity of a well aged Scotch or a spicy bourbon that has spent several years in a new charred oak barrel. However, wood can hide a lot of flaws and imperfections. Silver tequilas stand naked before you. All that’s in the bottle is what the distiller was able to coax from the plant.

That’s right. I’m making the argument that silver tequila can be sipped and savored too, just like its more rarified cousins. And I’m not alone in this either. The market for quality silver tequilas has expanded like mad. Take, for example, Corzo silver, which sells for over $40 a bottle.

Yesterday I walked out with a bottle of Milagro silver, and left a very happy man.

But you can try sipping clear tequila with something as commonplace as Sauza silver. It’s worth a try. Just make sure you read up on how to drink like a pro. The good news is that should you not take to sipping tequila, you can always go back to making cocktails or doing body shots.

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One year ago today: Pockets of Authenticity
Two years ago today: Real Deal Diners

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2011 10:31 am

    I agree with this. Tequila was actually the first thing I ever got drunk on at age 24, and I did think that’s what it was for – crazy parties – something you regret SO MUCH afterward. But a really knowledgeable staff member at Heights Chateau in Brooklyn Heights taught me about this very concept. Fine tequilas are for sipping, and actually I have found some cocktails (can’t think of their names off the top of my head), which let the flavors come through more from the spirit and are less about lots of sweetness/saltiness/extra mixers. Tequila with fresh lemon juice is actually amazing. That being said, margarita on the rocks with salt is very tasty with nachos, however it is far from the only thing that can be done with it. Tequila gets no respect! It’s a regular girl who gets pegged as the wild party animal when she only goes needs to go out some of the time.

  2. Phairhead permalink
    May 6, 2011 10:41 am

    Still kicking myself for never visiting the town of Tequila whilst living in Guadalajara….my preference is for Herradura

  3. May 6, 2011 11:32 am

    I’ve never gotten drunk on tequila but I do understand that that’s part of it’s reputation. Twitter cemented that for me yesterday, people do act ridiculous on Cinco de Mayo. Why do we freak out so much for drinking holidays? It’s not even that big of a deal in Mexico. But I digress…my point is I don’t like tequila and I can’t imagine sipping it.

  4. May 7, 2011 2:13 am

    Considering that you previously lived on the left coast, did you ever make it to Tommy’s Restaurant in the city? It’s an altar to tequila.

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