There are many distinctions to be made between highland and valley tequila. Jacob Stern chats with those in the know to define the difference once and for all.
While the region in which an agave plant is grown goes a long way to influencing the final flavour of a tequila, it is not the be all and end all. Other steps in the production process can have an effect on tequila’s taste. It is worth noting that, increasingly, companies are exploring and experimenting in these areas to create new and exciting drinks.
Alex McDowell runs through a long list of elements that can effect the final taste of a tequila. Anything ranging from the “tahona wheel through to the diffuser; brick or stainless ovens; what stills are used – whether they be stainless with copper jackets or full copper; their size; what fermentation tanks are used; yeast strains; and, of course, the wood used to age tequila”.
With so many variables it is easy to see how tequilas can have such vastly different flavours and noses. Just as it is easy to see how they have maintained their popularity for such a long time. Put it down to a myriad of products with such individually distinctive tastes.
Tequila and cocktails go hand in hand like, well, tequila and cocktails. There is a mix for every occasion and for every season. Whether the sun is beating down outside, or its the middle of a freezing winter, there is a tequila cocktail to enhance the moment.
The boom in Mexican restaurants has seen increasingly innovative cocktail creations, but there remains plenty of room for the classics. Have a look below for a range of non-tequila cocktails waiting for a tequila twist.
In terms of region-specific cocktails it is very hard to go wrong. However if one is really seeking to take a cocktail menu to the next level, there are some flavour pairings that combine handsomely, and really elevate specific tequilas to a higher plane. Barrio Cellar’s policy is often to use “highland tequila with more citrus based cocktails – to accentuate the citrus flavours of the Margarita” for example. On the other hand they think a “savoury cocktail would generally be more appropriate with a valley tequila – or even a fennel based cocktail that would enhance the tequila’s flavours”.
For every tequila lying on the shelf there is a cocktail to match. McDowell, ever the enthusiast, believes that “the more tequilas we can afford to have behind the bar, the more fun we are guaranteed to enjoy”. A statement that cannot be argued against. However, if your shelf is full, and you can only find space for one bottle, then “most of the team [at Barrio Cellar] picked Tromba Tequila for a cocktail tequila, because it is very balanced in a drink and has a lot of presence”. But when it comes to tequila it is certainly the more the merrier.
ALL IN ALL
It is safe to say that tequila is here to stay. Its market share is growing, consumers are increasingly knowledgeable on all tequila related matters, and it is occupying a greater space in general public discourse. Making sure your establishment is well-versed in tequila will be well-appreciated by the paying public – not to mention that it is a fascinating topic in its own right.
NON-TEQUILA, TEQUILA COCKTAILS
The classic tequila cocktails have had a good run. Margaritas and Palomas have seen many different iterations. Here are five cocktails traditionally made with another spirits, given a tequila touch.
TEQUILA SOUR – Like a whisky sour, but with tequila. The lemon juice brings out the citrus notes in highland tequila, making the drink just that bit lighter than its whisky counterpart.
THE TEQUILA NEGRONI – Adding tequila to the classic Negroni gives it a slightly sweeter hit. The white tequila on top of Aperol, red vermouth and orange bitters will be a crowd pleaser come summer.
TEQUINI – This is just what you think it is, a Martini with tequila instead of gin. Use high quality tequila for this drink and you’ll have the punters coming back for more.
JUAN COLLINS – This is the tequila version of the popular Collins drink. Add something sweet, some citrus, then top it up with soda. Take it a step further by matching an extract to the flavour notes of the base tequila – think caramel syrup with a caramel nosed tequila.
BLOODY MARIA – Sure it sounds a bit lame, but everyone loves a Bloody Mary. Vodka can often be a bit harsh, swap it out for tequila and it will give your cocktail list that edge it’s been looking for.