I’m no fan of straight whiskey or cognac or tequila tastings. Because of the aged nature of these liquors, they invariably turn into money tastings. By that I mean that the $300, 25-year-old bottle almost invariably tastes smoother and richer and sweeter than the $150, 18-year-old one.
The thing I enjoy about tastings is the potential for surprise (did you see how well Gordon’s did at my gin tasting?). To me, there’s
no less fun in tasting something so predictable. I’ve found 3 ways to accomplish this:
- Price Limit (try a half-dozen small batch bourbons <$50)
- Regional Comparisons (try a sample from each of six scotch regions)
- Specific Application (make margaritas with 6 different tequilas)
Number 3 is tough with scotch. There just aren’t that many (good) drinks you can make with it. I mean, how many Rusty Nails do you want to drink? But with tequila it works great and is exactly what I did recently with an unsuspecting panel of tasters.
This works really well because most of the tequila consumed in the U.S. is consumed in Margaritas. Too many of these are neon slushy-machine produced adult milkshakes. And a smaller but nearly as annoying segment are mixed by hand and served on the rocks. But they use cheap triple sec and pre-made sour mix so the result is only slightly less bad.
The uninitiated think the problem is with the tequila, so they order the same slop with a $15 shot of Patron which just adds fuel to the fire of shitty. The real cure for this ill is to raise the quality of the orange liquor, the juice, the sugar, and even the ice. Surprisingly few bars and bartenders are equipped to do this successfully. My advice is to make it yourself at home so you know how good it can be. Then, at least you can point your favorite bartender in the right direction.
2 oz plata tequila
Shake well and strain. Serve either on rocks or (my preference) or up in a chilled and (optionally) salted cocktail glass. No garnish, no foolish curvy margarita glasses, no blender. All goodness.
Once you have the rest of the ingredients sorted out, and a high-quality baseline by which to judge, then you can experiment with the base liquor effectively. Which is what we did.
As you can see at right, my preferred Margarita is tequila heavy, and not drastically different from my Daiquiri in ratio. As such, it is a great vehicle for comparing tequilas in the way that it is most often consumed.
My theory going into this tasting was that what people think they like in a margarita is not what they actually prefer. There are 3 rough types of tequila: blanco/plata/silver (unaged and clear), reposado (aged 2 – 12 months in oak barrels), and Anejo (aged 12+ months). There are actually some other classifications and nearly as many rules as there are for french wine. You can learn more about them here, but the three I used are the most commonly available.
As is obvious by the recipe, I prefer plata tequilas in a margarita. My favorite is Hornito’s. I love a good reposado or anejo for sipping, but I think the oak takes away from the terroir that gives a good margarita its depth and separates it from a daiquiri. If you want oak in a sweet/sour drink, have a sidecar, I say.
Too often, I hear people tell me that they prefer reposados. Wait, actually they tell me that they prefer a specific, popular brand-name reposado in their margarita. My belief is that they fall into the trap described above and at best the wrong tequila covers up other wrongs in the drink they’re receiving. When I’ve been able to make them my preferred recipe, I get rave reviews despite breaking all the rules they’ve built up in their head.
So with this tasting, I assembled 7 different tequilas with representatives from all three major classes. I made a pitcher of margaritas with each, and the panel blind tasted them and rated relative to each other with stack-ranking and commentary by each panelist.
Results coming in the next post…