Monday, May 2, 2011

All About Tequila...and How to make a Good Margarita

Tequila is an alcoholic beverage distilled from the Blue Agave cactus. It is brewed in Mexico, traditionally in the state of Jalisco and a few other, very limited, nearby regions. Much like Champagne in France, you can’t brew Agave liquor just anywhere and slap the name tequila on it.

Foodies might recognize Agave as a trendy new kind of sweetener. Yep, it’s the same Agave plant. Tequila is to Agave as rum is to sugar cane, except that it seems to have taken the world longer to recognize the potential of the un-fermented cactus syrup.

Como se hace (how it's made)
Tequila is made by first harvesting the large Agave plants by hand. The sharp leaves are chopped off, revealing the pinapple-shaped core (called a piña, which means, ironically enough, pineapple). The sugary syrup inside the Agave piñas are pressed out and fermented.

After the first round of fermentation, the alcohol is distilled into a clear tequila called Silver. Yep, if you’re drinking “Silver” it’s the entry-level stuff.

Tequila that is not sold as Silver goes through additional aging and distilling processes. The best, smoothest, most flavorful tequilas are both aged and distilled multiple times.

The grades of tequila vary from Blanco or Plata (white or silver), Joven or Oro (gold, one notch up from Silver, a mixture of white and Reposado), Reposado (aged between two months and one year), Añejo (aged between one and three years, and Extra Añejo (aged a minimum of three years).

What to look for in a good tequila
No worm. No, real tequila that has been properly distilled will not have a worm. Ever, If you see a creepy crawley in your liquor, it was added for effect (or you need to choose a more sanitary restaurant).

100% Agave. If you don’t see this on the label, what you are drinking is not pure tequila but a mix of agave and grain alcohol. With less expensive "silver" and “gold” tequilas, the grain alcohol may smooth out the natural flavors of the agave while keeping the price low. But, in my opinion, if you want to drink tequila, drink tequila, not a mixto.

Reposado or Añejo. Like any good aged alcohol worth drinking, Reposados and Añejos are expensive. And worth every penny. If you’re looking for quantity in your acohol consumption, by all means pickup up a bottle of the cheapest Blanco you can find. But if you’re sipping it straight or want to make your own “top-shelf” margaritas, don’t skimp. You will notice the difference.

Good Margaritas
  • 1 part tequila (roughly 1 shot/drink)
  • 3 parts Margarita mix
  • up to 1 shot Grand Marnier or Triple Sec per drink
  • 1/4 to 1/2 of an orange per drink (or limes if you prefer)
  • An orange or lime wedge and sugar or salt for rimming the glass
  • ice, either crushed or cubes
  1. Tell your husband you want a margarita. Watch him sprint for the basement.
  2. What?
  3. Ok, if you insist.
  4. Cut a small slice in the top of one wedge of orange or lime and rub around the rim of each margarita glass. Pour sugar or salt onto a shallow bowl or plate. Dip the wet glasses in the sugar/salt to make a nice crusty rim.
  5. Combine tequila, margarita mix, Grand Mariner/Triple Sec, and fruit in a blender. Mix well.
  6. If citrus pulp bothers you, strain it now.
  7. Serve on the rocks, or add more ice to the blender.

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