Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tequila: The Mexican Treasure

By Gamal Hennessy

A libation lesson brought to you courtesy of the
New York Food and Wine Festival.

Four things come to mind when we usually think of tequila: margaritas, worms, shots and hangovers from the depths of hell. The margarita association is accurate, the others are not. If you put down the lemon for a minute and take a closer look at tequila, you will discover a refined spirit with a rich history, a complex taste and an often expensive price tag.

The back story
The history of
tequila is rooted in necessity and linked to Spanish conquistadors invaded Mexico in the 16th century. I guess since raping, pillaging and subjugating populations requires a certain amount of inebriation, because the invaders ran into a problem when they finished all the brandy they brought with them from Europe. To solve this problem, they began distilling the local agave plant as a substitute, creating North America’s first native liquor.

The varieties
If your only experience drinking tequila involves licking the back of your hand and slamming a shot, you might not realize that there are subtle flavors in tequila. You might have also missed the fact that there are different categories of tequila in the same way there are different blends of whiskey and rum. This short lesson will solve that problem.

· Blanco or "white" tequila has a strong pepper and spice taste and is often used in cooking.

· Reposado or "rested" tequila is aged for three months to a year in oak barrels and usually offers a smoother drink than the blanco.

· Añejo or "vintage" tequila is aged for one year to three years in oak barrels which gives it the smoothest and most complex taste. Añejo is the tequila that is usually used in bars unless you ask for another type.

The Drink
Los Dados hosted the tequila tasting in the Meatpacking District during the festival. During the presentation, the chef explained that shooting tequila (aptly referred to as tequila cruda) is the juvenile method of drinking. Mexican importers originally introduced this technique to gringos in an effort to lure unsuspecting consumers into drinking large quantities and spending a lot of money. Only in the last few years has the main use of tequila been discovered in America.

As premium brands like Casa Noble, Jose Cuervo and Patron become staples in local nightlife and shots easily go for $25-50 a glass in clubs, tequila cruda makes even less sense than it did before. This is liquor created to be sipped over conversation and enjoyed with quality Mexican cuisine. It’s doesn’t have to be a one way ticket to a hangover if you don’t treat it that way…

Have fun.

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