If you think Jose Cuervo Gold is tequila, then everything you know about tequila is wrong.
I’ve been spending quite o bit of time in down nether regions, where warm weather is abundant, as is the Spanish language and it’s hefty and oft-misunderstood vocal lubricant– tequila. TAAAA-KEEEEE-luh, señorita. It occurred to me being an avid watcher of the travel channel, that while I’d retained a thing or two on the distillery process of most spirits, gone on countless whiskey tours in Scotland nurturing a deep love for Islays, can hold my own when it comes to wine or beer––when it came to tequila, I was clueless. So when I gazed upon the menu local taquería Paco’s Tacos and Tequila in Charlotte (I wish there was a restaurant in Norway named “Bjørn’s Fårikål and Fernet”)– of over sixty types of tequila, my inquisitive and thirsty mind took over.
Two of my good pals tagged along for the ride– the refined palate of Josh Brigham, who also works and leads tours at Charlotte’s best local brewery The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and, his wife Liz who’s in-depth experience with regards to tequila was a huge help. Our long hours tasting and communing really paid off. I was sold. It was like discovering a new single malt whiskey with serious, fiery attitude. Laphroaig, you can go suck it!
A true tequila is first off, 100% from the blue agave plant. Agave Weber Tequilana to get scientific on yr ass; which is from the lily family genome and generally made into 38-55% (76-110 proof) alcohol. The plant’s grown mostly around the city Tequila or in the Jalisco region. It’s been said that the El Jimador monitors and studies each of their agave plants by satellite! And the Corralejo family have been said to raise the plants in “haunted” regions– that’s why they stand up and show respect whenever they knock one back.
There are three basic classifications of real tequila– Blanco, Repsosado, and Añejo. Blanco “white” tequilas are aged in steel drums, or not aged at all, which accounts for a lack of colour. Reposados or “rested” tequilas are aged anywhere from two months to a year, and often in blended oak barrels, or even bourbon barrels. Añejos “aged” tequilas as you’d guess, are aged much longer of at least a year to three.
“Corralejo Blanco is bottled without any aging directly from the distillery’s copper pot. Don Leonardo, the founder of Tequila Corralejo, refers to the ‘white one’ as ‘the truth’ because it magnificently captures the authentic character of the Blue Weber Agave, the plant which all our tequilas are made from.” – Casa Corralejo
Jose Cuervo Especial now, the yellow stuff you see douche bags hammering back and lapping up salt with their doggy tongues, uses food coloring and doesn’t even fall in these classifications. The legalization of official classifications is a tenured quality– those typical tequilas you see behind Oslo bars tend to be mixed liquors. Mixtos are only required to be 51% agave. Cheap sugars and fake shit make up the 49% remainder, though you might see some types of Jose Cuervo that are, but never over 85% agave. The only “real” stuff from them you’ll see in the Tradicional and Reserva Familia, which are 100%.
Got it? Now the results.
1800 family flight: Same owners of the Jose Cuervo brand, we tried the trio or a “family flight”; meaning the Blanco, aka “1800 Silver”; 1800 Reposado (one of the first reposados to be made 100 proof); and 1800 Añejo. The difference you wonder between the last two? Well, put it this way, it’s like the difference between supreme unleaded versus unrefined diesel. The Blanco had a rounded, clean and almost fruity taste. The reposado was almost smoother, and by the time we got to the Añejo, there’s a noticeable change in color and taste. Much richer, hints of liquorice and fennel.
Cazadoras Reposado and Añejo: The Reposado was aged in new American white oak, and has a silky smooth sensation. So does the Añejo, though it’s much richer, honey-like and intriguing quality. Definite sippers and savourers.
Herradura Añejo: One of my favorites so far, it has a smoky, chili, fieriness to it, but all the wisdom and dark intensity of an aged man.
Cabo Wabo Reposado: Josh pointed out that we had to try this cos it’s Sammy Hagar’s tequila. He commissioned a house brand of tequila from a family-owned distillery in Jalisco. Pretty good stuff but not in my opinion, as good as the Cazadoras.
Patrón: Three different waitresses talked to us about tequila, and each said, yea, all these people who think they know tequila always go, Patron, Patron– “but it’s not one of our favourites”. It’s the most mentioned tequila in rap songs, for one. Which means it can be likened to Cristal to champagne, as this is to tequila. For all dem ho’s yo. Swanky packaging. The Blanco of this family is alright, pretty straightforward, less flavour and clear. The Patron Gran however is ummmmm we don’t know. Costs $40 a pop.
Milagro: Milagro was one of our tequila waitress expert’s favourites, so we tried an entire family flight. The Blanco had hints of citrus and was smooth. The Reposado had us a little puzzled in comparison, we honestly couldn’t make out the differences though they were there. The Reposados were aged in bourbon barrels but unlike the roasted, sweet tobacco-tinged flavour of the Añejos. In the words of Liz, “Yea, I think it is more fruity then the Blanco. Or was that the Blanco? Or maybe that was the Añejo. I don’t know if it tastes that way because it is, or because you just said that.”
Prize if you can guess who felt most tipsy at this point. Took an intermission and ate tacos….
El Mayor Añejo: We resumed with one of the best Añejo’s of the night. Aged in small, charred, white oak barrels for up to three years. “Designed for slow, contemplative sipping”. I’ll take that!
Drinkie Drinks time
A sure sign that we’d had enough of sipping, we decided to experiment with actual drinks. One thing I learned is that tequila is used in margaritas for a reason. It’s an aged, tried and tested perfect combination. Tequila blancos can, as we learned, act as an exciting substitute for vodka based drinks, but at the end, I wasn’t entirely convinced.
A bartender tequila fanatic said she regularly drinks the Porfido Blanco + tonic + an orange slice. We tried it. It reminded us of the bite you get from Mezcal and a bit of diesel. Interesting for sure, but maybe my least favorite. She also recommended trying at home, or when you’re at the beach, mixing a blanco tequila with mint + pineapple juice + sprite.
Next, upon my suggestion, I was curious if you did the same type of substitution on the other end of the scale. Replace the smokey bourbon drinks of an Old Fashioned with a smokey, Gran Centenario Añejo. We may have been the first ever, mind you, to ingeniousize such an idea. And the result? Fucking awesome.
Next, Josh wanted to try another of the bartender’s favourite drinks. She suggested making a Gimlet but with a blanco, served with no ice and in a martini glass. Since they were outta Rose Water, they used simple syrup and fresh squeezed lime juice. Don’t remember the tequila type, but ultimately became one of Josh’s favourite drinks of the night.
Next, we drank some water.
To round off the joyous night of tequila drinking, we decided to go with one of Paco Taco’s House specials: The Miss Kitty Margarita which uses an El Jimador Blanco, remember 100% blue agave and homemade sours. Delicccious!
Which thus concludes our experiment. We hope next time you’re staring bleary-eyed over the bar, thinking that, “Hm maybe I should try something new but which bottle is prettier?”–you’ll forgo the usual suspects (fernet or jaeger) and get yourself acquainted with Alcohol’s next. big. thing. 100% pure agave, baby!