First and foremost there are 3 things I want you all to know about tequila:
1) Cuervo Gold is not a premium tequila.
2) Tequila is not meant to be taken as a shot every time you drink it.
3) Your buddies from San Diego State who “totally drank the worm from the bottle of tequila,” are lying to you.
Let’s take that last part first. It is a fairly common misconception that one can find a worm in a bottle of tequila but I’m afraid unless it crawled in after you opened the bottle it’s not likely to happen. What you’re probably drinking is mescal, another type of Mexican liquor that like tequila is made from the agave plant. As mescal is bottled a cured worm, usually the larva of an agave snout weevil or the caterpillar of a certain type of moth that is found near agave plants, is added for flavor and aesthetic. For tequila it’s actually illegal to add a worm.
Now, getting back to those first two points: Cuervo Gold is an absolutely horrible tasting swill that I would never recommend to anyone. It is quite possibly the most vile thing I have ever put in my mouth, and I have some really messed up friends with whom I’ve gotten pretty drunk. To those who make the point that Cuervo Gold is the most popular tequila in the world, that fact simply makes it the McDonalds of tequila. At best it should be used in margaritas in order to mask the taste and odor. It is this type of hangover in a bottle that is responsible for that face young college students make and why they so desperately need that accompanying salt and lime. Good tequila should not taste like flaming sewage, it should be smooth with a distinct flavor.
Before we get in to what makes a good tequila good, let’s learn a little bit about where it comes from. Tequila by definition comes from the area surrounding the city of Tequila located northwest of Guadalajara. It is only produced in the state of Jalisco and a few limited regions in other states. Tequila is made from the blue agave plant and it should be 100% blue agave. Some lesser tequilas are only around 51% agave which means the rest is sugars and syrup and other wretch inducing additives.
Aztecs had been making a fermented drink from the plant well before the Spanish arrived. Once the Spanish ran out of their classy European booze they started going native with their alcohol consumption.
Around ten years ago it was difficult to find a decent tequila in America. It was relegated to Mexican restaurants and cheap cantinas outside of Vegas. As the liquor started to gain some prominence and popularity larger corporations started to take notice and wanted to get in on the action and tequila was no longer just a game for small, family-owned distilleries. The money those corporations have spent on marketing and advertising now make it possible for you and I to go to the bar and order a shot of ultra-premium tequila at $20. God bless progress!
Here’s a really easy breakdown of the different types of tequila a brand will offer: Silver is bottled soon after it’s distilled, spending at most a couple of months in steel barrels. Gold is what you get when you blend silver with a reposado or añejo. Reposado is aged for at least two months but less than a year in oak barrels. And añejo is aged at least one year but less than three in oak barrels.
A few years ago distillers started offering extra añejo which is aged at least three years. Here’s what all that means: the silver tastes most like the fermented agave, some might say the pure taste of tequila. As it ages in the barrels the tequila takes on the taste of the barrel and the alcohol matures in a way that makes it richer and more complex. It’s not uncommon for these barrels to have been used in the production of whiskey or bourbon. As for color, the silver is obviously clear and the others can come in various shades of amber.
A delicious tequila does not have to be swallowed from a shot glass. Something like Casa Noble should be sipped from a tumbler or even on the rocks. In Mexico it is often accompanied by a chaser called sangrita. The whole process of salt and lime bookending a shot is a way for the youngsters to get used to the burn. These training wheels are for the boys learning to be men at a quinceañera, so you, USC frat boy, be a man and lose the fruit!
Tequila is also used for a number of cocktails besides margaritas, like tequila sunrise and adios mother fuckers. Give ‘em a try!
So in conclusion let me leave you with a few thoughts. Spend more than $15 on a bottle of tequila and more than $3 for a shot. You’ll thank me in the morning. You don’t always have to take a shot of tequila. Get a good one and you can savor the smoky aroma and hint of vanilla in something like Don Julio 1942. Remember, if it’s got a worm it’s not tequila. And finally, leave the fruit on the side, gentlemen. Enjoy the tequila for what it is or don’t enjoy it at all.
Eric Valenzuela has continually transplanted himself, moving from one major city to another. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, has resided in San Francisco on two separate occasions (including a stint in Vallejo - the first American city to go bankrupt!), and now comes to you from New York City. Eric defines himself as a graduate student, writer, lover, former inmate, and sarcastic guy who desperately misses In-N-Out Burger and rocketing in his Mustang convertible which was left in California. He likes dogs, rock music, tacos and Italian food. Eric periodically writes in two blogs of his own: Transplanted (http://trans-plant.blogspot.com) and I'm Supposed to be Mexican (http://www.imsupposedtobemexican.com) and now he will also be sharing some of his stories with us at HispanicLA.com.