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How to drink tequila properly, according to an expert

The best way to drink tequila, from those in the know...

How to drink tequila properly, according to an expert

Tequila is perhaps one of the most misunderstood drinks around. Usually associated with the part of the night where things gear up a notch: the tequila comes out, the salt and lime is summoned from under the bar, shots are shot, faces are pulled. And repeat.

While you may love drinking the spirit this way, that is not how to drink tequila, according the experts. We know, because we went drinking with one for this very article.

The expert in question is tequila educator and drinks ambassador Oli Pergl. He wants to change the way we drink tequla, pushing a 'sip don't shoot' mentality.

"No two tequilas taste the same but there are stringent guidelines that give all distillers the chance to make great tequila by following the regulations," says Oli as we sat down with him to taste test some of the Tequila 1800 range.

"There is a 35-page document called the NOM and you have to tick all the boxes in that regulation guide to have tequila on your bottle. If you don’t follow those regulations, then your bottle is not even leaving the distillery. So when I see people 'shooting it' it's... I mean, it's one of the most regulated alcoholic drinks around - it's part of Mexico's history and heritage, which dates back all the way to the ancient Mayans."

Sip don't shoot, then, but how else is Oli trying to change people's perception of the drink?

"Tequila can replicate the flavours of gins and certain vodkas in cocktails. So I would try and give tequila to people as something they are familiar with," says Oli.

"You could make tequila and tonics, dirty martinis, tequila negronis. There’s a real versatility there and when people click with it then they want to try it neat.

"For an older tequila - one that's been barrel aged - you can make twists on an old fashioned, manhattans, side cars, mint juleps.

"Thankfully, the mentality of tequila has changed over the last 10 years," he says. "We are seeing a lot more bars opening up to specifically sell agave spirits. You aren't just getting gimmicky brands that are flavoured with strawberry and stuff, it’s more about the 100 per cent agave."

100 per cent agave, eh? Turns out we had quite a lot to learn about tequila, so here's 5 things we learned drinking tequila with an expert.

Main Image Credit: Getty Images

How to drink tequila: 5 things we learned drinking tequila with an expert
Image Credit: 1800 Tequila

1. There are two types of tequila

"The first type is Mixto, this is made from 51% agave and designed to be mixed and put into things like a frozen margarita, have as a shot.. it’s your introduction to the fun side of tequila.

"But on the label, if it says 100% agave then you have more complexity and this is the style you should be sipping."

2. Tequila tastes different, whether it's from the lowlands or highlands

"You have the highlands and lowlands of tequila manufacturing, more traditionally the older brands are in the lowlands and are peppery and citrusy. The brands in the highlands are produced in mineral-rich soil with more rain and less oxygen there is a harsher environment so the agave grow longer.

"This means that the tequila becomes softer and sweeter and you get more floral notes coming through."

3. All tequila is mezcal, technically speaking

"Technically speaking tequila is a form of mezcal - as mezcal is anything distilled from agave, so tequila is like its younger more modernised cousin.

"Agave is usually steamed to make tequila. With mezcal, it’s made in a more traditional way. The makers of mezcal traditionally didn’t have ovens so they cooked underground, digging a huge pit called a horno, Spanish for oven, and it’s shaped like an upside down pyramid. Around the outside is a volcanic stone, that acts as an insulator and you build a fire pit filled with wood, set it on fire and wait 3-5 days.

"That smoke does dominate the flavour and common aromas of mezcal is things like petrol."

4. Tequila can be barrel aged, but nowhere near as long as whisky

"If a range has a white or blanco, this is unaged. But two months resting in an oak barrel is enough for a bit of colouring. I’s not really ageing but resting for two to 12 months (in American and French oak).

"Tequila that is aged longer - and there is no upper limit to this ageing process - tastes more like a cognac."

5. There are four stages to tasting tequila

"When I was working with 1800 Tequila, the master distiller, Alejandro Coronado, came up with these steps and they should be used for tasting tequila properly...

1. "Take a big breath, hold it in through the entire drinking process of the tequila."

2. "Take a sip, but don’t take all of it - don’t swirl it about but make sure it coats your tongue for about three, four seconds."

3. "Swallow, still not taking a breath."

4. "Breathe out but exhale through your nose."

(This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated since then)