It has been near on three decades that the margarita has reigned supreme as the most consumed cocktail in the United States. The drink is an icon. Now tequila, the fastest growing spirit category in the country and a bartender favorite, is being used more and more as a base spirit for other original cocktails and with widespread delicious results already in cocktail capitals New York and San Francisco, it is no wonder.
In Mexico the Paloma is a popular choice. The Paloma combines tequila and grapefruit soda built over ice, served tall and refreshing and often brightened with fresh fruit to bring a colorful Mexican touch to the drink.
The beauty of the Paloma lies in its simplicity and straightforward winning flavour combination that can be taken to the bar and messed around a little. Using blanco tequila gives a clean crisp drink showing agave through the grapefruit flavour, while reposado tequila makes a great Paloma with a little more richness and depth. Using fresh ruby red grapefruit and seltzer water also works well, especially with a dash of agave nectar and fresh lime. Adding fresh strawberries, tangerines or even pineapple can give a whole line of Paloma style drinks perfect for the summer season.
Before further exploring the mixability of tequila it is important to consider the type of tequila chosen as the base spirit. Good cocktails showcase, rather than disguise, the base spirit, so starting off with a quality distillate is key. These days mixologists are reaching for the bottles with 100% de agave proudly displayed. 100% de agave tequilas are distilled entirely from the fermented aguamiels of the agave tequilana Weber azul. Those that do not carry the label 100% de agave are called mixto tequilas and use a base of minimum 51% agave (the rest is usually made up from sugar cane which grows freely in the areas of Mexico where tequila is produced).
Within 100% de agave there are different classifications of tequila providing a wide variety of flavour profiles to play and mix with. Silver (or blanco) tequilas are bottled within sixty days of distillation and are rarely aged in wood. Blanco tequilas celebrate the vegetal, earthy, unique flavour of the agave plant and when mixing cocktails it is both a challenge and a joy to showcase these qualities and particular notes.
Reposado tequilas are rested in wood for between two months and one year and consequently start to incorporate a delicate balance of dry spice, sweet herbal and warm mellow notes that come during maturation alongside a still very present agave flavor. Reposado tequila cocktails can support ingredients with a bolder character or those with greater complexity.
Anejo tequilas are those matured in wood for between one year and three years and this shows in the color, flavour and mellowness of the spirit. The longer spirit is matured in wood, the darker it will usually be when bottled. In addition there is more influence on flavor from the natural sugars which caramelized when the barrels are charred. Thirdly, the spirit mellows with longer maturation, meaning there is greater complexity with a smooth structure and silky mouth feel. All of these things can be harnessed in a great cocktail. Finely distilled anejo tequilas are rightly compared to single malts, small batch bourbons and even cognacs and behave in a similar way when mixed. The smooth mouth feel from maturation of a good anejo tequila is showcased well in stirred, spirit only cocktails. Start by switching in a good quality anejo tequila in a classic dark spirit cocktail, like a Manhattan or Side Car, to see how the spirit performs and take it from there.
Having understood the importance and influence of the maturation of spirit it becomes interesting to learn that a few tequilas are branching out from the traditional use of used American oak in search of new, elegant notes in the final bottled product. The Milagro distillery in Tepatitlan, Jalisco is a great example. The Select Barrel Reserve line of Milagro tequilas are exceptionally rare in that they are matured in new French limousin oak. Even the Milagro Select Barrel Silver is matured (but always bottled within sixty days) in this fine oak famous in the cognac country before the color is filtered away to leave a perfectly clear spirit, and one with surprising elegance and complexity within the silver tequila category. The Milagro Select Barrel Reposado perfectly aligns fresh oak spice with rich honeyed agave and this was very evident in the 2007 San Francisco Spirits Competition when it won Best in Show across all white sprits.
Recently a further classification has been introduced to tequila; Extra Anejo for those tequilas aged for three years and more. These tequilas are usually sipped and enjoyed neat as one would a Single Malt Scotch but there are no rules when it comes to where the mixologist should stop concocting… The purists out there might prefer, however, to keep these extra anejos on the very top shelf just a little out of reach of that inquisitive bartender looking to create the next great cocktail.
1 ½ oz Milagro Silver Tequila
Fill with pink grapefruit soda
Build over ice and garnish with half a strawberry and an orange half moon
1 ½ oz Milagro Reposado
¼ oz Campari
½ oz agave nectar
½ oz fresh lime
1 oz ruby red grapefruit juice
Assemble ingredients and shake well. Serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange wheel.
PASSION FRUIT PALOMA
Created by Charlotte Voisey, on the menu at The HideOut, Brooklyn
3 large peeled segments of pink grapefruit
The seeds of one passion fruit
¼ oz agave nectar
2 squeeze fresh lime
2 oz Milagro Reposado Select Barrel Reserve
Created by Charlotte Voisey, previously featured on the menu at Flatiron Lounge, Manhattan
1 ½ oz Milagro Anejo Tequila
¾ oz Lille Rouge
½ oz Orange Curacao
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir ingredients and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Created by Charlotte Voisey, on the menu at the Rose Bar, Gramercy Park Hotel, Manhattan
1 ½ oz Milagro Silver Tequila
1 ½ oz Apple Juice
½ oz Lillet Blanc
½ oz Lillet Rouge
¼ oz Agave Nectar
½ oz fresh lime
Assemble ingredients and shake well. Serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a blood orange wheel