Tequila is known throughout the world for more reasons than one. Sure, it has a stunning ability to create a buzz – one that can carry you through the night and into the next morning. But there’s so much more to this strong spirit than that.
Beyond tequila’s fascinating history and process of creation, there are all the interesting ways that you can drink tequila. Straight tequila is one such popular way, and we’ll get more into that shortly, but cocktails also make a celebrated appearance. Tequila sunrises, classic margaritas, Palomas – there is so much to enjoy if you know how to drink tequila.
So if you have a bottle on your shelf that has been gathering dust, or you’ve just bought a particularly excellent bottle of gold tequila, keep reading. We’ve put together the best ways to enjoy this spirit so that you can fully appreciate the wonder that is tequila.
Choosing Your Tequila Style
The first step to knowing how to drink tequila is to know your tequila. After all, you don’t want to use a gorgeous sipping tequila for a sweet tequila sunrise.
There are three main types of tequila with two more variants, and each is unique and wonderful in its own way. So take a look at each to get a better understanding of the options available for discerning drinkers.
Also known as silver tequila, Blanco is one of the most commonly found and used versions of this spirit. It is unaged and relatively simple, distilled from the blue Weber agave. As all tequilas must be, it is made from plants that are grown in one of the five western states of Mexico.
Bottled shortly after distillation, this spirit is low in sugar and can therefore result in less (or at least, less painful) hangovers. But of course, when mixed into a sugary drink, you can’t rely on this.
If this type of tequila appeals to you, look out for 100% agave tequila. Silver is best used for a classic margarita but has plenty of uses. In fact, it is arguably the most commonly used tequila, as it easily suits a number of different drinks.
Many experienced drinkers will tell you that we are now getting to the good stuff. Reposado is an aged tequila that has rested in oak barrels for 2 – 12 months. You’ll be able to spot a reposado from its darker, rich colour.
Reposado is a drinking tequila, as the spice and oakiness from the barrels give it that something extra. You may pick up vanilla notes and other sweet aromatics. Just a small sip will tell you why this is such a popular sipping tequila. Though, of course, this depends largely on the quality of the bottle that you’ve bought.
While this is a spirit that needs no chaser, Reposado is a great tequila to use in cocktails – particularly in margaritas. It’s versatile and is well suited to the citrus notes of most of the cocktails that we’re going to look at shortly.
Añejo tequila is aged in oak barrels for 1 – 3 years. The focus here is on the maturing of the alcohol, which is why its name translates roughly to ‘matured tequila’.
Añejo tequila provides a warm sensation and is a spicy drink best sipped neat. It is considered the bourbon of the agave world and is best used in cocktails that ask for brown spirits. So if you’re a serious fan of tequila, you can swap out lesser liked spirits, while still enjoying those cocktails.
Now we’re getting to the two tequilas that are a sub-variation of the others we have discussed. Extra Añejo expressions are aged for a minimum of three years and have an interesting story behind them. They may even find themselves being aged in cognac, port or scotch casts, or even in wine barrels, making the flavour even more interesting.
If you’re looking at an extra Añejo, be aware that the price tag will be particularly steep. This is a new category of tequila, having only been established in 2006, but it is quickly gaining popularity. Household brands like Jose Cuervo are jumping onto the bandwagon to make this special spirit.
An amber colour can indicate an aged tequila but read the label carefully. A gold tequila often has caramel and artificial flavouring.
Joven refers to any tequila that is mixed with another substance. It can be 100% agave when Blanco is mixed with a small amount of aged tequila. You may also find Joven coloured and sweetened with caramels and syrups. It can therefore be a mix of unaged and aged, giving it a deeper, more complex flavour than Blanco, or it may have additives and flavouring.
It may also have been partially fermented with sugar, instead of only agave. Joven is also referred to as a ‘mixto tequila’. So this is not a clear cut category of tequila and is often considered inferior to other varieties.
How to Drink Tequila as a Beginner
If you’re just starting out as a tequila drinker, it’s best to get it right the first time. One or two bad experiences with awfully cheap tequila, drunk warm and quickly, could ruin the spirit for you forever.
As we’ve discussed, there are a number of different varieties of tequila, and each of those varieties has many different brands, origins and therefore tastes. So the right way to drink each will differ, but these guidelines can, fortunately, be used all across the board with tequila.
First, get a decent bottle of tequila, if at all possible. You don’t want to start with excellence, as you’ll then be setting yourself up for disappointment for other experiences in the future. But you also don’t want a low-end bottle that will put you off for life.
Secondly, you should try it straight. Take a small sip of tequila, and consider the taste. Take your time with it, don’t try to down it and get it over and done with.
If you feel the need to, keep the salt and the lime handy. Between sips, you can dip the lime in salt and suck it when you need, every sip or two. But keep the focus on the tequila. And enjoy getting to know the liquor as it is.
If you’re very serious about getting to know this alcohol, try getting one of each of the main types of tequila. Then, without rushing the learning experience, you can occasionally swap over to another type, or even line up three shot glasses with a little of each. This is also a great option if you’re wanting to invite your friends over for a ‘tequila tasting’.
The Difference Between Tequila and Mezcal
Tequila is a type of mezcal. The mezcal group consists of any liquor made from the agave plant. This genus of monocots is native to Mexico, as well as some other arid regions of the Americas. This is why tequila, as well as other mezcal spirits, originated in Mexico.
The difference between tequila and mezcal is simply that tequila is one kind of mezcal spirit. There are 166 agave plant species, and tequila is made from only one of those plants – blue agave.
In addition to this, tequila can only be made in one region of the world – and that’s Mexico. A Mezcal spirit made in any other part of the world is simply that – a mezcal spirit. It cannot take on the name of tequila. This is much like champagne, which can only be made in the Champagne region of France, otherwise, it must be called sparkling wine.
Mezcal is also made in different ways to tequila. Tequila is, in short, normally made by steaming blue agave in industrial ovens before being distilled two or three times in copper pots. This happens before the ageing process of some of the variants.
Mezcal, on the other hand, is cooked inside earthen pits. The hearts of the agave plant, after being cooked, are then crushed, combined with water, and allowed to ferment.
For both, it’s a fascinating process. There’s much more to know about how tequila is made, if you’re interested.
8 Best Ways to Drink Tequila
There are plenty of ways to drink tequila, but not all of them successfully bring out the flavour profile of the spirit. You want a drink that compliments the highs and lows of your spirit, without hiding it completely.
Those who don’t like tequila, or who have a particularly bad bottle of hooch, tend to smother what they’re drinking in a heavy mixer. But for those amongst us who want to take things seriously, your ingredient list should be kept simple.
We’ve put together this list of top cocktails and drinks, for all kinds of drinkers. Whether you’re wanting to drink tequila like the locals do, or you prefer to get fruity, there’ll be a drink here for you.
Drinking Tequila Straight
Of course, this is the easiest way of consuming tequila. But there is still a right and a wrong way to do it. Firstly, you want to have a really high quality, good tequila for this, since all you’ll be tasting is the flavour of the spirit. Secondly, it should be ice cold.
Since alcohol doesn’t freeze, you can keep your bottle of tequila in the freezer or fridge. Unlike other liquids, it won’t expand and pop, shattering glass over your frozen peas. It’ll just be icy cold when you pour it into a glass to enjoy.
How much you pour is up to you. If you love tequila and want to sip it slowly, pour a little more than a shot. You can take your time, and enjoy it just as the distiller intended it.
Served neat, this is a seriously no-fuss drink. Any tequila variant can be used, but if you’re wanting it to be a stand-out experience at your favourite bar, ask the head bartender for their best.
Tequila Shots With Lime and Salt
A shot of tequila with salt and lime is an institution. The best way to enjoy this version is by lining up a couple of shot glasses for you and your friends and pouring right to the top. Next, slice up a lime into medium-sized wedges, and grab the salt.
Technically, the main reason for lime and salt is to cover the taste of tequila. Normally, this is done by those who want to utilise one of the standout features of this alcohol – its ability to get you well and truly drunk. Tequila is also generally believed to be a stimulant instead of a depressant, so it’ll pick you up while giving you a buzz.
So, once you’ve got the ingredients, it’s time to imbibe. Lick the top of your hand and sprinkle a little salt onto it. The salt lessens the burn of the tequila, which is why it’s taken first. So when you’re ready, lick the salt, throw back the shot glass of tequila, and quickly suck the lime wedge. For those who struggle to remember – lick, shoot, suck.
It’s natural for your face to screw up into a grimace – this is an intense experience after all. But the more you do it, the more you’re sure to enjoy it. And there really is nothing like it when you go to a bar and order a round of shots for your friends, to be enjoyed with lime and salt. It’s a bonding experience.
The Classic Margarita
The classic margarita is the most widely known and popular tequila cocktail in the world. It’s one that you will see on every self-respecting bars menu. It’s simple, so what’s important in this cocktail is that you use good quality ingredients to ensure that the tequila is well complemented with the zingy citrus.
You’ll need good tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur, salt and ice for this cocktail. It can be shaken over ice or served with ice if you don’t want it to be so strong. Because like most classic cocktails, the margarita is short and neat, favouring less volume and a punchy drinking experience.
To properly produce this cocktail, you’ll want the right cocktail glass – triangular and long-stemmed, with its rim dipped in salt. While it doesn’t need a garnish, the addition of a wedge of lime or a curl of its peel is well suited to the taste and appearance of this drink.
As previously mentioned, Silver tequila is the commonly used variant for this drink. But a Reposado is also a great option for a more complex cocktail.
If you’re looking for a summery tequila-based cocktail, you can’t go wrong with the iconic tequila sunrise. It’s fruity, colourful and fun. Plus it is well suited to those who are trying to transform their tequila into something more easily drinkable.
To make a radiant tequila sunrise you’ll need tequila, orange juice, and grenadine syrup. The deep orange of the syrup is what creates the sunrise effect. It’s a little heavier than the other liquids and will settle to the bottom once you’ve slowly poured in all of the ingredients.
The sweetness of the grenadine will contrast wonderfully with the tangy orange juice, and the tequila brings a zing of its own.
If you’re looking to add a little more alcohol, you can simply add an extra tequila shot, as the drink is sweet enough to handle it. Just remember to give it a stir before you sip!
This drink is best served in a tall glass to really bring out the various colours. And though it’s already beautiful, it can be garnished with a cherry and a slice of orange.
As we’ve seen, tequila is very well suited to citrus. The Paloma is no exception. It’s a simple drink and very easy to make, but don’t let that fool you, the flavours are complex and interesting.
Blanco tequila is the best with this cocktail, so start there. Then simply add a squeeze of lime or a tot of lime juice, and top it off with grapefruit soda. You can also add a few blocks of ice. Since this is quite a summery drink, it may need a little extra coolness.
The best variant to use for a Paloma is a Blanco. The difference between Blancos is quite extensive though, so note that a more high-quality option will be best. But whichever one you choose, the smoothness of the Blanco is well suited to the grapefruit notes of the Paloma.
Frozen Strawberry Margarita
Frozen cocktails have taken the world by storm in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. If you’re located somewhere warm and summery, or even just in a well-heated bar, a frozen strawberry margarita can elevate a night. Or a day – no judgement here.
The ingredients list for this frozen wonder is quite simple and can be easily found in your local grocer and liquor store. All you need is your favourite tequila, triple sec, lime, and strawberry juice. If you want it to be even more delicious, as well as healthy, use fresh or frozen strawberries and add just a sprinkle of sugar.
Beyond that, you need only ice and a blender. Throw all of the ingredients in and blend until smooth. Serve in margarita glasses with their rims dipped in sugar. Or if you want it to be a little more intense, dip the rim in salt instead.
This is a particularly interesting one. Instead of adding the citrus notes to a cocktail, you’ll experience them as a chaser to a shot of high-end tequila. So it is a two-part shot – tequila first, then Sangrita. The mix will be poured into a shot glass and served alongside the tequila.
Sangrita’s have a few variations and have evolved over time. It originated in the 1920s and is a fantastic choice to cleanse the palate between sips of premium Blanco, which is the tequila that best suits this drink. With such interesting options, you can choose which suits you and your tequila best, or try both top options.
The original version backs up the tequila with a shot of orange juice, grenadine, lime and hot sauce. It’s a sweet, citrusy and spicy chaser, all in one.
The more modern version consists of a spicy tomato juice mix with a little bit of hot sauce. This chaser closely resembles the oh-so-famous Bloody Mary, which is made with vodka.
You’ll find that Sangrita’s are extremely well suited to tequila, as they’ve been carefully crafted for just this reason.
When delving into the different types of tequila, we mentioned that the matured varieties can be used in whiskey-based drinks in the place of that spirit. The tequila old-fashioned is one such example, and it’s a popular one.
Reposado can be used for this cocktail, but the best option is Añejo. The oak barrels that these tequilas matured in will give it the deeper notes that make an old-fashioned what it is. But note, this is a drink that can really show off a fantastic tequila.
If you have a bottle of the cheap stuff, you may want to stick with the more citrusy, busy cocktails. The old-fashioned is simple, and the focus is all on the spirit.
The traditional bourbon old-fashioned is made by muddling sugar, bitters, bourbon and water, and garnishing with an orange slice and orange zest. But for this modern take, you’ll use agave nectar as the sweetener, as this best suits tequila – for obvious reasons. You can also change the fruits to nectarine slices. The bitters and sugar are institutional and needn’t be changed a dot.
Final Thoughts on How to Drink Tequila
Tequila is one of the greats – the top alcohols that grace the shelves of hip bars to dingy pubs, and everything in between. It can be enjoyed in such a wide variety of ways. With sugar or salt, ice or neat, in a margarita or sipped (downed) straight from the shot glass.
Drinking one of the wonderful types of tequilas that we’ve looked at here is always a pleasure. You just need to know what fits you, so that you can enjoy it to the utmost.
For some, sipping a golden extra Añejo will be the epitome of bliss. For others, a sugar-filled tequila sunrise with Jose Cuervo will hit the spot. Whatever way you best enjoy your alcohol, you now know how to drink tequila. May this knowledge serve you well.