Why It’s Time To Give Tequila A Chance | SLMan
Dismissed for decades as a late-night shot as opposed to a smooth sipping spirit, tequila has had a bad rap. To celebrate National Tequila Day this Friday, we spoke to a trio of experts from three modern tequila houses to find out why Mexico’s national drink is now the most interesting spirit on the market – and how to drink it properly…

What’s going on?
“People in the UK are finally realising there’s more to tequila than a shot with lime and salt at 2am. A lot of tequila brands have been working hard over the last ten years to move people away from the high-intensity ‘lets-get-shitfaced’ idea of tequila to something more sophisticated and relaxed. Now it’s starting to be appreciated for the complex, natural, versatile and delicious spirit that it is.” – Tom Bishop, El Rayo

“Back in 2015, when I first started making tequila, it wasn’t a huge thing in the UK. But the trend for clean, all-natural drinks to serve at home has increased, while out in bars and pubs, bartenders have really helped to bring tequila to light in a more positive way.” – Michael Ballantyne, Storywood Tequila

“There’s been a change in the way we enjoy drinks. We want to know more about where they come from and how they are made. This is good for rum and agave-based spirits like mezcal and tequila. Instead of having tequila as a shot on the side, it has risen up in the ranks and is now enjoyed on the rocks, by itself and in cocktails.” – Dami Whitfield, Cazcabel Tequila

How is tequila made?
“Tequila is like champagne: it can only be produced in five regions using a specific raw material. The majestic blue agave is grown in the Mexican highlands for eight years. Then it’s hand-harvested and the heart of the plant – called the pina – is cooked. The juices are extracted, fermented and distilled, then mixed with water to produce tequila.” – Tom

 

So what’s sipping tequila?
“Any well-produced spirit is a sipping spirit. Tequila does not spend as much time ageing in barrels as other spirits, but it makes up for that with all the time and effort that goes into growing the agave plant. A sign of a good tequila is one that is smooth and does not burn on the way down. It should be able to be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, so that even the delicate flavours are appreciated.” – Dami

“Sipping tequila has been sipped by residents in Mexico for years. The reason it’s now coming to the fore is because of the drive by manufacturers to create amazing, refined liquids and also the thirst for knowledge of bartenders and consumers. Take away the salt and the lime, sip on a 100% agave tequila and what you have is a drink as good as any whisky.” – Michael

How do you like your tequila?
“I always try it neat the first time I have a tequila, as there is nothing to hide behind. It lets me know if I like it and – if I do – how to have it in a cocktail. The go-to for me is a Tommy’s Margarita which is almost the same as a Margarita but with agave syrup. It blends better, as it is the same base ingredient to make tequila. My next choice would be a Paloma – similar to a Margarita but with the addition of grapefruit juice.” – Dami

“El Rayo is the first tequila in the world designed to pair with tonic. The blue agave flavours naturally pair with tonic to create a complex and refreshing drink – fresh and vibrant with a mix of herbal and savoury notes. We don’t need to add botanicals or manufactured flavours because agave is the flavour.” – Tom

“A great tequila should always be tried neat first. However, given the characteristics imparted by the Speyside whisky barrels Storywood uses, our tequila can be enjoyed in an Old Fashioned or a Whisky Sour. If you’re after a more refreshing drink, try serving long with tonic or ginger beer and a squeeze of lime.” – Michael

Tell us about the three main types of tequila…
Blanco: “I believe the blanco expression of any tequila is the most important, as it is the rawest form. The growth of the agave changes from harvest to harvest, as there are so many variables that could impact the flavour. To be able to control and maintain a high standard with slight variants is exceedingly challenging.” – Dami
 
Reposado: “Reposado means ‘rested’. This is is the blanco expression, aged for 60 days to 12 months in traditional American and French oak barrels. Exciting new experiments with alternatives such as Limousin barrels have added another layer of complexity to the style.– Dami
 
Añejo: “Añejo means ‘aged’. It must be aged for a minimum of one year in oak barrels. From this you tend to get bolder and richer flavour profiles in comparison to blanco and reposado counterparts. Añejos have a more amber hue and sweet caramelised flavour. Once a tequila has reached añejo status, it is more commonly sipped than used in cocktails but, again, as it is a more recent development it is still finding its feet in the category.” – Dami

 

Why does tequila have a certain reputation?
“It’s often seen as a trashy drink. A lot of this is because it's usually the last drink you have on a night out, so it gets blamed for all the other drinks you had. You could have ten beers and one tequila shot, and when you wake up the next day it’s the tequila’s fault! We are trying to change the way people drink tequila with the T&T – we want people to make tequila their first drink and not the last. It is the perfect golden-hour drink to enjoy at home at the end of a long day.” – Tom

“Climate seriously affects the harvesting of agave. Cold weather and snowfall can increase the price for agave. That’s why tequila brands first moved away from making 100% agave tequila, reducing it down to 51% agave and 49% cane sugar. This is what’s now called a ‘mixto’. It creates a very different taste and that’s when salt and lime shots became the party drink of the 90s. Today, we’re all about producing quality tequila, made and served with respect.” – Michael

Where are your favourite places in the UK to drink it?
“We are lucky in London to have so many great bars and restaurants. As south-east Londoners we have to shout out a few of our faves down here: Coal Rooms, Begging Bowl, Peachy Goat and Shrub and Shutter. Further afield, we always have a good time at The Vault, Hacha, TT Liquor, Santo Remedio and Nine Lives, but there really are too many to count now.” – Tom

“I was a chef by trade before and I’m a massive foodie. When I’m in London, there’s no better place for me than Mac & Wild to enjoy one of its venison burgers and a tequila cocktail.” – Michael

El Camion/Pink Chihuahua is one of my favourite bars in London. El Camion is the ground-floor bar where you can have great Mexican food. Downstairs is Pink Chihuahua, where you can find its range of agave-based spirits. I always bump into a friendly face in there. I also like Home/Found, which is a bartender’s paradise in east London, run by a small but elite team. Split into two parts, Home is where the madness happens. A lot of spirits, shots and cocktails. Found is the basement bar, which has more of a relaxed atmosphere and feels a bit like a speakeasy with a wider range of spirits. Tequila Mockingbird in Brixton is a bartender’s paradise in South West London run by a small but elite team. They have an amazing selection of tequila for you to discover. The Gibson bar is one of the best cocktail venues in London, they have incredible creations using Cazcabel Blanco.” – Dami

Inspired? Tom, Dami and Michael share their favourite tequila serves…

Storywood: Reposado Speyside 7

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 50ml of Storywood Speyside 7
  • Coca Cola or ginger beer

 METHOD

  1. Add ice to a highball glass.
  2. Add Storywood Speyside 7 and top up with Coca Cola or ginger beer.
  3. Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Visit StorywoodTequila.com

El Rayo: Tequila & Tonic

 
INGREDIENTS

  • 40ml of El Rayo tequila
  • Indian tonic water
  • Slice of grapefruit

METHOD

  1. Add ice to a highball glass.
  2. Throw in 40ml of tequila, top with tonic water and garnish with a big slice of grapefruit.

Visit ElRayoTequila.com

Cazcabel: Tommy's Margarita

 
INGREDIENTS

  • 50ml of Cazcabel Blanco
  • 25ml of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 20ml of agave syrup
  • Lime wedge

METHOD

  1. Pour Cazcabel Blanco, lime juice and agave into a rock glass.
  2. Shake and strain into a fresh glass with crushed ice.
  3. Garnish with a wedge of lime.
Paloma

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 50ml of Cazcabel Reposado
  • 30ml of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 25ml of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 25ml of sugar syrup
  • 1 dash of grapefruit bitters
  • A pinch of salt

METHOD

  1. Shake all the ingredients with ice.
  2. Strain into a highball glass.
  3. Garnish with grapefruit zest.

Visit Cazcabel.com
 

Añejo Old Fashioned

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 50ml of añejo tequila
  • 1 tsp of brown sugar
  • 4 dashes of aromatic bitters

METHOD

  1. Add the tequila to a rocks glass with brown sugar and aromatic bitters.
  2. Add ice and stir. Taste. If you want it sweeter, add another teaspoon of brown sugar.
  3. Garnish with orange zest and maraschino cherry. 

Keen to try some new-wave tequilas? Here are 12 of the best to buy…

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