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Tequila – What’s with the lime, the salt, and the worm?

Tequila

Credit: Christine und David Schmitt https://goo.gl/5fnFck

Most people automatically look for lime and salt when they drink tequila. This popular practice is seen in bars, pubs, and even in movies.  However, a closer look at tequila will shed light on how good this drink is best enjoyed.

The Place of Lime or Lemon and Salt

The necessity of lime or lemon and salt is debunked by people who know their tequila. In Quora’s Why do drinkers take lime and salt after a shot of tequila?, Jim Gordon describes this process. “The drinker licks a dash of salt off their moistened hand, to bring saliva into the mouth.  The drinker then takes a sip or swallow of tequila.  The drinker then sucks or bites the lime, to ameliorate the raw, burning taste of the tequilas…”

He adds an uncompromising verdict about the salt-and-lime practice by saying, “The salt and the lime are aids for drinking cheap, sharp-tasting (cruda) tequila…

“Salt and lime are unnecessary or undesirable when drinking smooth, more refined tequila.  In some regions of Mexico, it is customary to follow sips of better-quality-tequila with sips of sangrita (note the similarity of the name to the Spanish cocktail sangría), a cocktail of orange juice, sweet grenadine syrup and hot chilies…”

Finding Good Tequila

You need good tequila so you don’t have to resort to the lime-and-salt remedy, and the reason why the lime-and-salt remedy has become a standard accessory to this drink is the fact that for decades, the U.S. was the recipient of inferior quality tequila. In Good Mexican Tequila is a Drink to be savored, Josh Dickey quotes Kim Haasarud, co-author of 101 Margaritas, who says “There were cheap tequilas on the market, and we thought, ‘Well, that’s tequila.’ “

Dickey adds, Forget everything you think you know about tequila, then commit this simple phrase to memory: “100 percent agave.” Dozens of labels are carrying those magic words these days, the result of a production renaissance in Mexico more than a decade in the making…”

Take care that you don’t buy the drink that is a “mixto”, usually a mixture of agave, sugarcane, and artificial coloring. Any bottle that does not specify that it is 100 percent agave is a mixto. Gold or “oro” tequila, deceptively packaged as premium because of the word gold, is a mixto. What’s wrong with buying a bottle of mixto? Nothing, if you like hangovers.

Apart from the mark that says a bottle is 100 percent agave, you also have a degree of assurance that you are getting good drink is when you have a bottle coming from Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Guanajato, Michoacán, or Nayarit, areas where tequila is protected as a designation of origin product.

What about the worm?

Tequila as a designation of origin product does not come with a worm at the bottom of the bottle. The worm, a marketing gimmick, comes with mescal, a drink that can be made with different types of agave, whereas tequila is made purely from blue agave. The presence of the worm (actually a larva) indicates an infestation in the field and implies that the product is inferior.

Choosing Your Tequila

In Chow’s Mixto is for Losers, Amy Kiyishian asserts that there are three types of this drink made purely from agave. The rest are mixtos and not worth your time.

There’s blaco tequila, “Meaning white or silver, this style is not aged. Clear in color, it tastes strongly herbal and vegetal, like the agave plant it was made from. Flavor notes include pepper, citrus, sea salt, and floral. The concept ofterroir (that the soil the product comes from influences its taste) applies to tequila…

Then there’s reposado, “Meaning “rested,” this style has been aged from two months to just under one year in oak barrels. It has a golden color and a mellow, smoky flavor. However, Reposado is still young enough to allow the agave flavor to shine through. If your tastes in other spirits run to the smoky, oaky, wooden flavors, you may prefer this style. Although some people like to use Reposado in margaritas, the more traditional way to drink it is to sip it at room temperature, neat…”

Finally, there’s añejo, “Translated as “aged,” this style sits from one to just under three years in oak barrels. Anything more is “extra Añejo,” which is gilding the lily. The smoky, woody flavor is more evident in Añejo tequila than in Reposado, and the agave taste is nearly imperceptible. In fact, the flavor can be very much like that of a light cognac. This is a sipping tequila, at room temperature, neat. It’s also the most expensive. If you use this in a margarita, you’ll be throwing your money away; its complexity will be lost in a cocktail…”

Next time you have this drink, turn down the gold or oro and make sure you have 100 percent agave from Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Guanajato, Michoacán, or Nayarit. This way you will enjoy pure, smooth tequila – minus the lemon, the lime, the salt, the worm, and the hangover.

 

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