Sipping tequilas on the rocks, so delicious. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

I’m a coffee cretin (percolator, Starbucks—incorrigible), but I’m a tequila novice newly entranced by this fine spirit. I was introduced to tequila, and its wilder cousin mezcal, in college when we knew only Cuervo. It was a rule between my freshman roommate, John, and me that a top never went back onto the bottle of tequila once opened. And because I unfailingly woke up in the dorm-room bed of some impossible sexy young woman after a bottle of tequila, I believed in the veracity of this rule.

But we grow old, tastes develop, and hangovers now last considerably longer than the two or three hours they did in college. In the midwest, the adults were gin and whiskey drinkers, though my dad kept a bottle of Patrón on hand for anyone who might ask. So it never occurred to me to order tequila as a drink until two prominent, smart friends, did so routinely: Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of one of the best restaurants on the planet, Le Bernardin, and the writer-director Richard LaGravenese, currently finishing up filming a new movie in NOLA (#jealous!), both simply asking for Patrón Silver. I didn’t even know what the “silver” referred to.

I do now, thanks to a little jumpstart from Twitter.

Good tequila can and should be savored for the nuances it offers. While no spirit surpasses Scotland’s whiskies for complexity and variation, tequilas are every bit as complex and varied as American whiskies and should be appreciated as such.

I chose the above Herradura Silver because that was the most commonly cited brand offered when I asked on Twitter. The silver refers to straight tequila, not aged in a barrel; thus its clarity and bold, fruity flavor of agave, the succulent plant from which tequila is made. I also feature here Tequila Ocho Reposado, which is naturally fermented and aged for eight weeks in a barrel (they also offer a plata or silver, and an anejo, or tequila barrel-aged for a year). The reposado is drier and finer than the silver (or plata). The Herradura is excellent, the Ocho superlative. The latter was recommended by Bobby Heugel on Twitter, who also called my attention to the Tequila Interchange Project, a tequila advocacy site, and to the ecological dangers (from waste water runoff) of mass tequila production and the need to be patrons of producers who work to be ecologically conscientious. Read about the unique history (terroir and vintages) of the Tequila Ocho on its site. The primary tequila classifications are described at tequila.net.

No need for advocacy here! I’m all in. But there is a need these days to hang on to the top of the bottle, as these should be savored in small doses. The old result, happily remains. Every time I drink tequila, I wake up the next morning in the bed of an impossibly sexy woman (she took the above photograph—thanks, darlin’).

Tequila, Almost Neat

  • 2 ounces Tequila
  • 1 small ice cube or a teaspoon or two of cold water
  1. Pour the tequila into lowball glass, or even a wine glass or snifter.
  2. Swirl and sniff to consider the aroma.
  3. As with great whiskeys, I believe a little water, slightly diluting the alcohol, makes the flavors more accessible, and so I add one ice cube (or a small amount of water).

If you liked this post on sipping tequila, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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33 Wonderful responses to “The Cocktail Hour: Tequila, Tequila”

  • Tony Giallourakis

    You have to try some Porfidio Anejo, if you can find it still. Also I recommend Casa Nobel Anejo as well. Both are perfect alone, over ice, or even in a top shelf Margarita, if you dare to be so bold. Enjoy.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      sounds like a great idea for a post! rancho gordo also recommended this route.

  • todd diskin

    I saw your tweet asking for tequila recommendations and didn’t get the chance to post, but my all time (accessible) favorite has to be Cazadores reposado. It is for me the perfect tequila for mixing a lovely margarita and to sip on it’s own.

    Slainte!
    todd.

  • Bricktop Polford

    Tequila is the blood of the Antichrist. Sorry, bad college experiences. Now the smell of it makes me gag.

    • Craig

      I had the same experience.. trying Don Julio Reposado blew my mind, as I found it was actually delicious instead of vomit-inducing!

  • Mantonat

    Scotch whisky and tequila are the two spirits I’ve probably delved deepest into in my life, so I take (good-natured) exception to your statement that nothing matches Scotland’s spirit for complexity and variation: I believe tequila does, especially if I’m allowed to include mezcal. The single best distilled beverage I’ve ever tasted is Del Maguey Pechuga, made in Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca. (Here’s a link to the description on del Maguey’s website, if that’s allowed: http://www.mezcal.com/pechuga.html). The mezcal is made in clay stills, and you can actually taste the wet minerality of it in the flavor, much as the peat and iodine are evident in the whiskies of northern Scotland. I was stunned into silence and awe the first time I tasted it.
    For something a little cheaper and easier to find, I really like Corralejo Triple Distilled. All of Corralejo’s products are good, but the Triple Distilled is a little unique among tequilas. It is technically a plato because is has not spent time in oak (or at least not enough to pick up color or flavor from the wood), but the triple distillation gives it remarkable sophistication, smoothness, and depth.

    • allen

      If you like Del Maguey, be sure and try the Del Maguey Crema de mezcal, you can float a little on top of anything and make it better, or just drink it straight.
      I try and collect them for sipping, and they are all very different and not a bad one in the bunch.
      Sombra is another good one, made by Del Maguey for less than half the cost.

  • luanda

    After reading the article about tequila in the Plain Dealer, went to Momocho and tried the Herradura with a slice of orange dusted with Vietnamese cinnamon. Oh yeah. Good to the last sip.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      glad you mentioned momocho; yes they do excellet tequila service there.

  • Barbara | Creative Culinary

    I originally set out to discover tequila years ago when I wanted to make a better margarita. I avoided them for years but realize it was the harshness of cheap tequila that turned me off. Some education, a decent reposado, fresh fruit and I now make a margarita I would challenge any place in town to make better.

    I sort of hate to admit that I had NO idea there was tequila made just for sipping but that discovery sort of followed my exercise in finding a better tequila for margs. It’s not something I do often but loving the recommendations. Thanks!

  • Eric

    Another one to keep an eye out for is Sotol Reposado, which is (as far as I can tell from what I’ve read on the bottle) from Chihuahua, Mexico and made from the Desert Spoon plant rather than agave. Some AZ relatives recommended it – a little sweeter and more spice-driven than a standard Repasado tequila but definitely worth a taste. Also, as fine tequilas go, I think Tres Generaciones beats out Patron (similar price tag for reposado or anejo), but just a personal opinion!

  • Rick

    Three further things – I’ve been told, and it seems true to my own experience that Tequila is the only spirit that is both a depressant, as are most, and a stimulant. This makes for the festive effects of this particular drink.
    Salt and lime with Tequila are vestiges of very cheap or poorly distilled versions that need assistance, unlike the brands you’ve mentioned.
    The folks at MoMocho, a great mexican restaurant in Cleveland, serve a slice of orange dusted with cinnamon to better highlight the flavor of a fine, neat Tequila.
    Finally, I do like to follow a neat Tequila with a Negra Modelo Cerveza, leading on into a food course – mexican or spicy or otherwise.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      ah, depressant and stimulant. this explains the ISYW effect!

      • Mantonat

        Great for explaining indiscretions, but an urban myth, I think. In college, there were those who claimed the magic was in the worm. I think the truth is that all distilled spirits are depressants, but the early effects can feel like a stimulant.

  • Ryan C

    I never “got” tequila until I discovered Herradura. I tried it neat once and all of the sudden it made sense to me what Patron and 1800 were trying to do.

  • allen

    Finally Friday cocktail post, welcome back!

    I understand your dislike of Jose Cuervo and Las Vegas.
    My first trip to Las Vegas I vividly remember walking out of a casino and seeing a severely dehydrated, handicapped panhandler outside the doorway with no arms and no legs and giving him my precious bucket of coins I managed to preserve from the cash vacuum inside the greedy, smokey casino and thinking of the decline of western civilization and that If there was a hell, than this must be it, as I walked away on unbearably hot sidewalk.

    My perception has changed of both Las Vegas and tequila. As the Dude, Jeff Lebowski says: “new shit has come to light”.
    I’ve found that you don’t have to drive far to get the same beauty, quiet and magic of the desert in places like Red Rock canyon and Valley Of Fire, or hiking in Boulder Canyon at dusk with the strip being a lovely glow in the backgound. Bryce Canyon, Zion, Moab, Canyonlands, Arches and Death Valley are all nearby.

    And I’ve found Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia in blanco and extra anejo to be perhaps the finest spirit on the planet with nothing in common with that fake gold stuff that is passed off in dorm rooms and puke fest’s as tequila.
    I usually prefer the blanco in good tequila because the taste is so appealing, the terra shines through, not wood.

    Once a year (5 May of course!) we make one margarita with a few simple ingredients:
    Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia extra anejo, fresh lime and agave nectar cut with water, (no Grand Marnier or any other sweetener so you can still taste the tequila). Perhaps a small straight shot in a wine glass and then it goes back in the cabinet. It cost over $100 but the cork goes right back on. I’ve had it for over 5 years, so you chuggers of that cheap syrupy gold crap and soon to be throbbing heads do the math, it is a lot cheaper in the long run with a nice sipping tequila.

  • Kara Newman

    I love silver tequila! But when people tell me they “can’t” drink tequila, i steer them to anejo (aged). It’s a vastly different experience, like comparing moonshine to aged whiskey.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      the only drinkers i know who “can’t” drink tequila are the ones who, like above commenter, had bad exp in college or high school. invariably the worst kind of tequila experience there is…

  • Jay Silverman

    Great to see you referring to Ian Chadwick’s In Search of the Blue Agave,an excellent source of tequila knowledge.A great tequila definetely call for a well made sangrita!
    Herradura has been criticized by some tequila aficianado’s for some of their production practices after being bought out by Brown Foreman,it’s not a bad tequila, but there are so many great brands to try, enjoy the differences between Lowlands and Highlands,try Partida or Casa Noble… both relatively easier to find.If you are curious to find a small batch artisanal tequila,try looking online at
    http://www.hitimewine.net/ for one of these gems!

    http://www.t1tequila.com/

    http://www.tequilaalquimia.com/#!__home-tequila-alquimia

    http://www.tributotequila.com/home.php

  • Rach Sebell Graveline

    As a celiac, most of my drinking is tequila based. I highly recommend Corzo. Their silver and reposado are delicious. The silver is so smooth you can sip it straight. Hope you enjoy http://www.corzo.com/
    Espolon Tequila Reposado is amazing but much harder to find.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      I know you can’t drink beer, but hadn’t though you couldn’t drink rye or wheat based spirits! what spirits can you and can’t you drink as a celiac?

      • Mantonat

        Research suggests that gluten does not make it into the final product of spirits distilled from wheat, barley, or rye. The gluten molecule is too big to be transported in the alcohol steam created during distillation. My wife’s personal experience has backed that up so far. But for people with extreme gluten sensitivity, they may just prefer to err on the side of caution. It’s possible that gluten from the bulk grain used in the distilleries could make its way into the finished product through cross-contamination, even if not through distillation. Distilled vinegars are also considered much safer than even a few years ago.

  • Betty

    Have you tried a tequila & tonic with lime? Incredible combination of flavors. Perfect summer cocktail. Even better made with QTonic, which is made with agave also.

  • Kathryn

    Next time you are in New York, head to the Brandy Library where they have an amazing Tequilla and Mezcal collection and an expert to help you choose. I believe his name is Joel Cuellar. The last time I was there he served me something that was grassy and herbaceous. Mmmmmm…..

  • Dave

    Good call on the ice cube. I usually add a splash of water myself. I was at a Scotch tasting a couple of years ago hosted by the owner of the Dalmore distillery and he said that you need to add a splash of water to the scotch otherwise it over powers the palate and you miss some of the details. I remember the first time I had a fine tequila (Heradura) after years of the Cuervo swill. What a difference!

  • Paul

    Whats your feeling about Mezcal? I was at Mesa a few months ago and had an amazing mezcal with a lot of fruity notes. I prefer it over tequila.

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