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Drink · May 4, 2015

Served Neat: How I Learned to Love Tequila in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Forget Everything You Think You Know

Chances are, your last encounter with tequila involved tribal chanting, a pile of shot glasses, and a bottle of Jose Cuervo. This is understandable, but unfortunate. In spite of its reputation, tequila does not get you drunker than other types of liquor, and it actually tastes completely different from the varieties you've tried (more on that in a bit). As a result, many Americans have distorted views on tequila, which have to be shed before proceeding any further.

Step 2: Learn How to Identify a Good Tequila

Most tequila consumed in America (Cuervo in particular) qualifies as "mixto tequila," which is made with at least 51% agave and completed with sugar-based spirits. Put politely: These tequilas should be avoided at all costs. Instead, look for brands made with 100% agave, and get an aged tequila whenever possible. They will be branded as either "Aejo" (aged 1-3 years in oak barrels) or "Extra Aejo" (aged 3+ years in oak barrels).

Step 3: Drink It in a Classic (Not Frozen) Margarita

Once you've found a good tequila, you'll want to ease into the flavor. The best way to do that is through a classic margaritaavoid the frozen varieties, which can mask the taste of the liquor in an avalanche of sugar. Follow this recipe for best results, and remember: Go with Cointreau, not Triple Sec.

Step 4: Drink It with Sangrita

Once you've experienced a good margarita, you can graduate to phase four, which is sipping it with sangrita. Meaning "little blood" in Spanish (a reference to its color), sangrita is a non-alcoholic drink that's traditionally served with tequila. It combines citrus, tomato juice, and grenadine with a generous portion of hot sauce, and perfectly tempers the bite of tequila when sipped. You can find a recipe here.

Step 5: Drink It Solo

Finally, at long last, you're ready for the real deal. Fill a snifter or shot glass with your best aejo tequila (these are generally smoother on the tongue), and sip it in small doses, swishing it in your mouth for 5-10 seconds to get the full range of flavors. If you don't like drinking liquor straight, it's perfectly acceptable to have a lime and salt on-hand: Just dip the lime in a bit of salt and suck on it between sips.

Ready to try your hand at tequila? Here are seven quality bottles that won't break the bank.


Nathaniel Nagy

Copywriter, cold brew advocate, purveyor of handcrafted birthday haikus since 2009.