Most people blanch at the mention of tequila. Little warm shots with slices of lemon that come out of a jar and cooking salt do not a happy experience make. But good tequila is one of the greatest spirits for sipping, mixing and, yes, shooting.
Tequila comes from Mexico, and technically, it's one of the Mezcal wines. It's made with cactus juice (yup), and it comes in a lot of different guises. There's also Mezcal itself, which is Tequila's smokier cousin, Sotol, made from a slightly different cactus and much more floral (also made in the Chihahua desert, which I will never not find faintly absurd), and Pechuga. Pechuga comes from making Mezcal for celebrations – it's distilled with a bunch of fresh fruit and herbs in the still, and also a chicken! Or other bits of dead animal. (It's an amazing, if very different experience.)
Tequila is made from the heart of the Agave cactus, the Weber agave specifically. It's a big old plant, and after it's been trimmed, it looks like a 100kg pineapple. That's roasted in order to soften it, then mashed up and squeezed to get all the juices out.
Here's the first important detail of how to get good tequila: if it doesn't say 100% agave on the label, it definitely isn't. Mixto tequilas are normally only 51% agave, and the rest is sugar syrup. Not so tasty.
The juices are fermented, and then distilled in the usual fashion, and then the tequila is bottled or aged. The different styles you'll normally see are:
- Blanco (clear) – unaged tequila put straight into the bottle. Grassier and more funky. Great for fruity margaritas.
- Reposado (darker) – aged for between 2 and 12 months, Reposado is the most used tequila for cocktails. It works great in a standard margarita and in today's drink, the Paloma.
- Anejo (darkest) – Aged for 1-3 years, generally, Anejo is the good stuff. Great for sipping and makes a lovely Old Fashioned.
How to make The Paloma
- You'll need: Grapefruit juice, soda, lime, tequila and salt. No shaker or anything required – this is another built drink (ie. drunk from the glass it's made in).
- Take your salt and put a bit on a saucer or flat surface. Slice the lime in half and wet the outside edge of the top of your glass with the lime. Now roll the glass in the salt. If it's all gone well, pat yourself on the back, you're well on your way to being known for your rimming by friends and family.
- Pop your ice in the glass, then add 50ml of tequila, squeeze half the lime over that, then top up with a mix of grapefruit juice and soda.
- If you find that a bit tart, see if you can get hold of some Ting (Jamaican grapefruit soda), and use that instead of the fresh juice.
BONUS COCKTAIL: Tommy's Margarita
Shake 50ml tequila with the juice of half a lime and about 15ml of Agave syrup. You don't need to rim this one, though it never goes amiss. If you want to make a true Margarita, you'll need some triple sec or Cointreau – just swap it for the agave syrup in that recipe.
If you've had frozen margaritas out and about, or found the drink doesn't really agree with you when you've had it bars, there's a good chance they've been using 'sour mix', which is a mixture of citrus flavourings, citric acid and sugar syrup. It's terrible, and it ruins cocktails (as well as giving you all sorts of unnatural flavourings to compound that hangover). Stick to fresh lemon and lime juice whenever you can.
Oh, and pro tip? Here's how bartenders shoot spirits without wincing, burping or otherwise making fools of ourselves: Most people breathe out before taking the shot, as that's a common way to 'steady your nerves'. The problem with that is when you gasp air in after the shot, you're inhaling all the alcohol fumes and that's what makes it feel like a terrible idea. [It is a terrible idea. – Ed.] Try inhaling before the shot, knocking back the little guy, then breathing out all those fumes. Much nicer.
Oh, and: drink responsibly.
And one more thing: the worm you might get with your mezcal shot? They grow on the agave, which is why they're included. They don't taste of much, but if you don't eat it, legend has it you'll be cursed with a year of terrible sex.