There’s a lot more to Tequila than margaritas and cheap shots
Tequila is the dark horse of the spirit family. If you’ve ever had a night of too many cheap tequila shots, you probably know why. Bad tequila is, well, awful. But good tequila – well that’s something else entirely. A high-quality tequila is meant to be sipped slowly and enjoyed, no shooting, salt or lime necessary.
But what actually is tequila? At the most basic level, it’s a Mexican liquor distilled from the blue agave plant. It’s highly regional, produced mainly in Jalisco, and a few other areas (including Tequila!) and the name is legally protected, in a similar way as Champagne.
A Blue Agave farm in Mexico
Tequila’s history spans all the way back to pre-Columbian Mexico, but wasn’t mass produced until 1600. And the methods of making it have remained largely unchanged- some distillers still use donkeys in the process!
Read more: #KnowYourSpirits: Fernet
Making tequila takes time. A lot of time actually. Remember how we said it’s made from blue agave? Well, that takes around eight years to fully mature (if you have the proper, super specific growing conditions!), and it’s a very hands-on process for the farmers, called jimadores. The knowledge of the jimadores is passed on through the generations, allowing them to know exactly what a plant needs and when. Once the blue agave reaches maturity, it produces something called a piña, or heart, which is used to make the tequila. Over 300 million plants are harvested a year to match the world’s demand, and the taste of the spirit will depend on where it was harvested.
With over 1000 tequila brands on the market, it can be daunting to dive in. Start with knowing your classifications. You can get 100% Blue Agave or Tequila Mixto. The pure tequila is obviously more highly regarded, with tighter regulations. The mixed must have a minimum of 51% Blue Agave, the remaining 49% of the spirit can be anything from sugars to colourings. After that, tequila is divided into five categories: Silver, Gold, Reposado, Añejo (aged) and Extra Añejo.
Silver tequila is pure, unadulterated agave. It hasn’t been aged, and it’s often bottled directly after distillation. Gold tequila is usually a mixed tequila, with colorants added in. This is the most common type you’ll find at bars—and if you don’t like tequila, this is to blame. Step up your game and try a Tequila Reposado, a ‘rested’ variety that’s been aged in barrels. After aging for a year, a tequila becomes Añejo – which means old, and develops a richer more complicated flavour. Finally, there’s Tequila Extra Añejo, aged more than three years. This ultra-aged spirit can sometimes to be hard to distinguish from a whiskey!
The piñas of the Blue Agave, as seen by COA during a research trip to Mexico
Much like great gin and whiskey, making tequila is an art form, and one that should be embraced. If you’re ready to move away from the shooters and salt, Lan Kwai Fong and Central have a number of great bars to explore. Start at COA (which is named after the tool the jimadores use to harvest the piñas!).
Coa is a Mexican-inspired artisanal cocktail bar with one of the best selections of tequila in town. Founded by champion bartender Jay Kahn, this is the place to go to learn about the tequila harvesting process and all manner of agave-based spirits. Then wander your way down to Brickhouse and order one of their famous margaritas. If you’re up for a big night, finish at Los Sotano, our favourite underground bar that serves great sipping tequila—just ask the bartender!
Shop A, LG/F Wah Shin House, 6-10 Shin Hing Street, Central; +852 2813 5787
20 D’Aguilar Street, Central
21 D’Aguilar Street, Central; +852 2970 3887
All photos are the rights of their respective owners