A little over five years ago I had a third date with a guy I kind of liked. We were hanging out at my apartment and I suggested that we head down to the bar for some shots.
Little did I know that shots meant something very different to him than it did to me.
At that time I was drinking Jameson, which I had been doing for the better part of forever. A wise but weird man had once told me, at the age of 18, that the best way to avoid being carded in a bar was to order a Jameson on the rocks with a splash of water. I tried it. It worked. Thus, I developed a taste for the Jameson.
That five year ago night when I accompanied my crush to the bar we went separate ways upon entering. I moved to talk with some friends and he moved to order the shots. I thought he knew I wanted Jameson, but how could he? We had never had shots together before, but I just assumed.
And we all know the thing about assuming.
I met him out on the bar patio where he sat smiling, two shots on the table in front of him. I eyed the glasses, too clear to be Jameson, and I asked what it was.
“Patron”, he said with a look that clearly said aren’t all shots tequila shots?
My mind flashed back to that awful high school tequila night. Don’t we all have that awful high school tequila night? A psychology professor that I had in college told me the one smell most people associate with a bad experience is tequila.
My bad experience with tequila is throwing up in my lap in front of a cute boy at age 16.
So here I was, in front of another cute boy, and in front of another shot of tequila.
I drank it. I didn’t throw up in my lap. And I married him.
Fast forward five years and I find myself ensconced in the land of tequila. Jose Cuervo is limited to the tourist haunts where everyone is forced to wear a sombrero, and the proper bars have shelves laden with the various incarnations of their country’s national spirit.
For someone who is unfamiliar with the sheer volumes of tequila available in Mexico the choice is more than daunting; it’s downright terrifying. I think that’s why most visitors to Mexico simply order their tequila in the form of a margarita and call it good.
I, for one, don’t like margaritas so I order my tequila straight up in a shot glass. But, over the years, I’ve graduated from slinging it back in a wince-inducing gulp to the proper way to enjoy tequila. If you order a good tequila there’s only one way to drink it.
Just like a good Irish whiskey, this tequila is made for sipping. And sip it I do.
Many Americans are familiar with just a few brands that make it to the bars in the states. Don Julio, Patron, and the swill called Jose Cuervo are the bottles most often displayed. But ask any good bartender what their favorite tequila is and he or she will likely rattle off mysterious names that sound like they could be characters in a telenovela.
One of those names is probably going to be Cazadores.
In Mexico, Cazadores is considered a low to mid range product. It’s not a small batch, fancy brand. It doesn’t have the anti-theft alarm attached to the neck of the bottle in the stores. For all intents and purposes it might be dismissed in Mexico like Jose Cuervo is in the states.
But it’s my favorite tequila.
Under Mexican law true tequila can only be produced and bottled in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Jalisco is arguably the epicenter of tequila in Mexico. You might find tequila produced in other parts of the world, but these should be labeled as mixto and are not true tequila.
The process of producing tequila is much like the process of producing many other spirits. The agave is harvested, the hearts are cooked to release the sugars, and the resulting liquid is fermented, distilled, and then placed in oak bourbon barrels or casks to age.
And here’s where the true variations of tequila are born.
Blanco or silver tequila is often bottled straight after distillation which offers more of the true flavor of the agave. Reposado tequila is aged for a minimum of two months or up to 11 months and generally has a light, golden color and a slightly smoky flavor. Añejo tequila is aged for a minimum of one year and sometimes up to the three years. The end product is dark, very smoky, and complex.
Of course, within these processes there are production variations, but the results are the same: smooth, slightly sweet, and with a little bite to remind you that good tequila demands respect.
I prefer the Cazadores reposado. I prefer to drink it alongside a crisp, cold Modelo Especial, my favorite Mexican beer. I eschew salt and lime. I prefer to drink it with that cute boy who, five years ago, began to lead me down a path I didn’t know existed. A path paved with passports and boarding passes; a path that led me through Asia, Europe, South America, and the Middle East; a path that has ultimately led me to the land of tequila.
And it all started with a shot.