Tequila had earned quite the reputation for being the default cheap spirit you get hammered on, earning a bad rap along the way as a consistent cause of hangovers the world over. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Thanks to a growing interest in tequila, mezcal, and other agave-based spirits from Mexico, consumers are now becoming more discerning, as they are learning to appreciate the quality and craftsmanship with which these spirits are made. This new demand has paved the way for a positive change, with wider availability of better quality brands and the cultivation of a super-premium tier of tequila.
Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily from the area surrounding the city of Tequila northwest of Guadalajara (the lowlands), and in the central western state of Jalisco (the highlands or Los Altos). It can be further classified into two main categories, 100% Blue Agave and Tequila Mixto, and five classes (Blanco, Joven, Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo).
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If you want to explore finer quality tequilas, put away your shot glass, lime, and salt. Tequila drinkers in Mexico tend to sip and savor their tequila rather than take shots. So how do you choose a better tequila? Just follow these three simple rules to discover great quality brands:
Only choose 100% agave
First, look for bottles that state “100% agave” on the label as they simply taste better than those mixed alcohol tequilas. If you have had bad hangover memories associated with tequila, that’s because you probably drank tequila not made with 100% agave. Note that only 51% of a bottle’s total alcohol needs to come from blue agave for it to be legally considered tequila. Remember, tequila made from 100% blue agave will say “Tequila 100% de agave” or “Tequila 100% puro de agave” on the label. Mixed alcohol or Mixto labels will only say “Tequila.”
Say “no” to oro
If you see the word “óro” on the label, stay away. That likely means that the maker has added some caramel coloring to the tequila to mimic the natural color usually produced by barrel-aging.
Not all agaves are the same
Connoisseurs say the beauty of tequila is how it captures the flavors of the agave. So it helps to know if a particular tequila uses agave grown in the lowlands or the highlands. It’s altitude that makes a difference, rather than a specific region as it is with Scotch whisky, for example. Tequilas from the highlands tend to contain more sugar and are cleaner on the palate than their lowland counterparts which tend to impart a grassy, peppery, or more vegetal flavor.
If you’re looking to upgrade your tequila, you may want to check out the super-premium Tequila ArteNOM line which is just being introduced here by Apotheke Craft Spirits Co. This line of tequilas showcases the expertise of their master distillers and highlights the distinct altitude, heritage, agave cultivation, and distillation technique of each tequila. Now available in the Philippines are three ArteNOM tequilas in the Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo styles.
I really like the crisp and fresh-tasting Tequila ArteNOM Selección 1579 Blanco produced by Master Distiller Felipe Camarena at his Destilería El Pandillo, which many say is arguably one of the most forward thinking, innovative, and sustainable distilleries in the business.
The celebrated Tequila ArteNOM Selección 1146 Añejo is patiently aged in used Cabernet Franc wine barrels from the Loire Valley of France. It tends to drink more like a Cognac than a tequila for me, with interesting notes of toffee, dark chocolate, and a hint of citrus.