Forget about that bright blue vodka that’s essentially a hangover in a bottle. This summer, the liquor we’re ~responsibly~ consuming is authentic agave tequila. With an arduous production process and reputation for inspiring wild nights, this national spirit of Mexico encapsulates Miami’s work-hard-play-hard lifestyle. Get ready to trade your go-to vodka cran for a paloma or margarita—this is your crash course in understanding tequila and how to mix it up just right.
HISTORY OF TEQUILA
It’s fitting that a drink as celebrated as tequila comes straight from myth. According to ancient Aztec lore (and resources from Casa Sauza, which has produced tequila since 1873), tequila is literally a gift from the gods of drunkenness.
The legend goes like this: during a thunderstorm in the town of Tequila, in the Mexican state of Jalisco, lightning set fire to agave crops producing an aroma so sweet it had to be investigated. Between 1000 B.C. and 200 A.D., inhabitants realized fermenting the plant’s sap created a beverage called pulque with euphoric energies.
Just as Tequila, Jalisco wasn’t built in a day, nor was the beverage that took its name. It is believed that the distillation of pulque began during the Spanish invasion of Aztec civilization in the 1500s. When brandy ran low the Spaniards improvised, using mud and agave to produce mezcal, tequila’s less refined older brother. By the early 1600s, the first large-scale distillery was up and running in Tequila.
HOW IT’S MADE
According to Izkali, a tequila brand whose name means “birth,” in the Aztec language of Nahuatl, the tequila production process is broken down into seven steps. First, blue agave is harvested. Specifically, the agave’s underground core, the piña, is accessed using a special knife.
It’s then baked, which is vital for the third step: extraction. During extraction, the piñas are shredded into agave fibers and the sugar from these fibers is extracted to produce a sweet juice called mosto. The mosto is then fermentated—this is the step that gets you drunk.
Next, tequila is usually distilled twice to increase the alcohol concentration and then aged, depending on the type of tequila. Blanco, or silver, is aged for the shortest period of time to maintain the agave’s natural flavors. Repasado, or rested tequila, is aged for up to a year to attain its golden hue. Añejo, or aged tequila, is rested for up to three years and adopts the flavors of the wooden barrel that stores it for a richer taste.
Finally, the tequila is bottled and assigned a four-digit Norma Oficial Mexicana number (NOM) to identify which distillery produced it. The Mexican government strictly regulates tequila production, as agave and tequila are vital to their commerce, history and culture.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD TEQUILA
When choosing a tequila, according to Sip Tequila, always trust the label—it’s that simple. This essentially tells the story of the tequila inside. First, decide what you need. Blanco’s best for shots or cocktails, while reposado and añejo are meant to be sipped, neat and on the rocks, respectively.
Casa Sauza emphasizes that when choosing your spirit, look for “100% blue agave” and “made in Mexico.” The Mexican government allows drinks that are at least 51% blue agave to use the name “tequila,” but these are known as “mixto” and not as high quality.
We’re looking at you, Jose Cuervo Especial. As with any liquor, throwing down more than the bare minimum will get you a respectable bottle for your bar. Jonah Flicker from Liquor recommends some affordable, but reliable, brands including Milagro, Camarena and Espolòn. More luxurious options are Clase Azul, Patrón and Don Julio.
COCKTAILS x INGREDIENTS x METHOD
4 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
• 2 ounces tequila blanco
• 1/2 ounce grenadine
• Orange slice
• Maraschino cherry
For a cocktail capable of keeping you dancing ‘til the sun comes up, simply add tequila, followed by orange juice, to a glass with ice. For this beverage, tequila blanco is your best bet to preserve the vibrant colors of the orange juice and grenadine, which is added last to create the perfect ombre effect. Avoid mixing and garnish with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.
2 ounces tequila blanco
• 1 1/2 ounces lime juice
• 1/2 ounce orange liqueur
• 1/2 ounce agave syrup
• Salt and lime wedge garnish
It isn’t the priciest variety, but for a classic margarita, tequila blanco will do. Add spirits, agave syrup and lime juice to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. To make the oh-so-necessary salted rim, run a lime wedge around the edge of your glass and coat in salt. Then, strain the margarita into the glass over fresh ice.
• 2 ounces tequila blanco or reposado
• 1/2 ounce lime juice
• Grapefruit soda
• Grapefruit wedge
A perfect paloma marries sweet and sour citruses to produce a pretty pink hue. All you have to do is pour your
choice of tequila and lime juice in a glass over ice, then top with grapefruit soda. Use tequila blanco for a crisp and light drink with floral notes, or opt for reposado for a richer taste. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.
2 ounces tequila reposado or añejo
• 1 ounce lemon juice
• 1 egg white
• 3/4 ounce agave syrup
• Dash of orange bitters
• Maraschino cherry
• Orange wedge
The tequila sour is a tangy cocktail topped with creamy, frothy foam. To make it, combine tequila, lemon juice, agave syrup, orange bitters and an egg white in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake for 30 seconds before adding ice, then shake for another 30. Strain into glass and garnish with cherry and orange wedge.
• 3 ounces pineapple juice
• 2 ounces tequila blanco
• 1 ounce lime juice
• Pineapple slice
Rather than bullfighting, this matador combines the tropical flavor of pineapple with tequila and lime to create
a killer cocktail. Mix pineapple juice, lime juice and tequila in a cocktail shaker with ice before straining into a glass with ice and garnishing with a slice or two of fresh pineapple.
words_nicolette bullard. photo_ julia dimarco. design_keagan larkins.