There’s a strange sense of responsibility when compiling a list of spirits that I think others should try. I always try to put across a list that covers as many styles as possible, and includes products that I’d gladly recommend to anyone if I was stood at the bar with me. Of course a list of products is always subjective, and there are always others that could have made the list, but the point is to give anyone reading this a starting point, and hopefully to get you thinking, and talking about the category.
Because my knowledge of tequila is good, but I work with someone who knows even more than I do about agave goodness, I thought I’d use this as an excuse to be led through the category by someone else for a change. James Triffo, my business partner in NOLA, helped to launch Partida and Ocho tequilas into the UK, and worked for Tomas Estes of Café Pacifico and Ocho tequila fame, managing one of the La Perla sites in London. When I asked if he’d help me put together a list of 10 Tequilas that would show the breadth of the Tequila category, he suggested we use this as an excuse to do a tasting and maybe get a few Tequila lovers together to talk them through.
Now if you live or work in London, and you like Tequila, then one of the first bars that will jump to mind is Café Pacifico in Covent Garden, so where better to go and taste tequilas? Jesse and Tomas Estes kindly agreed to let us take a corner of the bar, and drink our way through a pretty healthy selection of their back bar. They also let slip about some of the design touches for their new bar, El Nivel, which will be coming soon to the space above La Perla on maiden lane… and trust me this is going to be an agave lover’s paradise! Enlisting the help of fellow Tequila lovers Matthias Lataille (ex Green & Red and now ambassador for Olmeca Altos tequila) and Guy Hodcroft (spirit buyer for Selfridge’s) we set about compiling a list of blanco, reposado and anejo Tequilas. Our original intention was to have a list that covered a range of highland and lowland styles, but as we worked through our samples we all seemed to gravitate towards the Highland style (with the exception of one). Needless to say that dinner, after tasting our way through so many Tequilas, was a lively affair.
So below you’ll find a list of some great Tequilas, all of which I believe offer a fantastic drinking experience. That’s not to say that there aren’t others that are just as good, including many valley or lowland tequilas, just that these offer you a glimpse of the category, and serve as a great jumping off point to start experiencing this amazing spirit. They’re all 100% agave, they reflect a range of prices and styles, and they’re all well made Tequilas that are a pleasure to sip. I hope you’ll try them and maybe find out which ones you enjoy the most!
So here’s the thing about tequila; it’s pretty straightforward right? You make it from the juice of a cactus, it has a worm in it, it gives you a hangover and really it doesn’t taste very nice but that’s ok because you would only ever drink it as a shot anyway, and the wedge of lime washes the taste away…
Ok, maybe that’s an exaggerated version of peoples perception of this spirit, but let’s face it even with good tequila being much more widely available than it was even 5 years ago, it’s not a million miles off the mark of what many consumers think when you mention tequila. It’s a misunderstood spirit with a generally undeservedly bad reputation (although in truth some tequilas may have earned that rep fair and square). So here’s the REAL thing about tequila; it’s a spirit category split in half like no other I can think of, and because of this, good tequila is fantastic, and bad tequila is the worst kind of spirit imaginable.
The reason for tequilas split personality is simple, there are two kinds, governed by a set of rules that is necessarily flexible enough to encompass both types. This flexibility in the rules means there are also two kinds of producers. On one had you have those who want to make and promote lovingly crafted and traditionally made tequila, a spirit that can be complex and elegant, and is deserving of our respect. The other type of producer, unfortunately, wants to make something inexpensive, that only vaguely resembles the agave-based goodness of the other side of the industry.
Tequila is perhaps the most maligned of spirits, whose reputation over the years has seen it associated with ending your evening in hospital, a police cell or a gutter. It’s true that there are plenty of tequilas on the market that leave a lot to be desired but it’s also true that there are plenty that are smooth, well balanced and a pleasure to sip.
For the past five years I have been hearing people say that tequila is going to be ‘the next big thing’ in terms of spirits category, but somehow it has never really made it. Certainly the selection on most back bars has grown, and there are more tequila-based cocktails on drinks lists, but from a consumer point of view it hasn’t taken off in the way that other spirits have. Maybe it’s a slow burner or maybe all those late night shots of Jose Cuervo have just put people off forever.