If you think of tequila as a cheap, frat-boy, down-and-dirty shooter, you're absolutely right. If you also think of it as the key ingredient in one of the world's most popular cocktails, the margarita, you're right, too. And if you think of tequila as the high-priced, high-style, super- sipper of the stars – well, right again. With its austere, exotic smell of desert flowers and its dry, raw, herbal taste of citrus pith, tequila has (dare I say it) wormed its way into our cocktail culture through its sheer versatility. Woo-hoo! Crank the music!
FACT: Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near what was to become the city of Tequila
First, let's get one thing straight. Tequila never comes with a worm. That's mescal, which is also made from agave. Tequila, Mexico's national drink, is produced in the state of Jalisco (pronounced ha-LEES-koh), as well as four other regulated states. Most common brands are made by blending alcohol, distilled from a spiny, succulent called Agave azul tequilana, with cheaper alcohol from other sources like corn syrup or cane sugar. This is the stuff of margaritas, tequila sunrises, and shots with salt and lime. Great tequila is made from 100 per cent agave and always says so on the bottle. Whether it's a blend or the finest agave tequila, there are four types.
SILVER, a.k.a. blanco, is bottled fresh from the still. It has a youthful, herbal, lime zest aroma and the distinctive note of crushed white pepper. High-end tequilas have an added floral fruitiness, reminiscent of green apples, white plums or unripe pears.
GOLD, a.k.a. joven or oro, can be coloured with caramel or natural oak extract and is bottled fresh or stored for up to two months in huge oak tanks. It retains its youthful peppery freshness, but also has a mellower, less fruity taste.
REPOSADO tequila must be kept in large oak tanks for a minimum of two months, but many producers age it longer. This style may be pale or deep gold and is very smooth on the palate when sipped neat, at room temperature, from a snifter.
ANEJO (ah-NYAY-ho) is the oldest tequila, having been aged at least one year in small barrels no larger than 600 litres. The best of these compare with mature brandy, rum and whisky.
Tequilas you'll love
• Pure Agave Superstars
• Cabo Wabo Reposado ($89)
• Herradura Reposado ($57)
• Herradura Añejo ($78)
• Patrón Silver ($90)
• Patrón Añejo ($115)
• El Jimador Reposado Gold, 100% agave ($31)
• Olmeca Gold ($31)
• Sauza Silver ($32)
(Prices may vary in local markets.)