Like about 99.7 percent of the American drinking population, my first encounters with tequila weren’t pleasant ones. I’m guessing that approximately 100 percent of tequila drinkers swore off the stuff after waging that initial battle with a bottle of Jose Cuervo or, in my case, the ubiquitous Tequila Sunrise cocktail that seemed to soak my college drinking days. It would be years before JÃ¤germeister would knock tequila off its high horse in and around American universities, but that’s another story for another time.
I’ll bet if you ask a tequila-shooting frat boy about eating the worm at the bottom of a bottle of tequila, he’ll tell you that it brings good luck. And if your luck is really good, maybe swallowing the worm will also result in magical insights and visions. Worms in tequila are believed by some to be instilled (or maybe “distilledâ€) with subtle psychotropic properties. There’s just one problem with that notion: Mexican tequila doesn’t contain worms. Ain’t it a drag when facts get in the way of our fantasies?
Mexican mescal does sometimes contain a worm at the bottom of the bottle or affixed in a small pouch to the bottle’s neck. But even that is the outgrowth of a Mexican marketing strategy, not tradition.
And while we’re destroying tequila myths, how about this one: Tequila is not, as so many suppose, cactus juice. Tequila is actually distilled from a plant similar to a lily called the blue agave. And if you’ve only tasted the fiery versions of tequila that need to be accompanied by limes slices, salt and a beer chaser, then I’d urge you to explore more subtle, high-quality tequilas. Aged, well-made tequila can taste as smooth as good cognac or Scotch and can be sipped like fine brandy.
When buying and drinking tequila, it helps to understand the various types or “classes” of tequila, which can range from swill only good for shots at the beach to tequila that you’d want to savor by the fire like Port on a cold winter night. Here are the basic tequila categories, from most expensive to least:
AÃ±ejo is tequila that has been aged for at least one year, but often much longer. It’s aged in oak barrels, specifically selected and certified by the Mexican government and the oak usually imparts soft, creamy vanilla flavors. Some of my favorite AÃ±ejo tequila brands are Don Julio, Sauza Tres Generaciones and PatrÃ³n.
Down a step from AÃ±ejo is tequila Reposado. Like AÃ±ejo, Reposado tequila is aged in oak barrels but in this case it’s aged for from two months to a year. Reposado isn’t quite as subtle and smooth as AÃ±ejo but it’s still a good “sipping” tequila and usually a bit less expensive than AÃ±ejo. Dependable producers of Reposado include Gran Centenario, 1800, Corralejo, Herradura and the popular Cabo Wabo.
Gold tequila is actually nothing more than silver tequila (the most basic style) with added coloring. This is the stuff we love to drink from shot glasses. Cuervo Especial is probably the most popular Gold tequila but another good choice available locally is Sauza Extra Gold.
For versatility, silver tequila (sometimes called “white,” although it’s actually clear) gets the prize. Silver tequila is aged for up to 45 days in stainless steel tanks. Though restaurants love to upsell customers and urge them to drink margaritas made from Reposado or AÃ±ejo, that seems like a waste of money to me. So I tend to make my margaritas with silver tequila but then soup them up with a splash of Cointreau, Orange Napoleon or Grand Marnier. PatrÃ³n, Herradura and Corazon de Agave are dependable choices.