Tequila for Whisky Lovers: How to Serve and Drink It
February 13, 2023 –––––– Jake Emen
You’d be hard-pressed to find any imbiber who hasn’t had a Margarita or two, but not everyone has taken the time to develop a finer appreciation for tequila. Now might be just the right time to begin the journey. Tequila can deliver much of the same complex flavor development as whisky, while its range—from blanco to extra añejo—offers a breadth of styles from which to choose. ILLUSTRATION: DOUGLAS JONES
NeatA slow sip of a well-made, well-aged tequila can be a sensory delight. “I must confess to being a purist in tequila matters—and by sipping a tequila neat, at room temperature, you can really appreciate the nuances regarding aromas and flavors of a particular tequila expression,” says Carlos Camarena, master distiller at La Alteña Distillery. As opposed to the grain-derived flavors of whisky, agave brings earthy and vegetal characteristics to the forefront, often tinged with floral notes, citrus, and spice. “By adding a few drops of water to your glass you release some more aromas, which is also desirable,” Camarena advises. “Just be careful not to dilute it too much; a few drops of water will do the trick.”
ILLUSTRATION: DOUGLAS JONES
On the RocksA couple of ice cubes can help create a more approachable and often sweeter glass of whisky. With tequila, it can serve the same purpose. “The tequila I’m drinking on the rocks these days is Clase Azul Reposado,” says Jessica King, owner and operator of Brother Wolf, a Negroni and aperitif-centric bar in Knoxville. “It has the qualities of spiced banana pudding, with a long vanilla-brandied finish.”
Even Camarena, the purist, will allow himself a pour on the rocks under the correct circumstances. “If it’s a really warm day, I might drink blanco or reposado tequila on the rocks,” he says.ILLUSTRATION: DOUGLAS JONES
Chilled Is stashing a bottle of tequila in the freezer a fun party trick or true faux pas? That depends on the bottle. “My rule of thumb is pretty simple—if it’s a nice, nuanced tequila then I don’t refrigerate or freeze,” says Deke Dunne, the bar director for Allegory at the Eaton Hotel in Washington, D.C. “If I have a cheaper blanco or if I’m drinking tequila from producers that add sugar and other additives, then those bottles benefit from being either in the fridge or freezer because the colder tequila gets, the more subdued the flavor, and the more palatable it will become.”
For Camarena, who doesn’t adulterate his spirits, any benefits from numbing a cheap tequila’s negative characteristics are a major detraction. “By drinking chilled tequila, you put your palate to sleep and you miss the point, which is to appreciate what the agave is bringing to the table,” he says.ILLUSTRATION: DOUGLAS JONES
With Food Tequila offers a range of flavors that make it a natural choice alongside food. “In Mexico, tequila and mezcal are always consumed with food, and pairing with the right food brings out the flavors and full body of the spirit,” says Joe Alessandroni, director of food & beverage at Thompson Buckhead Hotel in Atlanta.
At the hotel’s rooftop members’ club, Tesserae, Alessandroni has created a range of tequila and food pairings to showcase the diverse possibilities. “Blanco goes with bright, fruity, citrusy flavors and light seafood dishes like ceviche; aged tequilas go well with hard cheeses and dark chocolate,” he says. “Just like when pairing wine, you want to complement or contrast. Pay attention to the weight and acidity; heavier spirits should be paired with acidic foods to cleanse the palate, while lighter spirits are best with richer, fattier foods to bring out subtle flavors.”ILLUSTRATION: DOUGLAS JONES
With Sangrita Sangrita is comprised of tomato juice, citrus, and often add-ons like chiles, hot sauce, or Worcestershire, making it almost akin to a Blood Mary shooter, sometimes served with tequila. “Sangrita, if you are enjoying tequila neat, will help clean your palate,” Camarena says.
“Verdita sangrita—the green one—is made with pineapple, chile, mint, and cilantro,” Alessandroni says, noting his preference for this variety. “It’s fresher, brighter, and more fun. The perfect sangrita requires acid, fruit, salt, and heat. And don’t be afraid to bring in some savory flavors, such as carrot.”