TequilaNeat - How To Drink Tequila

Because good tequila should be served "neat:"   No ice, no salt, no lime.

Formal tasting at Olmeca distillery

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I can hear it now: "I don't need you to tell me how to drink, Kelly!" Yes, I suppose that's true. Do what makes you happy.

But indulge me for a second- Throughout this page and all my tastings, I am assuming that good tequila is to be sipped neat (hence the name of this site). No ice, no salt, no lime. Perhaps a little sangrita as a palate cleanser between tequilas.
Yes, yes, I know- Everyone's used to shooting tequila, with salt and lime. This is a horrible thing to do. It's done this way with cheap tequila, because it tastes so badly that you don't want the taste or aftertaste in your mouth. But why would one shoot good tequila? Savor it, enjoy it. Good sipping tequila is clearly a very different thing than the cheap stuff that's been available (and so widely marketed) around the U.S. for so long.

Why no ice, I hear you ask? Coldness deadens one's tastebuds. Cheap wines are chilled so you won't be able to tell that they're not top quality. Adding ice to any good spirit will mask the subtle flavors by numbing your tongue, rendering it unable to perceive the flavors.

When you're sipping tequila, the glass makes a huge difference. Oddly, many bars will serve tequila in shot glasses. These are entirely wrong. Use a small brandy snifter, or something that's somewhat closed at the top. See the photo at the top of this page for a good example. These types of glasses concentrate the vapors and aromas of the liquor and you'll get the full experience and flavor of the tequila. With an open-topped glass, your nose will not get the proper benefit of the aroma, and the taste will literally suffer because of it. If you're looking to buy tasting glasses, the best of the best are the Riedel Ouverture Tequila Glass and Stolzle Weinland Champagne glass. The Riedel is the only glass designated for tasting by the Tequila Regulatory Council (actually, CRT, or "Consejo Regulador del Tequila" as it's known in Mexico).

Before you start tasting, your mouth needs to "warm up." Think of this as the stretching exercises a runner would do before a run. Your mouth needs to become acquainted with straight tequila, and overcome the shock of the introduction of potent liquids. Without a warm-up, the tequila will taste very fiery, your mouth will feel a burning sensation, and you'll miss many of the flavors.
Start by taking a tiny sip, and use your tongue to rub the tequila over all surfaces inside your mouth. Over the gums, tongue, inside the cheeks. Swallow, and breathe out through your mouth. Wait a few moments. After that, you'll start tasting. Once you perform this warm-up, you'll be set to go for the rest of the tasting session.

First, tilt the glass gently, taking care not to agitate the tequila. Smell, and take note of what different flavors you can discern. This is called the "first nose."

Swirl the tequila in the glass, as you'd do with wine. Let the tequila coat the inside of the glass, and let it settle. Watch for the formation of "legs" stretching down the sides. If it takes more than five seconds to reach the bottom, the tequila has a "full body."
Swirl again, and tilt the glass as far as you can without spilling, then smell the aroma at three different places: At the bottom of the mouth of the glass, in the middle, and at the top. You'll sense different things at each different location. This is because different aromas have different weights, and the heavier ones will settle at the bottom, forcing the lighter ones higher. When you smell the aroma, do it with your mouth slightly open. This allows an escape for the alcohol vapors, and you'll be able to focus more on the actual flavors than the alcohol.
This is the "second nose."

Take a sip. Not too large, not too small. Let the tequila roll over your tongue, and don't swallow immediately. Savor the flavors. As you swallow, you may sense even more flavors. After swallowing, pause a moment, and pay attention to the aftertaste, or finish.
Get a feel for the overall personality, as well as the individual flavors you perceive. If you were to describe it in just a couple of words, what comes to mind? Earthy? Sweet? Smooth? Harsh? Refined? There are no wrong answers. I'm trying to add what I call an "ID tag" to each tequila on my spreadsheet based upon just a few descriptive words.
If you look at the TequilaNeat tasting sheet, it'll give you an idea of the more common flavors you might encounter. But let that be a guide only- Take note of what YOU experience. You may taste flavors that aren't included on the tasting sheet.

After you swallow the last sip from the glass, smell again. This is the "third nose." The dominant flavors will remain, as will some other delicate flavors.

"But what about margaritas?" I hear you ask. Margaritas are indeed wonderful things. And while I typically make them with a good tequila, I don't use a VERY good tequila. The lime juice, agave syrup, and other ingredients will mask the subtle flavors of an excellent tequila. Will I use Patron silver in a margarita? Yes, but there are much better tequilas that are priced lower or about the same. It's true that better ingredients make a better finished product, so a better variety than Patron will make a better margarita. But don't use something that costs more than $30-40 a bottle. At that point you're wasting money, and wasting good tequila.
Having said that, I did make a margarita with Casa Noble Reposado (one of my favorites). While it might be considered blasphemy to turn such a good tequila into a margarita, I have to say it was utterly amazing.
Unless you like particularly sweet margaritas, start with a blanco or reposado tequila. With the exception of lime juice, most ingredients of a margarita are sweet. If you use a sweeter tequila or anejo, the resulting margarita might be TOO sweet. The other ingredients can tone down an otherwise bold or harsh blanco tequila.

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