Dining » Vol. 2

Tequila

Try it Again for the First Time
By Mike Monopoli

Tequila, a type of spirit called Mezcal, is made in the region surrounding the town of Tequila, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. It is distilled from the juice of the blue agave plant, a cactus-like succulent which is actually a member of the lily family.

Tequila Shot

Tequila Shot

Lately the popularity of high-end tequilas has brought attention to the varieties of distillation and aging techniques. A bottle of tequila currently holds The Guinness Book of World Record’s title for most expensive bottle of liquor, wiping away the notion that tequila is simply for frat parties, drowning your sorrows or wild times south of the border. It’s no longer just used in fruity margaritas: the demand is growing for the higher quality aged tequilas, fit to be enjoyed neat or with an ice cube or two, like a fine aged bourbon whiskey. And forget about the worm – it’s a marketing ploy used primarily in cheap, mass produced brands, not in the premium, hand-crafted tequilas that are slowly savored from brandy snifters by connoisseurs.

Mirroring the nationwide trend, the demand for premium brands of tequila is growing locally as well. Ixtapa Cantina in Lunenburg features several top-shelf brands and owner Jamie Brambilla says, “Our bestsellers are Patron, Don Julio Silver and Don Julio Añejo. People really like them and they’re not too expensive.”

Area liquor stores are also seeing a surge in consumer interest. Laura Hovey, manager at KJ Baarons Fine Wine and Spirits in Worcester’s Washington Square,, says that they’ve been beefing up their selection of tequila due to increased demand for higher-end brands from a more educated, discerning clientele. “There’s such a growing market of people who want this tequila,” she says.

The newly opened Mezcal Cantina on Shrewsbury Street serves a vast selection of well over a hundred tequilas. We sell more margaritas than anything,” says owner Mike Covino, “but frankly, some tequila is too good to be served in a margarita. We have 115 tequilas total; most of them blue agave tequilas, but there are probably about 75 tequilas on our list that would be most appreciated sipped alone, or with a couple of ice cubes… They appeal to the bourbon and scotch drinker very much. There are definitely more people sipping on tequila than I had expected. We’re breaking into all of the tequila, especially the high end stuff. People just want to taste it.”

Known as North America’s first distilled spirit, tequila was first produced in the 16th century. According to www.itequila.org, the brand “tequila” is owned by the Mexican government and those producing it must comply with strict government regulations. It must be produced in Mexico, in the Tequila Region, to be considered authentic.

To meet the public’s growing interest, liquor stores like KJ Baarons are hosting tequila tastings to introduce their customers to premium brands. Restaurants, including Mezcal, are also educating their clients about the joys of high end tequilas by offering one ounce samples or tasting flights (a trio of one ounce samples) of various types and brands of tequila. For those seeking to expand their sipping horizons, or for those who simply want to dip one cautious toe into the premium tequila pool, the options are growing and should be savored.

There are two categories of tequila, distinguished by their percentage of agave juice. Tequila 100% Agave is premium tequila. It must be made with 100% blue agave juice and bottled at a distillery in Mexico. Tequila Mixto must contain 51% agave juice and can be exported for bottling. Both categories offer subtypes, which are categorized by the aging process:

Gold/Oro: Tequila that is un-aged. Often, caramel coloring and flavor are added so that it resembles aged tequila.

Silver/Blanco: This un-aged, white spirit is the traditional incarnation of tequila. It is bottled immediately after distillation. It is clear colored, citrus flavored with spicy notes.

Resposado: Aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two months, up to a year. They take on a light golden color and the tastes become more complex. Demand has grown
exponentially for this category because of its smooth taste. “They take on hints of caramel, butterscotch, and they start to lose a bit of their spiciness. They become a little smoother, a little more round on the palate, which makes them nice for sipping,” says Covino.

Añejo: White tequila which is aged in oak barrels from one to three years, from which it garners its golden colors and caramel-butterscotch flavors. It’s often compared to small batch scotch or bourbon, with its rich, full flavor and smoky notes.

Tequila Agave 100% can be Blanco, Reposado, or Añejo; Tequila can be Oro, Blanco, Reposado or Anejo.

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