Balance. Depth. Flavor. Three words that I never would have associated with Tequila. Until fairly recently, simply uttering the word Tequila would cause a strange phenomenon, whereby people would make a strange face and their skin would turn pale or even ghost white. Tequila, for many, would conjure up unpleasant memories of college shenanigans that would start out with a bottle named Jose, some salt, and some limes. Inevitably the night would take a wrong turn back at the intersection of ‘Common Sense Lane’ and ‘Caution To The Wind Boulevard.’ By the end of the night, many would find themselves praying to the great porcelain god, vowing to never touch Tequila again.
Thankfully, those days are gone (well, regrettably, not for everyone). Over the last 10 years, Tequila has moved out from behind the black veil of “has-beens,” to the forefront of today’s spirit revival. Never before would anyone dream of *gasp* sipping tequila neat, or talking about the flavor profile or floral notes of the tequila in your glass. Stepping into any respectable cocktail bar today you will see several varieties and colors of tequila, not just the yellow and black label of the Cuervo bottle that likely had been there long enough to gather fruit flies in the bottom.
The amount of quality tequila that is being made these days is a welcome change, to say the least. In fact, finding tequila-centric bars running tequila tastings and tequila dinners is becoming more and more commonplace. It would not be unusual for a modern tequila bar to boast 100 or more quality tequila offerings. And this doesn’t even take into account tequila’s sultry and smokey cousin, Mezcal (for which Mezcal Tequila Cantina derives their name) which is distilled from the same Blue Agave plants and is smoked for hours in huge clay pots underground, imparting fantastic flavors and nuances to the spirit.
I never even knew you could actually sip tequila until one afternoon, years ago, by the direction of the bartender at Mezcal in Worcester, did I sip a fantastic aged Tequila known as Partida Reposado. This single experience changed my entire outlook on tequila from that point forward. Before getting into the actual experience, we should probably touch on the various styles of tequila known as blanco (aka white or silver), reposado, and anejo.
Mexican laws state that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco. The plant used to distill tequila, the blue agave, grows best in the volcanic soil of that region. However, depending on the actual locale of the plants, the soil may impart sweet flavors or earthier tones. This is a similar concept to terroir in wine, whereby the differences in soil or climate of a certain region can cause big differences in the nuances of particular wines.
Silver tequila is simply unaged tequila. However, it must go through 2 distillations to be considered silver. The Partida Blanco is crisp and refreshing, perfect for a margarita. When sipped neat, you will get hints of citrus and fruit in there.
Reposado means that the tequila has been aged at least 2 months. This is usually done in oak casks that will impart richness and flavor to the tequila. Partida ages their reposado for 6 months in used whiskey barrels. The result, as I mentioned, is completely transforming (for both the tequila and for the consumer!). By aging in used whiskey barrels, the tequila takes on hints of vanilla and hazelnut. For me, the Partida also has a slightly sweet side to it, which makes it extremely approachable.
The third category to consider is anejo. This is a tequila that has been aged for at least 12 months, again, usually in oak barrels. When I was tending bar, this was always a nice segue to convert the tequila drinker to whiskey and vice a versa. Partida ages their anejo for a total of 18 months. The result is an incredibly rich and complex tequila, with hints of cherry and dark chocolate. The length of time the tequila spends in the barrel gives it a deep, robust finish. You can really sip this tequila however you like, but it reminds me of sipping on a glass of bourbon on the rocks, it has that much depth and character to it. Once the ice begins to melt, the tequila opens up nicely, and you start to get those hints of chocolate.
Before you started reading this article on tequila, I guarantee a good portion of readers never thought we would be talking about hints of vanilla and chocolate, barrel aging, and transformative experiences, but we did it. I promise you, next time you are at your favorite establishment, or liquor retailer, see if you can spot a bottle of the Partida (or other quality tequila), and enjoy the transformation that is about to take place. Enjoy!
- 2 oz Partida Blanco
- 0.5 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
- 0.75 oz Cointreu (or triple sec)
- 0.5 oz simple syrup or agave syrup
- Combine with ice, shake thoroughly, and serve in Collins glass
El Pimiento Rojo
- 2 oz Partida Reposado
- 0.5 oz Agave syrup (heat water with agave nectar and stir until dissolved. Let cool and store in air tight container in fridge for up to 2 weeks. Use a 2:1 ratio of water and agave nectar due to sweetness of agave nectar.)
- 0.5 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
- Red bell pepper
- Muddle red bell pepper with agave syrup. Add tequila, ice and lime juice. Shake vigorously. Strain over ice in short rocks glass