While many bars now boast artisan gin menus, high-end vodkas, and a decent selection of spiced rums, the evolution of tequila outside of Mexico has lagged behind somewhat.
But the premium tequila movement is gaining traction. And, intriguingly, A-listers have been cashing-in on some of this action.
George Clooney, with his close friend Rande Gerber, founded premium tequila brand Casamigos in 2013 and sold it on to Diageo last year under an agreement for up to $1 billion (R13 billion). He was reportedly spotted serving this billion dollar tequila to guests at the royal wedding after party.
Business Insider spoke to Chris Hare, brand manager of premium tequila brand Cazcabel. It produces tequila in an independent micro distillery in the town of Arandas, located in the highlands of the Jalisco mountains in Mexico.
Hare said that he believes the reason tequila is one of the last spirits to be premiumised is because people just don't know what to do with it.
Since there are clearly some fancy tequilas on the market, we asked Hare where we're going wrong ordering, buying, and drinking tequila — and how to do it the Mexican way.
Hare explained that a good tequila is made 100% from blue agave plants, but said that what most people have been drinking for years is probably a "mixto," which typically only has to contain 51% agave sugars, and the rest can be topped up with added sugars and syrups.
To know if yours is pure you should look for a sign that says "100% blue agave."
Most tequila is made in the state of Jalisco, either in the town that is called Tequila or up in the Jaliscan highlands, Los Altos.
Hare says that there is a microclimate in these mountains, where Cazcabel is also grown, which helps the blue agave plants to grow bigger, at a slower pace, with more flavour.
Many people claim to prefer prefer "gold" or "brown" tequila, but Hare says the colour doesn't necessarily mean it's better.
There are many types of tequila. "Blanco," for example, also called "silver" or "white" tequila, is unaged and essentially represents tequila in its purest form. Then there's "reposado," a tequila that has a golden hue and has rested in oak barrels for up to 12 months (the first stage of ageing).
Anything that has rested over 12 months is known as an "añejo," which typically takes a darker colour than reposados, while anything that's aged over three years is "muy añejo." And they usually go up in price in that order.
But beware, "mixtos" are also typically golden in colour, this is usually the result of added caramel colourings or flavourings.
It takes between seven and nine years to grow an agave plant, Hare said, sometimes even longer, up to 11 or 12.
Because it takes so long to grow the plants, there are occasional droughts that disrupt the supply chain and push the price up. "This is especially the case now in terms of supply and demand as demand is very high at the moment," Hare said.
So Hare advises against scrimping on a bottle, "anything below $27 (R360) is probably a mixto," he said.
Hare says that drinking tequila with salt and lemon is not a thing in Mexico and instead suggests that you try a traditional Mexican chaser with it.
A "sangrita," is made of juice from tomatoes, pomegranates, spices, and peppers. It's the same ingredients that make up typical salads in Jalisco, Hare said, and at the end of the day, it's customary to drain the leftover juice from the large salad bowls and pour it into a bottle to sip with your tequila as a chaser.
There's also the "verdita," which consists of pineapple juice, coriander, mint, and jalapeños that can also be enjoyed after your tequila to balance out the acidity.
In Mexico, it's all about sipping your tequila and enjoying it throughout the day with food. They use a slightly taller and wider glass than a typical 25ml shot glass you'd normally find in a bar — they call it a "cabellito" (little horse).
While some people do prefer to drink their tequila cold, Hare recommends drinking it at room temperature to get the full range of flavours, just like you would red wine.
Other than the margarita, there aren't that many cocktails that you'd immediately associate with tequila, compared to the vast number of gin, vodka, and rum-based concoctions that are popular with drinkers.
If you're sticking to the margarita, Hare recommends mixing it up with some pink peppercorn or chipotle salt around the rim "it gives more of a tang," he says, but definitely don't use sugar.
You could also try a "paloma," which is made with tequila, grapefruit, soda, and sugar. The "matador," an old classic, is another option that consists of tequila, pineapple juice, and lime, according to Hare.
If you're prone to the gin blues, tequila, unlike other other spirits, is said to be an "upper" and many have claimed that it can give feelings of euphoria.
Even better, while bad tequila is known to be the cause of nightmarish hangovers, Hare claims it is possible to enjoy tequila throughout the night — responsibly of course – and not have a dreadful hangover. But — yes, you guessed it — you first need a decent bottle of tequila, then stick to sipping just that all night.
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