Good Spirits > Revisting Tequila

Most of us have strong, perhaps painful, memories of tequilas we tasted years ago. Many were as coarse as kerosene, and aspirin was usually served with strong coffee the next morning. That was tequila’s Stone Age.

In the past fifteen years, the quality of tequila has progressed light years. Today, high-end, super premium tequilas rank as some of the world’s greatest spirits; so smooth that it’s almost a shame to mix them into a margarita, the most popular tequila cocktail. With their complex flavors and aromas, good tequilas are meant to be sipped and savored like fine cognac or scotch. They have become so popular that tequila sales are giving vodka a serious challenge.

The main quality difference is that today most tequilas are made completely from the fermented juice of blue agave plants grown in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Less expensive tequilas can contain as little as 60 percent agave, with added sugars making up the rest. Such tequila is called mixto and costs significantly less than higher-class products. However, 100 percent agave tequilas taste smoother, show richer flavors, don’t contain any additives and are purer because they are distilled further than mixto. To be certain you’re buying one of the better tequilas, the label must state 100 percent agave (or blue agave). If it doesn’t, it’s a less expensive, lower quality mixto.

There are four categories of tequila. Gold tequila is unaged clear tequila colored with caramel; it’s usually a very cheap mixto. Silver (or blanco) tequila is clear and aged no more than sixty days in stainless-steel tanks. Blanco tequilas are used mainly for making mixed drinks and blend particularly well into fruit-based cocktails. The next level up is reposado, or rested, tequila. After it’s made, reposado is aged in wooden casks for a minimum of nine months. Most are aged longer for added smoothness and flavor. Finally, there is añejo tequila, which is aged in wooden barrels for at least twelve months or as long as four years. Añejo is the most expensive, but reposado often is the better buy and just as delicious. Sometimes, añejo can be aged so long that it loses its characteristic flavor.

Before spending $35 or more for a bottle of good tequila, the best thing to do is to sample a few brands at a good bar or restaurant, such as Agavé Mexican Bistro in Portsmouth. Agavé serves sixty-three types of tequila and offers flights consisting of a blanco, reposado and añejo tequila. Flights start at $13, which is a very reasonable way to explore fine tequilas.

“More people, especially from the Northeast, are just discovering what good Mexican food is all about. That’s where interest in tequila is generated from,” says Mo Seiler, who manages Agavé. “People who are into tequila love the flights. When you have a smooth tequila, you just sip it and appreciate the taste.”

Agave’s Red Cactus Margarita

serves 2

1. Rub one slice of fresh lime around the rim of margarita glass; dip in salt or sugar.
2. Shake the remaining ingredients and pour into margarita glass.
3. Garnish with a slice of fresh lime and serve.

– 2 slices fresh lime
-1 tablespoon salt or sugar, in a small bowl
– 2 ounces Sauza Gold Tequila
– Splash of Chambord liquor
– ½ ounce of puréed raspberries
– ½ cup margarita mix Ice