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How to drink tequila: 5 things we learned drinking tequila with an expert

Put that salt and lime down, right now.

How to drink tequila: 5 things we learned drinking tequila with an expert
Marc Chacksfield
30 October 2020

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.

Proximo Spirits tequila educator Oli Pergl wants to change this, pushing a 'sip don't shoot' mentality when it comes to drinking tequila.

"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?

"With our 1800 Silver range, that 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.

How to drink tequila: 5 things we learned drinking tequila with an expert

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, like 1800, 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

"In our 1800 range we have Silver, also known as white and blanco, and this is unaged. But two months resting in an oak barrel is enough for a bit of colouring. This, for us, is our 1800 Reposado Tequila, it’s not really ageing but resting for two to 12 months (in American and French oak).

"Our 1800 Anejo tequila is aged longer and there is no upper limit to this ageing process and it tastes more like a cognac."

5. There are four stages to tasting tequila

"Our 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."

1800 Tequila is now available in Tesco and Waitrose stores across the UK for £30.