World Tequila Day might be coming this Sunday, but for many of us our knowledge of the drink itself is basic at best. Made from the fermented juice of Mexico’s agave plant, it is created via a lengthy process. First, the agave plants need at least eight years to mature, then once ready, the harvesters will extract the piña (heart) from the plant’s core, stripping it of its leaves before distilling it. The drink, like champagne, also has a ‘denomination of origin’, meaning that unless it’s made in Mexico, it isn’t tequila.
Aficionados drink theirs neat, without help from any salt and lime. That's because the best tequila is 100 per cent agave (always look for it on the label), and doesn’t carry with it the same harsh taste that the cheaper, mixed varieties do.
To make sure you don’t commit any mistakes when making your selection this weekend, we asked four tequila experts for their go-to choices. Alex Kratena (@alex_kratena) and Jay Silverman (@jayagave) are international tequila experts – Kratena has revamped the hotel bar industry with his innovative cocktails, while Silverman frequently sits down with television presenters worldwide to explain the joys of the drink. Emilio Di Salvo and Marco Piroli are bartenders at Paris’ Little Red Door and London’s Coya Restaurant.
1. Tapatio Blanco Tequila, 40%: £22.75 for 50cl, The Whisky Exchange
“The best all-rounder,” Kratena says, “this is amazing value for money.” Coya’s Piroli considers this a great sipping tequila for its “smooth and mellow” taste. For Di Salvo, his love of Tapatio is more personal. “This was the first Tequila I poured with”, he says. “So this is my nostalgia tequila, my crash-course in falling in love with agave.”
2. Calle 23 Anejo Tequila, 40%: £32 for 50cl, Amazon
This lesser-known tequila made the list of almost all our experts. Its creator, Sophie Decobecq, was a chemist in France’s cognac industry before falling in love with tequila. The result of her passion, according to Silverman, is the perfect recipe – “the quality and subtle nuances of light oak, dried fruit, raisin and vanilla shine through in the reposado, as does the velvety cocoa and cinnamon aroma in the añejo.” What do those words mean? Tequila that has been aged for a minimum of two months in large wooden tanks is known as reposado, while premium tequila, añejo, is aged in oak barrels, and for longer. This particular drink is Di Salvo’s go-to for margaritas, too.
3. Tequila Ocho, 40%: £20.95 for 50cl, The Whisky Exchange
Kratena calls this his favourite sipping tequila. When its creator, Tomas Estes, was first opening restaurants across Europe, he would travel back and forth to Mexico personally to pick up the greatest tequilas for his establishments, before he branched out and started Ocho, his own brand. Silverman considers this one of the most natural, pure tequilas and credits that to the distiller, Carlos Camarena. “It mixes well” Silverman says, “but it’s too nice to mix with much if you ask me.” For Piroli, Ocho is a favourite due to the fact that the agave comes from a different field each year, slightly altering the taste and aroma of the finished product with each batch.
4. Fortaleza Añejo, 40%: £130 for 70cl, Selfridges
“Fortaleza Añejo is made by a time-consuming, labour-intensive process,” says Silverman “They crush the cooked agaves with a time-worn tahona wheel in the heart of the town of Tequila, which results in a much more flavourful, interesting tequila than people are used to.” The tahona process is a classical method, and involves a large wheel made of volcanic stone, which is then used to crush the prepared agave. Many believe that despite the more demanding aspects of this method, the higher quality tequila it produces make it worth the extra effort. The drink has the distinctive ‘Fortaleza taste’ – notes of caramel and butterscotch, with citrus and a little spice for good measure.
5. Jose Cuervo Riserva de la Familia, 38%: £92 for 70cl, 31 Dover
Di Salvo credits this variety with changing the way he drank tequila. The flavour is a full one, a combination of the agave, florals and vanilla. Di Salvo recommends serving it “just like a whiskey – ice and chilled water on the side. If you see one, grab it, and open with some close pals.”
6. Patron Silver, 40%: £41.50 for 70cl at 31Dover
Perhaps the best known brand of tequila, Patron deserves its heavyweight status. Its silver tequila (which isn't aged at all, and thus crystal clear) has been a favourite of ours in the past, and remains one to this day. Don’t let its crystal colour fool you though – the citrus kick, as well as the light, peppery finish won’t have you mistaking this for water anytime soon.
7. Casamigos, 40%: £53.25 for 70cl, 31Dover
This tequila has origins somewhere a little north of Mexico - Hollywood. It was conceived and developed by none other than George Clooney and Rande Gerber, friends who found that they could never find the perfect tequila to serve at their Mexico homes (also called Casamigos), so travelled around Mexican distilleries preparing to create their own. With time, Casamigos Tequila was born. It began, like Riserva de la Familia, as a poison passed only onto friends and family, but has since expanded to the public, and received much acclaim for its sweet taste, vanilla aroma and smoothness.
8. Siete Leguas Reposado, 38%: £50.49 for 70cl, Drink Supermarket
“This is what my hip flask will be full of if you invite me to your wedding,” says Di Salvo. This tequila has little bitterness, unlike some others, and is completed by a caramel aftertaste. His advice? “Pour equal parts tequila with vermouth and/or sherry, some bitters and a liquor like crème de poire. Serve it up with a lemon zest, and you’re away.”
9. Herradura Tequila, 40%: £40 for 70cl, Drink Supermarket
For Piroli, the Herradura range is perfect to drink neat, or mix in with cocktails. The tequila, made by one of the only remaining real hacienda (estates) in Jalisco, Mexico, has a striking, amber colour that’s complimented by the lingering, spicy taste of the tequila, which remains on the tongue long after the tequila has passed over it.
While we’d highlight Riserva de la Familia for any special occasions you have coming up, it’s Tapatio that seems to have our experts in agreement: great value for money, a nostalgic taste, and perfect for enjoying neat - just as tequila should be.
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