Most people think Tequila is just something that makes your toes curl when you’re forced to drink a shot with salt and lemon on holiday. And as much fun as that can be our bartender Lauren is here to explain how she learnt that Tequila can be so much more…
On Tuesday 8th November Riddles hosted an impromptu tequila tasting event. A couple of guys including the UK brand ambassador for Jose Cuervo, Ollie, had been hosting a tasting event at El Gato Negro, a tapas bar in central Manchester earlier on in the day. Del attended this event and the guys kindly agreed to come over to our neck of the woods afterwards to educate us in the world of tequila.
This was a very informal but informative event, with only around ten of us there (a few from Riddles, a couple of other staff from local bars, and a few friends), however this made it much more personal, and we were able to ask Ollie any questions, which sometimes you don’t get the opportunity to do at bigger tasting events. We were given five shots of tequila each (thank goodness I wasn’t working the next day!) of different ages and styles, but all belonging to the Jose Cuervo range. Each one was made from 100% ‘Blue Webber’ agave and so we knew it was the real deal. Ollie also made us a few cocktails using the different tequilas to demonstrate how versatile this spirit can be.
I know many people, including myself, try to stay away from tequila as they associate it with drunken nights (and the awful accompanying hangovers). However, the aim of this tasting was to break this perception. The tequila we are used to drinking in clubs (and very rarely to enjoy the flavour) is not 100% agave, in fact it is usually only around 50%. This is so that it can be produced in much higher quantities to keep up with demand, however it also means that it is much harsher, less enjoyable, and probably contributes in some way to the terrible hangover.
Before I go into more detail about the different kinds of tequila, I will first talk a little bit about the history of the spirit. There is only one state in Mexico where tequila can be made- Jalisco- close to the city of Tequila. This is similar to how Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region in France. Its origins can be traced back as far as the Aztec Empire (the bottles in the Jose Cuervo 1800 range are in the shape of Aztec pyramids- a nod to its long and fascinating history), where they used the agave plant to make a form of frothy white beer. Later, when the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they found that they had run out of brandy and so decided to start distilling the agave plant. Mass production of tequila began 80 years later around the year 1600. Interestingly, there is a noticeable difference in taste between tequila made from highland and lowland agave plants. Those grown in the highlands often produce sweeter and fruitier tequila, whereas the lowlands yield much earthier flavours.
The farmers who tend to the agave plants are called jimadores, and this is a very well respected job in Mexico, passed down from generation to generation. The plants need to be trimmed two to three times every day by hand to prevent the agave from flowering and dying early- back breaking work especially in the hot sun! Interestingly, this is where the lime and salt originated from, which we now associate so closely with tequila. It was actually to keep the jimadores hydrated, however we now mainly use it to mask the taste of the alcohol. The jimadores have to have an intimate knowledge of the plant, as if they are harvested too late or too early the piñas (the core of the agave plant) will not have the right amount of carbohydrates for fermentation. To make the tequila, the piñas are baked then either shredded or mashed, and the extracted agave juice is poured into large wooden or stainless steel vats for several days to ferment. This liquid is distilled once to produce ordinario, then again to produce clear ‘silver’ tequila. From there, it is either bottled and sold as silver tequila, or poured into wooden barrels to age.
So, back to the different tequilas we were given to try. The youngest was the 1800 Silver tequila, aged in used oak barrels for 20 days so it had a very slight colouration to it. Instantly I could tell the difference between this and the low quality tequila I’ve had in bars and clubs. It had a slight burn, but also a buttery, vanilla taste and an almost creamy viscosity. After just this one shot I could see that my views on tequila were probably going to change dramatically!
We were then given the 1800 Reposado (meaning ‘rested’ in Spanish), which is aged for up to a year in used oak barrels and is a lovely golden colour. This one was my favourite of the five we tried, as it was much milder than the rest, with no burn at the back of the throat. Even my boyfriend, who usually stays well away from straight spirits, enjoyed this one. The Reposado is meant to be fantastic in margaritas– something I am going to have to try out- and can be used as an alternative to silver tequila in many cocktails.
Next we tried the 1800 Añejo (meaning ‘old’ or ‘aged’), and this was so unusual. It was a very dark, caramel colour, aged for around 14 months in virgin American oak barrels. It actually had many of the characteristics of a bourbon, with a similar colour, aroma and even taste to some extent. However, you could tell it was tequila from the sweetness of the agave at the end. If you are a lover of dark spirits then this is one for you to try. Unsurprisingly, this was Harry’s favourite of the night as he much prefers the darker spirits- we all know how much he loves his whiskey! I too much prefer darker spirits, with dark rum being my favourite, however the Añejo was just a little too much for me.
We then tried a couple more tequilas from the Jose Cuervo range. These were both very light in colour, however the one we tried last was only a couple of months younger than the Añejo. Its light colour was due to charcoal filtration which strips away any colouration of the spirit. This tequila was also very unusual as it had a very smoky taste, similar to Mezcal, though produced in a slightly different way.
To accompany all of these shots, Ollie made us some tequila cocktails so we could appreciate the spirit in a different way. First he made us a Negroni (traditionally made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth), but he replaced the gin with silver tequila. Negronis are not personally my favourite cocktails simply because Campari is too bitter for my palate, however I did prefer this version as it was slightly sweeter, and a lemon twist instead of orange gave it an extra zing. He also made a version of a Moscow Mule with Reposado tequila and lemon instead of lime juice, which was very refreshing. However, my favourite was the tequila Old Fashioned he created, using the Añejo, which was a very interesting take on a cocktail which Riddles is known so well for!
Del also presented us with a cocktail each: his ‘Christmas Margarita’. His idea was to challenge the image of a margarita as a drink you sip on the beach, and instead something that can be enjoyed in winter in front of the fire. He simply changed the typical salted rim to one of cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and icing sugar. Instantly the aroma reminded me of Christmas, and this one small alteration transformed the drink into something completely new! These cocktails went down a storm!
Well I can definitely say that my opinion of tequila has changed massively, so thanks Ollie! I’ve gone from thinking it was simply a spirit you knock back on a night out, to something you can sip and enjoy on any occasion. I’ve also seen how it can be used in so many different cocktails- not just in your typical margaritas, but also more wintery drinks such as Old Fashioneds. We use the 1800 Silver in a couple of our own cocktails which you should all come down and try, and we also stock the 1800 Coconut tequila, which is pleasant to just sip, as it is a lot sweeter than the plain Silver tequila. However, I’m sure after this tasting we are all eager to start creating more drinks with other tequilas from the range!
See you in the bar and happy tequila drinking!