By Alexander & James, the smart new online store dedicated to premium spirits and the passion that goes into them.

Tequila is more than just a hard spirit that comes in a shot glass; it is also a village, region, culture and a tradition. A growing number of aficionados are recognising that the truest and best way to experience tequila is a far cry from the average person’s first introduction to the drink. Seek out premium drinks brands if you are looking to be re-introduced to tequila.

From plant to bottle

Tequila is made from the agave plant, and anyone who has been to the town of Tequila in Mexico will immediately recognise the desert landscape of the agave countryside. Agave farms are tended to by jimadores, traditional Mexican farmers with specific skills in harvesting agave plants. Once the succulent cores of the plant are harvested, they are then baked in ovens that break down the starches into sugars. The extracted agave juice is then allowed to ferment before it is distilled and either aged or bottled.

The making of fine tequila

The quality of a tequila depends on a few factors; only a few tequila brands can claim they are made with 100% agave which delivers the purest taste. Some tequila producers will even specify a type of agave, such as Highland Weber. Mezcal is also made from agave, but has a different taste and production method, whereas mixtos are only partly made with agave.

Tequila that has gone through multiple rounds of distillation will produce a smoother taste, although some claim too many cycles might dilute its agave flavour. The aging process can be anywhere from a few months to over a year, however tequila aged for a long period in a barrel will develop a deeper amber colour and may acquire a smoky flavour from the seasoned wood barrels.

Drinking the Mexican way

Fine tequila is always sipped in order to savour the agave flavour and its smoothness. In previous generations, tequila was actually sipped from a bull’s horn, but today it is most often served in a tall narrow shot glass. Some varieties are also served in brandy snifters to allow you to take in the bouquet and see the legs it forms around the glass. Whatever glass you use, tequila is best experienced at room temperature and served neat. After you sip, roll it around in your mouth before swallowing and then exhale. You should then be able to feel its heat and the flavour nuances.

Food pairings for tequila

Unsurprisingly, tequila goes brilliantly with traditional Mexican food and fresh, robust ingredients –roasted chilies and tomatillos have a smoky taste which complements a tequila that’s been aged in oak barrels. Consider recipes that have dominant flavours of lime, lemon, orange, salt, coriander or ginger. A blanco or unaged tequila suits light and fresh dishes well, like guacamole or gazpacho soup, a reposado (slightly aged tequila) is better with something a bit heartier like roast chicken and black beans while an añejo (vintage Tequila) such as Don Julio Añejo will go well with a sweet dessert such as a rich, flourless chocolate cake.

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