“Arriba, abajo, al centro y adentro”. We have all heard – and probably chanted – these words prior to taking tequila shots.
For the majority of non-Mexicans who don’t necessarily know the best way to drink tequila, the ritual is as follows: first goes the salt, in order to open your gustatory papillae and allow the tequila taste to flourish; then, in comes the shot of tequila, all at once, without a pause to breathe; finally, you suck on a lemon wedge, closing the gustatory papillae while also assisting the tequila to go down and making sure that its flavor sticks to the palate.
Although this combination of salt, tequila, and lemon is how most Americans, Europeans, and probably even Japanese indulge in this famous spirit, it is not the official method for drinking tequila in Mexico. At cantinas (as bars are called in Mexico), locals drink tequila slowly, in small sips so it can be appreciated and tasted wholly.
Then why do most people drink it like this? Can you “learn” how to drink tequila? Or better yet, is there such a thing as properly drinking tequila? But before we jump into the ways to drink tequila, let’s have a look at what is tequila and how it is made.
What Actually is Tequila?
First off, it is important to acknowledge that the usual tequila you get in supermarkets across the United States or Europe is not as pure as the ones found in Mexico. This happens because many commercial labels are made partially with the sugar from agave (the plant from which tequila originates) and partially from sugar cane, hence their quality is not as good as that of a Mexican counterpart.
The reason behind not all tequilas being made completely out of agave sugar is because only a limited number of states in Mexico are allowed to produce the pure type of tequila, which restricts the number of 100% agave tequila available. In such states, during the manufacturing process, the tequila is stored in wooden barrels and left to age for a few years, making it so that the longer it is vatted the more intense and varied its taste will be.
As a consequence, there are tequilas with a plethora of flavors, some of which present traces of vanilla, pepper, nuts, chocolate, and even honey. Therefore, drinking tequila as a shot all at once can cause you to miss these nuanced, amazing flavors.
Types of Tequila
Each tequila has its own particular note and distinct flavor: from a tequila Blanco to a tequila Extra Añejo, both the production and aging process results in a complexity of scents and tastes. Depending on the period of time the tequila Blanco stays in contact with the oak barrel we get the type Reposado, Añejos y Extra Añejos.
The Blanco (aka Silver) tequila often presents herbal, bittersweet and/or spicy notes, making it a good type of tequila to have with snacks since it tends to stimulate the appetite. This kind of tequila spends an average of two months or less either in oak or steel barrels. It is the least sophisticated type, thus the cheapest.
In terms of aging, the Joven (aka Gold) tequila can be placed together with the Blanco type. The main difference between these two types of tequila lies in the fact that the first is often a blend (mostly mixed with Añejo) and thus has a distinct color and taste.
The Reposado tequila, aging between two and twelve months in contact with the wood of an oak barrel, features more complex notes than a tequila Blanco, yet can be regarded as a smoother type. Some people consider the Reposado as the most balanced variety of tequila concerning the harmony between the notes from the agave and the wood.
Thanks to its longer period of aging, which varies between one to three years, the tequilaAñejo has even more intense and complex wood-derived notes. The maturation process of an Añejo also tends to incite vanilla, toffee, and caramel flavors. Like the Reposado, this kind of tequila feels smoother and warmer to the palate than the Blanco tequila.
As the maturest of all tequilas, the Extra Añejo vats in an oak barrel for more than three years. In such style of tequila, the wooden notes are very much noticeable, making us associate it with the taste of chocolate, walnuts and dried fruit.
Rules for Drinking Tequila
It goes without saying that not all tequilas are produced in the same way: there are those which are “mixed”, meaning they are made at least 51% from agave and then fortified with other sugars. These neither are nor confer the original, pure taste of tequila.
So if you hope to taste and enjoy a tequila like a Mexican, the first and main rule is to find a tequila that is 100% made from agave. Other than that, here are a few more rules to keep in mind when drinking tequila.
- Drink straight, take your time and enjoy slowly.
- Don’t drink tequila cold. Although there is a fairly common trend to place tequila in the fridge before drinking it, you should always have it at room temperature.
- If you are just getting started in the art of tequila drinking, choose an Añejo as your go-to alternative. This tends to be the most cost-effective type of tequila since it provides a much better tasting opportunity quality-wise than those which have aged for less than one year without costing as much as an Extra Añejo.
- This is more of a tip than a rule: try tequila with food. When eating snacks, opt for a Blanco; Reposado tequila goes well with starters; accompany main dishes with Añejo; enjoy a dessert with a shot of Extra Añejo.
- If you can find a tequila that is produced by a family, popular or not, it is likely to be 100% from agave and thus have a much better taste.
- For those who are serious about tequila tasting, consider drinking it from a proper tequila glass, known as caballito.
Drinking Tequila – Step by Step
If you are the kind of person who enjoys the idea of tasting the tequila in the so-called correct or proper way, below are the steps by which to do so:
1. Fill up an ounce of tequila into a shot glass, preferably a caballito. Hold the glass by the bottom and bring it up to eye level so as to observe the color and translucency of the tequila.
2. Softly whirl the tequila glass – much like you would with wine – and allow the drink to emanate its scent while adhering to the walls of the glass.
3. Take a small sip, let the tequila linger in your mouth for about 10 seconds, involving your tongue. This will help you to sense all aromas and tastes of tequila so you can actually explore the different traces it has acquired during the aging process.
4. Swallow and have another one!
Find Your Way to Drink Tequila
Although there are various details you should look out for if you want to enhance your tequila experience, there is not a single, ideal way of drinking it – only your favorite.
Nevertheless, the next time someone orders shots at a party, maybe you should consider other ways of drinking it to further explore its flavors, as opposed to just downing it as a shot and wait for the unjustifiable hangover to hit.