life of the party

Tequila's new sunrise

Shot, salt, lime. Repeat. while that sums up most people’s tequila experiences, Kerri Jackson finds there’s much more to this classic taste of Mexico.

Shot, salt, lime. Repeat. while that sums up most people’s tequila experiences, Kerri Jackson finds there’s much more to this classic taste of Mexico. 

We all have friends like tequila: those with a reputation as the life of the party yet, deep down, you know they have a sophisticated, tasteful side that just doesn’t get enough credit.

But our approach to this traditional Mexican spirit is, at last, maturing. We are learning to appreciate the time and expertise that goes into creating quality tequila, and from that we are learning new ways to drink it.

The first thing a discerning tequila drinker should know is that, much like champagne from Champagne, the spirit can only bear the name tequila if it is produced in certain areas of Mexico, namely the state of Jalisco and selected other regions.

Most tequila drinkers, discerning or otherwise, would be able to tell you that the spirit is distilled from the agave plant. What is less known however is that of 250 agave varieties, only one, the blue agave, can be used to make tequila or that the average blue agave takes up to 12 years to mature. Or that it takes years of training and skill to know just when the plants are ready for use – and harvesting is a slow labour-intensive exercise.

And true tequila must contain at least 51% agave – although the higher the percentage the better; 100% agave is obviously the best.

Suddenly it’s apparent that the expertise and patience required for good tequila is on a par with the finest wines and spirits. But it doesn’t end there. Not all tequilas are created equal. There are several varieties, distinguished mostly by age, that all have unique qualities.

Blanco (white) or plata (silver) tequila is, says Lion luxury brands manager Dickie Cullimore, arguably the “purest expression of tequila”. It is the unaged spirit bottled immediately after distillation. It will usually have an earthier, fresher, more peppery or even menthol taste, says Cullimore. “Some of them can be really quite special.” Try it with seafood ceviche or even a sharp cheese with crackers.

Reposado tequila has generally been aged for more than two months, but less than a year in oak barrels. It should have a smoother taste with hints of vanilla and cinnamon.

Anejo tequila is aged for at least a year in small oak barrels for a fuller more complex flavour and as a result matches well with slow braised red meats.

“Anejo is comparable to a good whisky or rum. A premium Anejo should appeal as an alternative to fans of those other spirits,” he says.

In Mexico, Cullimore says, the traditional way of drinking tequila is to sip. If you’re tied to your shot glass you can sip it from that, but it’s worth trying it something a little sturdier like a brandy balloon or a whisky glass.

But all this talk of quality and style doesn’t need to suck the life from the tequila party, says Cullimore. “It is at heart a fun drink.” He recommends subbing tequila in as the leading white spirit for classic cocktails such as a martini or mojito. “You may have to experiment with the proportions but it will work really well. And that’s the fun of cocktails.” 

Go wild. Omit the lime juice altogether and swap in coffee for an agave espresso cocktail 

The “other” Mexican drinks

The Margarita may be Mexico’s most famous drink, but in the interests of presenting a complete picture of Mexico we go in search of others.

Our growing appreciation for tequila in its more authentic, sophisticated forms has been sparked by our nation’s growing love affair with authentic, delicious Mexican food, led by the Mexico restaurant group. Mexico bar manager Ben Jeffrey says there is much more to the country’s bar heritage than you might think, such as:

Sangria: It originates in Spain but is big in Mexico; containing wine, spirits and fruit. The name comes from the Spanish word for blood (sangre) for the deep red colour, but it can be made with white or sparkling wine. Try making it a day or two before drinking to give the flavours time to develop.

Chelada: The unlikely combination of Mexican beer, salt, hot sauce and fresh squeezed lime wedges, served over ice. Mexico also does a Big Brother Chelada which also contains tomato juice.

Mexijito: Like a mojito, but using dark rum instead of white with the standard fresh mint, lime wedges and sugar.

Paloma: Add tequila and fresh lime to grapefruit flavoured soda or soft drink. Rim the glass with salt.

Charro Negro: Tequila with cola and fresh lemon, over ice and salt-rimmed. 

Ben Jeffrey of the Mexico restaurant group recommends trying tequila añejo with desserts. Think cinnamon sugar on oranges and grapefruit. 

Pub quiz

As with many great classic cocktails there are mixed stories about its origin but the most widely accepted account is that the Margarita originates from the Tequila Daisy (late 1800s) but was made popular by famous Dallas socialite Margarita Sames who threw elaborate three-day parties for Hollywood’s rich and famous at her Acapulco beach mansion. Sames allegedly created the drink at a 1948 Christmas party attended by Tommy Hilton, who took the recipe back to serve in his hotel chain. Sames most popular quotes is: “a Margarita without Cointreau is not worth its salt”. 

Perfect Margarita

Perfect Margarita

El Diablo

El Diablo

Click and Collect

Just one click. That’s all it takes to grab your weekend cocktail essentials from your local Liquorland thanks to Click and Collect.

Simply choose your desired tipples, pay at the quick ’n’ easy online checkout and voilà – your purchases will be ready and waiting for you at your Liquorland store of choice.