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Don’t remember your first shot of tequila? You’re not alone. Lots of people avoid drinking the spirit straight, having learned that lesson on some ill-fated evening long ago. But you’re a grown-up now, and it’s time to recognize that tequila, consumed responsibly, is something to be celebrated, not feared. 

“Good tequila, served neat, is most emulative of wine,” says Sean Beck, beverage director and tequila expert at Hugo’s. “It’s meant to be sipped and savored, which you’d do throughout a meal.” 

Accordingly, Beck recommends choosing a tequila blanco (unoaked, with little to no aging) as an aperitif. Blanco’s the one most commonly used in margaritas, so you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with it, although Beck says that the citrusy, herbaceous flavor it possesses on its own is every bit as good as wine when paired with raw, acidic dishes like ceviche or gazpacho. 

Tequila reposado (“rested,” or aged for about a year) stands up to the heavier flavors of a Mexican main course: pork, lamb, chicken, or fish. (“The charring of beef can overwhelm the subtleties of tequila,” Beck warns, so try pairing it with tequila’s smoky cousin mezcal instead.) 

The more complex flavors of tequila añejo (aged for over a year in small oak barrels) aid digestion and pair best with mildly sweet desserts like arroz con leche, corn flan, or even a fatty cheese.

Remember to make sure the bartender pairs your tequila with a sangrita, a non-alcoholic blend of citrus juices and chiles that complement tequila’s flavors and cleanse the palate between each sip.

There’s a ritual to tequila consumption, Beck says. “Slow yourself down,” he advises, “and coat your palate first.” Let a small sip slowly fill your mouth—from the roof to under your tongue—and only then, lean your head back and let the tequila pour down your throat. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, then take a sip of your sangrita. 

This process is enjoyable, relaxing, and, dare we say, a little meditative. As for us, we suppose we really have grown up, because our last tequila experience was one to remember. 

Recipe: Sangrita 

Courtesy of Sean Beck of Hugo’s

Ingredients

  • 6 oz tomato juice
  • 4 oz orange juice (about 2 oranges)
  • 1 oz lime juice (about 1 lime)
  • 6 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp finely chopped serrano pepper, seeds removed
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp red chile powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Mix ingredients and chill before serving. Serves 7-10.

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