Here’s the basic principle: Any way you want to drink tequila is the right way to do it. Pleasure is personal, after all, and the world frankly has enough rules. Unlike the speed you drive or the amount you pay in taxes, how and what you drink is an entirely personal choice. The first rule? However you prefer to enjoy your favorite beverage is your call.
That said, you’ve got plenty of methods to choose from. Pick a great brand like Don Julio, start out with beginner techniques, and you’ll soon find yourself moving along to more sophisticated styles. Just remember that this journey goes in both directions (and includes plenty of side trips, pit stops, and backtracking). Even professional and seasoned sippers enjoy shooters every once in a while, while complete newbies are free to jump ahead to any of the more worldly methods in this guide.
Entry Level: Salt, Tequila, Lime
Most folks north of the border first encounter tequila as a quick shot served with a slice of citrus and some good old sodium chloride. Lime is generally considered the “right” accompaniment, though lemon is sometimes used, and in any case, expertise is most definitely not the prime motivation here, as this method is not how tequila is generally consumed in its homeland. Spread some salt on the soft skin between the thumb and index finger of your non-shooting hand, and hold the citrus ready. Lick the salt, swallow the shot, bite into the citrus, and high-five your friends around, because it only gets better from here.
Not Quite a Noob: The Mexican Flag
Much more genuine, in that you’ll actually find the Bandera de México in tequila’s homeland, this slightly more refined shot imitates the green, white, and red tricolor flag of Mexico in three separate glasses. Put fresh lime juice into the first, a worthy blanco like Don Julio Blanco Tequila in the second, and a shot of spicy sangrita in the third. You can find pre-made sangrita in Latin food shops, but you can also make your own. Simply mix two parts fresh orange juice, roughly 1½ parts fresh lime juice, to taste, and one part Grenadine. Then, add chili sauce or chili powder according to your own preferences; or sub in tomato juice if preferred. One of the best things about the Mexican Flag is you can alternate between each shot to compare and contrast flavors. As an added bonus, you won’t have to lick your hand.
If your Mexican soundtrack includes a lot of Jimmy Buffet and the Eagles, you might be an intermediate tequila drinker. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a Margarita or a Tequila Sunrise, which — at their best — can be absolutely stellar drinks. While frozen Margaritas are tons of fun, the most honest version is served on the rocks, with or without a salted rim. For both cocktails, fresh citrus juice — orange for the Tequila Sunrise, lime for the Margarita — is the key to enjoyment.
A Step Up: Palomaville
The Margarita might be the best-known tequila cocktail north of the border, but in Mexico, the Paloma is far more popular — a citrusy, refreshingly tasty tequila highball that almost anyone can make well. The basic version uses blanco tequila, fresh lime juice, plenty of ice, and a zippy grapefruit soda like Jarritos, Squirt, or Fresca. Salting the rim of the glass, Margarita-style, is entirely optional. To level up, squeeze your own fresh grapefruit juice and add bubbles with plain soda water instead of grapefruit soda. Or add equal parts lemon and orange juice to create the Paloma’s slightly more complex cousin, the Cantarito.
Suave and Sophisticated: The Old Fashioned
You know cocktail culture, and you have many leather-bound books. Your call: a Tequila Old Fashioned, made with an outstanding aged tequila like Don Julio Reposado or Don Julio Añejo poured over the biggest chunk of ice outside Antarctica. The tequila’s vanilla and spice notes from its time in oak will pair amazingly well with good bitters, which can go well beyond the traditional Angostura or orange — walnut bitters, smoked bitters, or chocolate bitters will all work miraculously. Finally, instead of simple syrup, consider a quality agave syrup, which can heighten the spirit’s rich agave notes.
The apex of tequila culture, a truly great tequila deserves to be sipped and savored on its own, whether it’s a blanco, reposado, añejo, or extra añejo — but most especially when it’s a premium spirit like Don Julio 1492. A bulbous brandy or port snifter will help contain and concentrate the drink’s intense aromas, though there’s nothing wrong with a great Old Fashioned glass. If you have trouble drinking strong spirits neat, you can train yourself: Start out by diluting the liquid with a small portion of water. Then, over time, gradually decrease the amount of water you add to your tequila until you’re comfortable drinking it straight.
Enjoying tequila the most honest way — all on its own — doesn’t mean you can’t pair it with something else. Alternating with a water “back” can heighten the pleasure of each sip. For an even more analytical experience, many connoisseurs will often enjoy a sipper of sangrita alongside their favorite luxury tequila, using the non-alcoholic sipper to reset their palate.
In the end, you should feel free to enjoy your tequila however you like — it’s your drink, after all. Just be sure to slow down and pay your taxes.
Please Drink Responsibly. DON JULIO Tequila. 40% Alc/Vol.
This article is sponsored by Don Julio.