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Everyone Has a Tequila Story

I awoke, on the floor, with a new shirt on that read “This is what awesome looks like.” Having misplaced a shoe, stained my pants with something purple and used a plastic trashcan for a pillow, I knew that this was not awesome. The culprit was poor decision making, tequila, lime and salt, in no particular order. I was told that I had a great time, but the lingering taste of excess hindered my chances of enjoying even a simple margarita for a very long time.

Everyone has a tequila story. While I was working my way through the restaurant business in Manhattan, a colleague asked, after hearing too many times that I didn’t drink tequila, if she could help re-write my tequila story. I was hesitant, but intrigued and accepted the offer.

We met at Dos Caminos Mexican Kitchen in Soho where there are more than100 tequilas on the menu. After her tutelage, I became a fan of this, all too often, misunderstood beverage.

Tequila comes from the blue agave plant grown around the city of Tequila, Mexico. It is one of the few major agricultural products to be, virtually, unchanged by technology. The farming and harvesting of blue agave is still done strictly by hand. By hearing this, I gained an appreciation for what I once perceived as a hangover in a bottle. However, even though the growing and harvesting process is pure, not all tequila is the same.

Blanco, or “silver,” is un-aged and clear in color. This is the best type to use in a margarita because of its light flavors. Giving the lime and salt a mild backdrop is a great asset. For the same reason, it’s also the best to use if you are drinking it quickly, as in a shot. Mild, light flavors just seem to make sense in both cases.

Reposado, or “rested,” is aged up to a year in oak barrels. The tequila will begin to take on a light brown hue and develop flavor nuances such as spice and light fruit from the wood. Reposado is a nice complement to strawberry or mango margaritas, but is most commonly served straight up, much like brandy.

Anejo means “vintage” or “aged” and is stored in oak barrels up to three years. The color becomes darker and the flavors more complex. Noting hints of caramel, vanilla, nuts and spice were all common among those we tasted. The only way, in my opinion, to drink this grade of tequila is slightly chilled, straight up and in a snifter. As with anything else, this tequila has a price reflective of the effort it took to make it. Thus, it is a waste to add it to a margarita as you will lose the flavors of the tequila and will simply end up with a really expensive cocktail.

Given the background of tequila, this doesn’t mean that the light brown house brand is aged. It’s called Joven tequila and has caramel coloring added to resemble the higher quality brands. It’s like a fake Rolex. The price is cheaper, but so is the quality. Buying this type of tequila is, most often, the first misstep that leads to the creation of a bad tequila story. I speak from experience.

I thought that with more than 100 tequilas on the menu, at least one would have a worm. I was wrong. The “worm,” which is actually a larval form of a moth, was a marketing scheme created in the 1940s to increase the sale of Mezcal. Mezcal is the same product as tequila, but it’s made in another town. The governing agencies in Tequila actually prohibit the addition of so-called “worms” to the bottle. There was no such law in the town of Mezcal and these companies were trying to capitalize on the novelty. We tasted a few good Mezcals while re-writing my tequila story and none of them had a worm. My advice: if you ever see a worm in anything you are about to consume, choose another item.

As we finished our tasting, I was decidedly reformed. I never muttered the words “I don’t drink tequila” again. My friend had kept her end of the bargain and re-written my tequila story and, I hope, this will allow you to do the same. Keep in mind that moderation is the key. No matter what grade of tequila you are drinking, if you have too much, the result may not be all that different. Most bars and restaurants along the Grand Strand offer a selection of tequila. Sip it over dinner or have a glass of anejo and a slice of key lime pie for dessert, you will find it far more enjoyable, and less embarrassing, than the aftermath of having shots between sips of your usual beverage. Cheers!

Kevin Hoover, a local food and beverage manager, is engaged in the endless pursuit of the perfect cocktail and dining experience. Check out his blog at http://lushlifeonline.wordpress.com.

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