Sunny days demand thirst-quenching cocktails like Margaritas, Palomas and Ranch Water, which all just happen to be a showcase for tequila. And that might just make tequila our favourite summer spirit.
The same way scotch or bourbon is a style of whisky, tequila is technically a mezcal, the name for any agave-based spirit. Tequila is made mainly in Mexico’s Jalisco state from the blue agave plant, which is steamed, fermented, distilled and sometimes aged in oak. What we think of as mezcal, on the other hand, is made from a variety of different types of agave, which are roasted over wood for a distinctive smoky flavour, and rarely aged.
Tequila is produced in three broad styles: blanco (also called plata or silver), which is unaged and has crisp citrus, white pepper and grassy notes; reposado or “rested,” which is aged for two to 12 months and has softer caramel and spice notes; and añejo, which is aged one to three years, and has deep, rich, complex flavours of tobacco, chocolate and oak, ideal in an Old Fashioned.
When it comes to citrusy cocktails like the Margarita, though, a blanco tequila is generally the best choice. The question is: Which one? We couldn’t decide, so we turned to our bartender friends and asked their advice. Here’s what they had to say.
Kate Chernoff, bartender, The Courtney Room
“My favourite way to make the perfect Margarita is with Sombra Joven Mezcal (45% ABV; $66). It has a fruity, spiced and gently smoky palate, making it a great choice for tequila lovers who want to expand their palate into the rest of Mexico’s terroir.”
Max Curzon-Price, bar manager, Suyo Modern Peruvian
“For the perfect Margarita, I reach for Tequila Fortaleza Blanco (40% ABV; $125) at home (and whenever I can behind the bar). Mown grass on nose with a rich, almost lactic structure makes for an A+ sipping or mixing tequila. However, its limited availability and notoriety amongst bartenders make it a challenge to find on our often-scarce market. Fortaleza makes my ‘see it, buy it’ list.”
Taras Grabovyi, bar manager, Carlino Restaurant
“I really like to use El Jimador tequila (40% ABV; $37) for my Margarita. It is quite affordable, is 100 per cent blue agave and works well in Margaritas. I love the citrusy part of that tequila and fresh agave notes which it provides.”
Alexa Greenman, beverage director, Havana and Belgard Kitchen
Without a doubt, the best tequila to use for a Margarita is Olmeca Altos Plata (40% ABV; $50). You won’t find a better tequila for the job. Clean, earthy and citrusy, Altos Plata’s innate flavours pair perfectly with a classic Margarita recipe whether you’re a pro or making it for the first time.”
Trevor Kallies, bar and beverage director, Freehouse Collective
“I’ll always keep a bottle of Olmeca Altos Plata (40% ABV; $50) in the cupboard for mixing Margaritas and Palomas alike. Dollar for dollar, it time and time again proves itself to be the best in show for cocktails, sipping and even shooting (if that’s your thing). Bright, citrus notes, hints of vegetal flavours and aromas and, of course, ample agave flavour to produce a delicious Margarita.”
Alannah Taylor, bar manager, Capo & The Spritz
“Whenever craving a Margarita I’m looking for a little extra flair, so Mezcal is my go to. Sombra Joven Mezcal (45% ABV; $66) is my first pick because it offers that smoky punch with vanilla, citrus and many other complex undertones. They also they keep sustainability and community in line with their top priorities during the production and creation of the product.”
David Wolowidnyk, bartender, Acquafarina
“Without question, I would most certainly use Tequila Fortaleza Blanco (40% ABV; $125) to make the most perfect Margarita. This blanco is a textbook example of a traditionally made tequila, yielding flavours of cooked agave, earth, citrus and vegetal complexity that lingers long on the palate. I want tequila to be the star of the show in a Margarita, and Fortaleza Blanco doesn’t let me down.”