Tequila has inspired songs, cocktails, raucous evenings, and interminable mornings-after for the unfortunate among us. The Distilled Spirits Council reports that tequila volumes in the U.S have increased at an average rate of 5.8 percent per year, driven in part by the growing popularity of premium tequilas.
The agave spirit shows no sign of slowing down, either. According to Mexico’s National Tequila Industry Chamber, global consumption of Mexican tequila is on the rise and is estimated to grow 3.2 percent annually by 2021.
Alba Huerta, co-owner of Houston’s award-winning agave-centric bar The Pastry War, and owner of Julep, has personal and professional connections to tequila. She got her start at bartending at the ripe age of 19 in Houston. Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, Huerta attributes some of the milestones in her career to H-town, her adopted hometown since the ‘80s.
“I feel like there’s a huge investment in the city that you’re from and I love that. We can talk about spirits, bars, cocktails – but it’s really about the people,” Huerta says. “It’s always a pleasure to serve people in Houston. They’re wonderful.”
From where Huerta sits, there is no right or wrong way to drink tequila. Your tequila style is ultimately contingent on your craving, and what’s in your glass. A blanco might be enjoyed differently from a reposado, for example, while beautifully aged anejos are best suited to slow sipping.
“I think there are a lot of ways to drink tequila and that depends on their range,” she says. “Some of them come from different ranches. They’re all made differently.”
We asked, Huerta answered: Here are the four ways to enjoy tequila, according to an expert.
For those who want to take in all the flavor notes of tequila, from zingy citrus to zesty pepper, it’s best to sip and savor. “I support people drinking it neat if they would like to,” Huerta says, “My suggestion is, if you’re going to find a single-village or single-ranch tequila, I would definitely take my time with it, sip it and drink it slowly and enjoy the different nuances of flavor.”
The key is to find a tequila that’s made with 100 percent agave, and preferably one that’s aged. They will be labeled as either “añejo” (aged one to three years in oak barrels) or “extra añejo” (aged three-plus years in oak barrels). The results of extra añejo are qualities akin to those of long-aged rums and brandies. Hence, it’s better sipped than taken in shot form.
With a Hint of Water
Much like whiskey, adding a few drops of water to tequila can help expand its flavors.
“I believe that applies to all spirits,” Huerta says. “If you are under the impression that the spirit that you’re tasting is too ‘strong’ – tight in flavor – and you’re not able to pick anything up, I think adding water to it is definitely a good move. It really depends on the proof. There’s quite a few tequilas out there that are a little bit higher in proof, but most tequilas you’re going to get are at 80 proof. So, I would limit it to only those tequilas that have higher proof than 80.”
In a Margarita
“If you’re going to be drinking tequila that’s made from mixing, I would definitely use that for Margaritas,” Huerta says. Avoid frozen Margs since they’re loaded with sugar — unless that’s your thing. Otherwise, opt for a traditional ratio of 1 ¾ ounce tequila, 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, and ¾ ounce triple sec.
“As a Houstonian, Margaritas are a common beverage for us to beat the heat throughout the entire year,” Huerta says. “A lot of times you’ll go to a Tex-Mex restaurant and you’ll find an array of Margaritas. I think that’s great! Every single one of them has some tasting qualities to it; really we’re talking about Margaritas as a larger canvas for other flavors, too.”
In Mixed Drinks
When it comes to mixed drinks, Huerta identifies an essential fact: “The greater understanding is how the plants are being sourced and how the tequila is actually being produced.” In other words, it all comes down to knowing the production methods and regional influences of your choice tequila. The making of tequila is quite complex, so there are factors a drinker must keep in mind when it comes to tastes.
Some tequila makers use a tahona (stone wheel) to crush their agave, while the other half use a roller mill. Additionally, the age of the agave used and how it’s cooked can produce a different result from tequilas of the same region.
Many tequila-based cocktails can easily be created at home. Huerta recommends an Agave Old-Fashioned, swapping out whiskey or bourbon for añejo tequila and adding honey, bitters, and mezcal “to give a bit of a mineral quality to it,” she says.