Tequila: Beyond the Margarita

by Madeline Popelka

Tequila… we’ve all been there. One too many shots and you’ll wake up the next morning with a booming headache, bloodshot eyes, and no money in your wallet. But, we can’t blame all this on the tequila (although, it may be easy to for its bad reputation).

In the past couple years I haven’t been drinking much tequila due to an unpleasant experience I had with the spirit. After learning a little more about tequila (and actually tasting some instead of just throwing back shots), I realized what a beautiful spirit it is.

For those who don’t know, in order to be classified as tequila, the spirit must be produced from blue agave plants grown within one of the five Mexican states of Jalisco, Micoacán, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, or Guanajauto. The heart of the agave plant, the piña, is full of sweet honey-like juice called aguamiel—this is what tequila is distilled from.

There are two main categories tequila can fall into: Mixto and 100% Blue Agave. Quality tequila is 100% Blue Agave because it is distilled from aguamiel only, and it must be aged and bottled in Mexico. Mixto tequila does not need to be aged and bottled in Mexico. Mixto only needs to be 51% blue agave, and alcohols produced from other sugars are added, which often results in more impurities, which leads to more hangovers. No thanks!

The "Bitter-Rita" : Espolon Reposado, Campari, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and agave 

The "Bitter-Rita" : Espolon Reposado, Campari, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and agave 

There are four different types of tequila: blanco, joven abocado, reposado, and añejo. Blanco (silver) tequila is aged for less than 60 days in wood, reposado (“rested” in Spanish) is aged at least 60 days, up to one year, and añejo tequila is aged for at least one year. Joven abocado, “gold” tequila, is typically mixto tequila, where color and flavor is added (ew), but sometimes it is a blend of 100% agave blanco and reposado. When mixing drinks with tequila, I think it is best to use blanco and reposado.

One of the most popular drinks in America is the Margarita—you’ll find a version of one on most bar menus. Making a good Margarita is pretty simple. All you need is good quality tequila, a sweetener, and fresh lime juice (or some other type of sour citrus).

I’m not the biggest tequila drinker, so I’ve only tasted a few different brands of tequila. But, I do know a quality product when I taste it. Espolòn is a great 100% Blue Agave tequila. The distillery is located in the highlands of Jalisco, where the piñas are larger, with a sweeter aroma and taste—this is where the best tequilas come from! Espolòn is extremely smooth and flavorful, and it’s great for both sipping and mixing. Espolòn sells for $20 to $25 a bottle—I find it better than most tequila twice its price.

For a sweetener, you can use either triple sec (or orange liquor- I like to use Cointreau) or agave syrup. Even if you’re not a big fan of sweet drinks, like me, you still need something in there to balance out the sour citrus.

Margaritas are usually made with lime juice, but I often like to switch it out for juice of another type of sour citrus, like lemons or kumquats. That’s one reason why I think making “margaritas” is fun—you can switch up the recipe, and flavor them with a wide variety of fruits.

I’ve used mango, pomegranate, grapefruit, blood oranges, cranberries, and more! You really can’t go wrong. My only rule is this: USE FRESH FRUIT. No lime juice you squeeze out of a plastic bottle. None of that store-bought sour mix stuff either—only FRESH ingredients.

In an earlier post I raved about how good blood oranges are this season. In the winter, the sweet, tart blood oranges are tequila's best friend. If you haven't already gone out and bought some blood oranges, here is just another reason why you should:

Blood Orange Margarita

2 oz tequila (blanco, 100% agave)

1.5 oz fresh squeezed blood orange juice ( I use one small blood orange)

.5 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

.5 oz agave

Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into new glass with fresh ice. Enjoy!