I have always loved tequila, and not for the reasons I should. I love that moment of abandon when you throw all caution to the wind, give up your sense, dignity and any pretense that you're not already trashed, and decide to leave beer behind (except perhaps as chaser) for shots of tequila. Stupidity in a bottle. Yum. I love crappy margaritas, the kind you get at crappy Mexican restaurants, the kind you mix at home from toxic looking mix, and the kind I gleefully discovered this summer that come in a bucket you put in the freezer then scoop out, slushy style. Will I grow out of loving these things? Perhaps. But recently I've discovered a side of tequila that I won't ever have to grow out of. Good tequila. Sipping tequila. Grown-up tequila.
Yes, there are plenty of tequilas out there that are so smooth, so subtle and flavorful that they are worth savoring. They are a whole different breed than the wince-inducing tequilas that most of us know and love (or hate). Because I am hardworking and selfless when it comes to my work, I set out to try as many of these high-end tequilas as I could, so as to humbly offer you some suggestions.
Like wine, there are a number of things you can find on the label of a tequila bottle that can tell you about the style and quality of the liquor. Tequila is made from the agave plant, and the best tequilas are made from 100 percent agave (all tequilas are made from blue agave; mezcal can be made from more than one kind of agave). There are three different styles of tequila, which differ in the amount of time they are aged. Blanco, or white tequila, is bottled after distillation, with no additional aging. Reposado is tequila that has been "rested," aged in oak barrels for at least two months. Anejo tequila has been aged in oak barrels for at least 12 months.
Sauza Tequila Blanco ($14.95 a bottle) is fairly inexpensive and is quite smooth and appealing. It's not exactly what I'd call sipping tequila, but it makes for a tasty and completely inoffensive shot. Old habits die hard, and this is what I'd recommend if you're in the mood to drink to get drunk.
Sauza Hornitos reposado ($25.95) is super smooth and clean and would make a fantastic margarita (a real margarita--it would be a waste to put this stuff into the sugar bomb mix that's so dear to my heart). Cazadores reposado ($33.95) is also fairly smooth, although you do get a bit of a burn on the finish. This tequila is more complex, too, and has a fruitiness to it, almost like a grappa. My favorite reposado tequila, and perhaps my favorite overall that's available in the local ABC store, is Tequila Corralejo ($34.95). This tequila is smooth and has a light sweetness that is not at all cloying. There's a hint of brown sugar and vanilla and an acid, cactusy finish. It also has a great tall blue bottle, which is always a plus.
Anejo tequilas are probably the best to try if you have any misgivings about tequila. Because they have spent the longest time on oak, they are mellowed and woody. Don Julio Anejo ($44.95) is also wonderfully smooth, with undertones of caramel. Sauza's Tres Generaciones Anejo ($42.95) is also wonderfully smooth, with absolutely no burn to it, and hints of burnt sugar. I also loved El Conquistador Anejo ($35.95), with a hint of fruit and toasted almonds.
The king of expensive tequila is Patron, and it's the boastful beverage of the moment in the hip-hop world (insert the name Patron where Crystal used to go in your average I'm-the-richest-with-the-most-girls song). At $16 a shot for Patron's higher-end tequilas, it's a little too rich for my blood, and there are some amazing tequilas out there that are just as enjoyable, even if they do lack the fun pedigree.
Discovering these tequilas was really like discovering a whole new liquor. I am by no means renouncing my love for gaudy, cheap tequila, but I'm not in a position to live out that affair very often. These higher end tequilas satisfy two divergent parts of my soul simultaneously--the drunken marauder and the connoisseur of fine things. Long may they live in harmony.