First off, let’s get something straight. Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day, or even more disturbing are the folks who call it “The Mez-cin Fourth of July.” That would be El Cuarto de Julio, which is just another day south of the border. The actual date of Mexican Independence Day is September 16, which I imagine you spent watching the Titans get slaughtered by the North Tijuana Chargers instead of taking advantage of another opportunity to party, eat some great food and drink some tequila.
In Mexico they celebrate by throwing a “Fiesta Patria,” or Holiday of the Fatherland and by making delicious pork and hominy soup called pozole. There’s also a lot of shouting, the occasional blast of gunfire aimed skywards and multiple shots of reposado and añejo tequila. Come to think of it, that third thing may be the cause of those first two…
But you’ll notice that I didn’t mention your regular run-of-the-mill blanco tequila as a celebratory beverage option. That’s because in Mexico, they actually prefer the good stuff over cheaper, barely aged agave nectar. Would you toast your founding fathers with Fighting Cock (or The Kickin’ Chicken as I grew up with) or would you rather pull out that special bottle of Weller to toast old George Washington and the Adams boys? Clearly, special occasions call for special liquor.
It’s interesting how tequila and whiskey are similar and how they are different. Whiskey, of course comes primarily from corn, which is easy to grow and fast to mature. But then the aging process of good whiskey can take years or even decades. Tequila, on the other hand is distilled from the agave plant, which takes many years to grow to harvestable size. After distilling though, the process moves rapidly toward its delicious conclusion.
Blanco tequila pretty much goes straight from the tank to the bottle, never spending more than two months in oak barrels, most of which held bourbon or whiskey in their previous lives. Reposado is aged in oak for between two months and one year, which allows the tequila to develop an amber color and deep woody aromas and flavors. This type of tequila actually matches well with food, so try some with a good steak or peppery pork chop sometime.
Añejo is Spanish for “old,” but their definition of old is not necessarily the same as Pappy van Winkle’s. Añejo spends at least a year in oak and can lie in repose for up to three years before it becomes extra añejo after that. Añejo develops the sort of complexity that you might find in a fine cognac and should be drunk the same way. Serve it neat in a snifter or in an old fashion glass with a single ice cube. Never allow anyone with a lime slice and a salt shaker anywhere near your añejo stash!
You’ll notice I didn’t mention a type of tequila called “gold.” That’s because if you see that word on the label, stay away from that bottle. ¡Andale! Gold tequilas are simply blancos with caramel coloring added to them to make them look more expensive, which they generally are. For no reason. If you absolutely must buy some of this stuff, just go ahead and mix it in a margarita and don’t tell me about it.
So what are some good reposados and añejos to consider when you’re looking for some fine sippin’ agave juice? I’m quite partial to Herradura myself. They’ve been making tequila since 1870, so you know they probably have got this stuff figured out. Another excellent brand to try is Tres Agaves. Much newer to the tequila biz than Herradura, Tres Agaves is a 100% organic spirit that has won numerous awards in their four years of existence. Imagine how good they’ll be when they get a few more harvests under their belts.
Don’t wait until next May to get on the tequila train in earnest. Now that you now the hows and whys of picking out a good bottle, go out and find yourself a new favorite!