There’s more to this centuries-old spirit than pouring it into a shot glass and serving it with a lime wedge and a sprinkle of salt. And we had our own lesson recently, when we spoke to a leading expert in all things tequila: Sonía Espinola de la Llave. A 17-year veteran of the industry with her masters in tequila, she’s also the operations manager for Mundo Cuervo in Jalisco, Mexico, and an ambassador of tequila for Jose Cuervo.
Here’s a small taste of what we learned, from the best tequila for your Monday margaritas, to the tequila you can sip and savour like an after-dinner scotch or brandy.
Q. How many different types of tequila are there?
A. There are two types of tequila: One is 100 percent agave, and the other one we call tequila mixto, where 51 percent is from the juice of the agave.
Q. How long does it take to produce tequila?
A. A long time. The plant needs between eight to 10 years to reach maturity, then we need 36 to 38 hours for the cooking process. After that, we need another 24 or 30 hours for fermentation, then another nine hours for distillation. So it’s a long time to produce a bottle of white tequila. But if you want aged tequila, you need to wait another year — and if you want extra-aged, you need to wait more time. So really, it takes 12 to 15 years to have a bottle of tequila.
Q. What are the important things to look for when buying tequila in the store?
A. You have to check the labels. If they say tequila, it’s 51 to 49 percent, if they say 100 percent agave, it is [solely] from the juice of the agave. Buy a ‘tequila’ if you want to combine it with cocktails and margaritas, but if you want to drink straight tequila, buy 100 percent agave.
Did you know?
1. Tequila can only be produced in five regions of Mexico: Jalisco, Guananjuatao, Tampaulipas, Nayarit and Michoacan.
2. It’s similar to mescal, another agave-based spirit. Where tequila is distilled twice, mescal is only distilled once, and has a very smoky flavour. (Hint: It’s the one with the worm in it.)
3. The taste differs depending on where it’s grown. In the highlands, extra rain leads to larger plants and a more herbal, floral taste. But closer to the town of Tequila in Jalisco, there are volcanic minerals in the soil that result in a sweeter agave plant.
And Sonía’s advice for making the perfect margarita? It’s pretty classic: Use fresh lime, white tequila, Grand Marnier (or Cointreau) and keep the salt just around the outside rim of the glass. If you want to try a different tequila-based cocktail though, try the Paloma. This über-popular Mexican cocktail is made with three parts grapefruit soda to one part tequila, with a salted rim and lime wedge.
Bottled after 15 days in a stainless steel stand.
Taste: Purely agave.
How to drink it: In a cocktail, on the rocks with a twist of lemon, or frozen.
Food pairings: Coconut shrimp, avocado or guacamole, fish with a twist of orange.
A rested tequila, aged in small barrels from 2 months to 1 year.
Taste: Sweet and smooth.
How to drink it: Neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.
Food pairings: Spiced (but not hot) foods, such as almond chicken, or pork with orange.
An aged tequila that has been aged in barrels from 1 to 3 years.
Taste: Woody flavours, notes of dried fruit, nuts, chocolate or coconut.
How to drink it: Sip and savour.
Try it with: Something spicy, such as a hot Mexican mole, or as an after-dinner drink.
Is an extra-aged tequila that remains in the barrel for more than three years.
Taste: Woody flavours, notes of cinnamon, almond, dried fruit, chocolate (and more).
How to drink it: Neat. Sip slowly and savour.
Try it: On its own.
A new trend in tequila. There’s currently a cinnamon-infused tequila available from Jose Cuervo called Cinge.
Taste: Sweet and smooth.
How to drink it: Frozen, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.
Try it: With dessert!