Why is Tequila synonymous with shots? A slice of lime, a bump of salt is all one apparently needs when this drink is served—but there is more to this drink than just a heavy headiness and it doesn’t involve a shot glass.
No Mexican worth his salt would shoot good tequila. Straight up, yes, but rarely downed in one go. In Mexico—tequila’s origins—the spirit is made by distilling 100 per cent agave (a plant with large rosettes of strong, fleshy leaves, native to Mexico and parts of Southern America). This spiny plant has many varieties including Tequilana or Agave Azul (blue agave), specifically used for making tequila. The sap of agave is fermented, distilled into a spirit known as Mezcal, the best form of which is called Tequila.
The must-have tequilas for the connoisseur
Tequilas made with 100 per cent agave are usually meant to be savoured and sipped neat, just like one would with a great whisky or a complex cognac. Traditionally, there is no lime and salt accompanying it. In Mexico, you’ll find tequilas usually stored in the fridge and served with a chaser of sangrita (a non-alcoholic tomato and spice-based palate cleanser) or beer.
From the heartlands of Jalisco and beyond, distillers have worked for centuries, if not decades, to bring to the world one of the finest tequilas which deserve to be sipped on. Authenticity is determined by a unique number NOM (The Norma Oficial Mexicana number) and usually differentiated by five varieties (age related)—Blanco, Joven, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo. These top-shelf must haves are a connoisseur’s delight.
Fortaleza Blanco Tequila (Nom 1493)
Blancos are the first expression of tequila, a clear spirit, un-aged, with its finer nuances of cooked agave shining through. Tequila Fortaleza was launched in 2005 but has a history of distillers dating back to 1873. Don Cenobio, the founder of the first distillery was the first person to export tequila to the United States and implemented the use of steam to cook agave. This particular tequila from their brand is double distilled using a decade-old technique of stone tahona (crushers) and brick ovens, resulting in a buttery smooth spirit with earthy nuances of olives and black pepper. This comes bottled in a hand-blown bottle with a cap in the shape of a pina (the heart of an agave plant), best sipped chilled with a small cube of ice.
Clase Azul Reposado (Nom 1595)
Recognized by their uniquely towering, vibrantly hued hand-painted ceramic decanters, Clase Azul’s iconic pillar-shaped bottles are created in their workshop Tradición Mazahua, an ode to Mexican culture. A distinctive feathered design painted in cobalt blue holds their immensely popular Reposado. Aged for eight months in American whisky casks, it results in a bright gold tequila with notes of vanilla, citrus peels, and American oaks, imparting a lovely spiced and nutty banana flavour. This luxurious bottle is not only a top-shelf showstopper but holds Mexico’s finest offering to the world.
Gran Patron Burdeos (Nom 1492)
“Patron Shots” is a phrase so common in party circuits that almost no revelry is complete without it. Hacienda Patron uses time-tested methods to produce exceptional quality tequila. Their skilled jimadors (farmers) uproot blue weber agave with optimal sugar content to make their famed spirits. Their most complex offering, the Gran Patron Burdeos, is a luxury añejo finished in Bordeaux wine barrels. A rich, velvety smooth tequila with heightened notes of wood, vanilla, and raisins. It comes in a crystal decanter with their signature bee shaped stopper designed by none other than Lalique. Best had on the rocks, it’s complexity can sometimes be fused with a sip-able classic cocktail such as an Old Fashioned.
Tequila Ocho Plata (Nom 1474)
A third generation tequilero teamed up with Tomas Estes (the man responsible for bringing tequila culture to Europe) to launch Tequila Ocho in 2008. Inspired by the wine-making process of terroir and a single-vineyard approach, Ocho’s various batches of tequila vary in taste due to harvests from different fields. The Plata comes from the highlands of Jalisco which give a more fruity and floral character to the otherwise earthy and vegetal nuances. Ocho stands out as a futuristic version of enjoying tequila without much intervention in technique, while expressing the natural flavours of agave.
Tequila Pueblo Viejo Blanco (Nom 1103)
Featuring one of the most traditional brands around, Pueblo Viejo Tequila is made at Casa San Matías since 1886. During the period which preceded the Mexican revolution, Don Delfino Gonzales found the perfect conditions to grow agave azul in the region of Jalisco, thus introducing it as a blue print area for tequila making. The harvesting of the agave is done after waiting seven to ten years, followed by a traditional cooking process. Their 100 per cent agave Blanco is a brightly flavoured, blue-tinged spirit with a fresh bouquet of green apples and citrus notes, making for a refreshing sip.
La Gritona (Nom 1533)
A tequila bottled and distilled in Valley de Guadalupe, this Latina brand is a fully women-owned and operated distillery. The owner, Melly Bajaras, launched its small distillery in Jalisco in 1999, distilling this delicately flavoured tequila with agave plants matured for a decade. The only female master distiller at that time, Bajaras’ distilling process is unique—it retains the crisp qualities reminiscent of an excellent silver tequila yet expresses the subtle signs of aging. La Gritona’s eight-month rest in oak barrels results in a herbaceous profile without the commonly found whisky notes usually associated with Resposados (pepper, vanilla, caramel, and so on). It’s best had straight with no ice, lime, salt, or mixer and occasionally chased with cold Mexican lager or pilsner.
While these tequilas should be on top of your to-try list, try to not look for tequilas with a gimmicky worm in the bottle. It turns out to be a weird marketing trend, and you will never find worms (or anything wiggly) in high-quality tequila.