Saturday, 5 May 2012

Tequila or not Tequila...

While March 17th has everyone wearing green and toasting each other with smooth whiskies and dark stouts, May 5th is a day when we all suddenly discover our Mexican roots. To paraphrase Shakespeare, these means one thing on our minds: "Tequila or not tequila, that is the question..." For a large number of us, tequila is consumed as the main course between the salt appie and lemon desert or cleverly hidden in an icy, sweet-and-sour cocktail. As such, it is one of those drinks whose name makes us cringe at the thought of memories not yet forgotten and whose aroma instigates involuntary bodily reactions.

Good tequila, however, is completely unlike any of these experiences, and can take on quality, aged rums or whiskies. As with Champagne or Chablis, tequila gets its name from a small town in Jalisco, Mexico. As such, it is a protected name and the term tequila can only be applied to spirits made in specific regions. Also, true tequila must be 100% be made from a plant known as blue agave, which, for the record, is more closely related to orchids than cactus. If made from a range of other agave plants, the spirit is a mezcal. If the spirit is not 100% blue agave, it may be called a tequila mixto.

Another important factor when choosing a quality tequila (or mexcal) is the aging process involved. A basic, clear spirit is called a blanco, and if caramel colouring is added it may be called gold. Properly aged tequila may be reposado (3 - 6 months "resting" - reposado is the Spanish word for "resting") or anejo (which sees a minimum of 1 year aging). Like a premium aged rum or whisky, an anejo is perfect for sipping on its own or over ice, and should never see a lick of salt or a slice of lemon.

For today's cinco de mayo, I admit that I did not have a premium tequila on hand. Instead, I decided to make a sangrita-inspired caeser; substitute the vodka for tequila and combine with tomato juice (or the classicly Canadian Clamato), orange juice, fresh-squeezed lime and a few dashes of tobasco and you have the makings of a great summer cocktail. Salud!

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