I’m a fan of tequila. When I was in my dance-club stage, I loved the option of a tequila shot for a few reasons. I never had to hold a sweaty glass (ice and a hot club made for condensation) and whenever anyone offered to buy me a drink, a tequila shot always impressed. And I like the taste of tequila – well not all tequila. The cheap stuff tastes, well, cheap, and was the reason for a hangover, if I had one. But good tequila is damn good. Also, tequila is comparatively healthy compared to other spirits and alcoholic drinks, as it contains no sugar, no carbs and has less calories. So, when I had the opportunity to meet celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez and Tequila Cazadores’s global ambassador Manny Hinojosa, for lunch and tequila, I had to snap it up. (Thanks, Danielle for sharing the invite!)
What kinds of tequila are there?
There are five kinds of tequila, including blanco, joven, reposado, añejo and extra añejo. Here’s a breakdown of what each are. Include these for your tasting notes.
- Tequila blanco is made purely of blue agave, a plant found in western Mexico in the state of Jalisco. On the bottle, it should say “100% blue agave,” making it the clearest of tequila types. Bartenders favour this for margaritas. This is a good tequila to start with and build upon for your tasting, as it’s unaged.
- Tequila joven is a tequila blend of aged and unaged tequila. The range of types is vast, as with many blended spirits, as the cost and flavour can depend on the aged tequila. It can be used for mixed drinks like a tequila sour or served on ice or neat. It could be a bit cloudy compared to blancos.
- Tequila reposado is tequila aged for at least two months up to a year in oak barrels. The wood adds warmth to the taste and colour. This is meant for sipping as the complex flavour will beg you to slow down.
- Tequila añejo is like reposado, except that it’s aged from 12 months to three years. Some tequileros (makers or distillers of tequila) will use different aging strategies, mixing and changing the barrels. When a cocktail recipe calls for a brown spirit, like a whisky, you can sub in tequila añejo. Of course, it’s perfect on its own or with ice, too.
- Extra añejo is like añejo but extra, and by that I mean that the tequila is aged for at least three years. This is the darkest of the tequilas, unless it’s aged in a metal barrel. The flavour is the most complex in this type of tequila. Typically it’s served at room temperature but can be poured over ice.
What’s the difference between brands? It depends on who you ask. “We use only blue agave tequilana,” says Hinojosa about Tequila Cazadores. “What is special there is the soil. There’s a lot of iron in that land and this is going to give the tequila a different flavour profile, nearly sweeter floral and citrusy. … We harvest agave, and that same day, we start the production process of tequila.” That involves prepping the plants for extraction, distillation, fermentation and so on.
Keep the above notes in mind when serving your friends. It’ll help explain the order you serve and why each tequila looks and tastes so different from the other.
What’s needed for a tequila-tasting party
Key word here is party. Don’t be stuffy or a braggart. The point is to have good tequila and have a good time. You want to hopefully introduce your friends and family to a type of tequila they have never tried before. Google for other tips, and you’ll find things like the temperature to serve, but Hinojosa says to ignore those rules as they’re rigid and will just get in the way of exploring the flavours. Instead, focus on these simple, fun tips for your tequila-tasting party.
- Choose food and garnishes with citrusy notes to amplify the tequila flavours, says Sánchez. Let people pick and nibble and dress their tequila as they wish. “That’s what you always hear chefs say, texture and acid,” he says.” And tequila has texture, the mouthfeel that’s the texture, right. [The food is about] acidity. It’s so important because it keeps your palate engaged.”
- Give each guest a different glass for every tequila they will be tasting, as to not inhibit or blend flavours – leave that for the jovens and the tequileros. They will also need a glass of water between tequila. If you have some guests who don’t want to consume alcohol, offer a spitting vessel. Preferably not something transparent because… gross. No one needs to see that.
- Lead your guests in how to taste the tequila. Hinojosa says to swish the glass to see the legs (the tequila splitting into streams and running down the sides of the glass. As you go through the order of blanco to extra añejo, you’ll notice the legs slow down. Put your nose in the glass to smell the aromas and describe it. Is it peppery? Is it woody? What about florals? Any sweetness like vanilla or citrus? Then it’s time to have a little taste. Has the flavour changed from what you thought it would be like from the fragrance?
- As you near the end of the tasting, ask your guests which one they liked best and offer them another glass of it.
- For those who don’t like straight spirits even after tasting, it’s always good to have mixed cocktails on hand. Try the recipes below. Have a big jug of margarita (use a ceramic Cantarito for a more authentic experience) and let guests ladle themselves a serving.
Cocktails perfect for a tequila tasting
Tequila Cazodores provided these tasty tequila recipes. I know because I tried them when I met Sánchez and Hinojosa.
Blood orange margarita
Makes 1 serving
- Handful of ice
- 1 ½ oz tequila blanco (Try Tequila Cazadores Blanco.)
- 1 oz agave nectar (or simple syrup if no agave nectar is available to you)
- ¾ oz fresh lime juice
- ¾ oz blood orange puree concentrate
- Salt covering the surface of a plate
- Lime wedge in the centre
- Blood orange slices for garnish
- Add a handful of ice to a blender.
- Combine remaining ingredients and blend on drinks setting (medium until frothy).
- Wet the rim of a glass with the lime wedge, and roll the outside of the glass in the salt. This avoids getting any salt inside the glass.
- Pour blended drink into glass, and garnish with blood orange.
Makes about 22 servings
- 1 litre bottle of tequila (Try Tequila Cazadores Reposado.)
- 25 oz (3 ¼ cups) orange juice
- 10 oz (1 ¼ cup) lime juice
- 25 oz (3 ¼ cups) grapefruit juice
- 2 tsp salt
- 4 cans of grapefruit soda
- Enough ice for 22 glasses
- Garnish with orange and grapefruit slices and tamarind candies
- Combine all ingredients in a large serving bowl or Cantarito jug. Stir well.
- Serve over ice and garnish.
Two dishes perfect for a tequila tasting
Sánchez created these two dishes for my tequila tasting, so I’m sharing these with you here.
Makes 4 servings.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno, seeded, finely minced
- ¼ cup tequila blanco (Try Cazadores Tequila Blanco.)
- 1 cup diced tomato
- 1 ½ cups clam juice
- 2 lbs P.E.I. mussels, cleaned and debearded
- ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 lime for juice
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- 12t o 16 sprigs of cilantro, roughly torn
- Salt to taste (if needed)
- Heat over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or a heavy wide, shallow pot with a lid. Add the olive oil, covering the bottom of the pot by swirling it.
- Once the oil is evenly coated and close to smoking, add the shallots and saute for 1 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently until the shallots are lightly brown.
- Add garlic and jalapeno. Stir until aromatic and the garlic is lightly browned, about another 30 seconds.
- Add tequila blanco to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Stir.
- Turn the heat to high. Continue to cook until most of the tequila has been cooked off.
- Add chopped tomatoes and clam juice, and bring to a boil.
- When boiling, add mussels. Shake the pot side to side to distribute and settle the mussels into the cooking liquid. Put the lid on the pot tightly. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the mussels have begun to open. Peek under the lid to check, and give a quick stir to check for doneness.
- Once the mussels are cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove the mussels onto a serving dish. Discard any mussels that did not open from cooking.
- Over high heat, reduce the broth for 2 to 3 minutes and taste. It should taste well-seasoned and flavourful, not needing much salt if any at all.
- Turn off the heat. Add the cubed butter bit by bit, whisking in to combine. Season broth with the juice of one lime to taste.
- Pour the seasoned broth over the plated mussels. Garnish with torn cilantro stems and additional lime wedges on the side.
- Serve alongside Spanish rice or crusty bread to absorb the flavourful liquid.
Fried Wild Mushroom Tacos with Roasted Poblano Slaw and Cotija
Makes 4 servings.
- Canola oil, as needed for frying
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp chili powder
- 1 ½ cups seltzer, cold (Try Topo Chico.)
- 1 ½ pounds wild mushroom, torn into 2- to 3-inch pieces
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup lime juice
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- Splash of tequila reposado (Try Cazadores Tequila Reposado.)
- 2 cups green or red cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1 cup roasted poblano pepper, diced small
- ½ cup Spanish onion, diced small
- ¼ cup epazote, finely chopped
- 12 (8-inch) corn tortillas, lightly toasted
- 2 avocados, mashed, seasoned to taste
- Crumbled Cotija cheese for garnish
- 2 limes cut into 12 wedges for garnish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Over medium heat, fill the bottom of a Dutch oven by one-third with canola oil. As the oil heats, you can begin working on the batter for the wild mushrooms.
- Combine flour, cumin, garlic and chilli powders in a large bowl. Slowly mix in seltzer. Combine until the batter is mixed, with no visible large lumps.
- When the oil reaches 190 degrees Celsius, lightly coat the mushrooms with batter. Working in batches, fry mushrooms until golden brown and crispy. Remove the mushrooms to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Season with salt to taste.
- In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, maple syrup and tequila to make slaw dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and whisk again.
- in a medium-sized bowl, combine cabbage, poblano, Spanish onion and epazote. Dress slaw with the tequila-lime dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Now, assemble the tacos. Spread seasoned mashed avocado along the centre of each tortilla. Add a small portion of slaw and top with fried mushrooms and Cotija cheese. Serve one to two tacos on a plate with a lime wedge, or serve on a platter with garnish plated on the side.