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You’re (Still) Drinking Tequila Totally Wrong

Even if you’re sipping instead of shooting, you still might be drinking tequila the wrong way.

“We’re not doing shots. That’s not how we do it,” said Ana Martinez as she kicked off a January agave tasting at Hilton Los Cabos, where she is the assistant director of food and beverage. The former bartender turned mezcalita—Martinez’s credentials include master’s degrees in tequila process as well as mezcal and Mexican agave elaboration from the Universidad de Guadalajara—is as passionate as she is educated.

To hear Martinez, who is from Spain, speak of her adopted country’s agave-based spirits is to immediately want to throw out everything on your bar cart back home. That stuff, explained Martinez, likely isn’t even real agave. But we’ll get into that. Ahead, a primer on the wonderful world of tequila.

The 5 Types of Tequila

So, is mezcal tequila or is tequila mezcal, and what is the difference between blanco and reposado anyway? Those fortunate enough to participate in one of Martinez’s spirited tastings will find her breakdown of agave-based spirits—which involves props like an agave plant, a thick book chock-full of more info than the average sipper could ever need, and, of course, lots of bottles of tequila—easy to understand and commit to memory.

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First thing’s first: All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Mezcal is the umbrella term to describe agave-based spirits, but tequila can only be made from the Blue Weber agave plant. This puts tequila, of which there are five types, in a special category of spirits.

  1. Blanco, also referred to as plata or silver tequila, can be aged for up to 60 days but is often not aged at all.
  2. Reposado must be aged for at least 60 days or up to 11 months.
  3. Añejo is aged for one to three years in an oak barrel.
  4. Extra añejo is aged for a minimum of three years.
  5. Cristalino is a relatively new classification, wherein tequila is aged like an añejo, but stripped of tannins to resemble a blanco in appearance.

When buying any type, warns Martinez, always look for 100 percent agave or 100 percent blue agave. If the bottle says “tequila mixto,” it probably means it contains other sugars and additives and won’t have the clean, smooth flavor of pure agave.

The Correct Technique for Drinking Mezcal

Even if you’re sipping instead of shooting, you still might be drinking tequila the wrong way. According to Martinez, there’s a special way to sip and it involves bringing the spirit to your lips and mimicking a little kiss. “I feel tequila is a drink that you should appreciate and savor. If you drink it suddenly in one shot, you will only feel the alcoholic presence,” she said.

Courtesy of Hilton Los Cabos.

Try her technique with blancos, reposados, and añejos, preferably out of a copita (a tiny, bowl-shaped cup used for sipping mezcal or other beverages).

Martinez recommends sipping tequila at a temperature of around 69 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to fully appreciate the aromas but advises against pouring it over ice to avoid dilution.

She also suggests pairing it with food. “With tequila and all the agave distillates that we have, what we are looking for is to find this balance between its aromas and the flavors that we are going to find in the dish, as well as to intensify these,” she says. For a white tequila with citrus and herbal notes, for example, Martinez says guacamole makes an excellent companion, whereas a quality añejo requires some good chocolate and an orange.

Where to Find Some of the Best Tequila in Mexico

Agave is a staple across Mexico—you won’t have a hard time finding some wherever you are. Still, we’ve got a few favorite places for a standout mezcal experience.

Travelers to Oaxaca won’t want to miss Expendio de Mezcal, one of the 12 traditional food and drink establishments in the new Centro Gastronomico de Oaxaca, where they can sample brands from across the country. In the same neighborhood is Casa Silencio, a hotel and distillery with a sleek look and delightful mezcal tastings.

Of course, many travelers to Mexico will spend at least a couple of days in the capital city. The number of options here can be overwhelming, but a great place to start is Nardo Cocktail Club in the Umbral Hotel. The bar’s agave selection is almost as impressive as its rotating art collection. Afterward, continue your crawl at Mezcalería Mundana and Xaman, the latter a scene in the best way possible.

Heading to Playa del Carmen? Sushi lovers, take note: The agave and fish pairings at Agave Azul at the Rosewood Mayakoba are no joke.

Wherever you wind up sampling spirits, just remember to make Martinez proud: abandon your margarita order, skip the shooters, and embrace the kiss-kiss technique.

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jacketwatch September 15, 2023

Great article. You should sip and savor to appreciate the taste and aroma. Personally I prefer a Mezcal though a Casa Noble tequila I do like too!