When he’s not behind or in front of the camera, documentary filmmaker and actor Diego Osorio talks about Mexican drinks, namely tequila. He’s the founder of spirits brands Lobos 1707 Tequila and Mezcal, and he sees tequila as more than just an opportunity to get the party started …… nevertheless, it’s also perfect for that.
While it may seem easy to order a margarita at a Mexican restaurant, part of Osorio’s mission is to introduce people to tequila and mezcal, so when they check out the menu at their local Mexican restaurant, they know which pairing is best for the food they’re craving.
Before you order your frozen marg, Osorio will offer suggestions that may make your next Mexican dinner a little more flavorful.
Tequila 101: It’s all in the agave
There are more than 200 species of agave, but only the blue agave is used to produce tequila, and most of these agave plants grow in the state of Jalisco on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Just as a true champagne must be produced in a region of France to earn its name, tequila must be produced in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit or Tamaulipas to be considered the real deal.
“The agave used to make tequila is cooked after harvest,” Osorio said. “The juice is then fermented, distilled and aged.” The different types of tequila – silver, reposado, añejo and extra añejo – refer to how long tequila is aged from youngest to oldest.
“Our joven tequila is usually aged for three months, the reposado for seven months, and the extra añejo for three years,” Osorio explains. “Depending on how long the tequila has been aged, certain notes will come through better than others.” For example, he says, the joven tequila (“young” in Spanish) is very balanced, but the additional añejo aroma is intense, with a hint of molasses in the flavor profile.
“Lobos 1707 ages our tequila in American white oak barrels,” he adds. For added flavor, the tequila is finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry barrels. Tequila’s smokier, sexier cousin Mezcal is made in the same way, using agave roasted in an open fire pit to give the spirits their signature smoky flavor.
In a cocktail or over ice, tequila is endlessly versatile
While Americans usually think of tequila as a spirit, traditionalists think of tequila as more like wine. Osorio says, “A lot of people are tricking themselves into enjoying a wonderful tasting experience.”
Served at room temperature (best for añejo or extra añejo) or chilled, tequila is traditionally served in a small glass and sipped slowly. Even if you prefer the silver or white style, this is an enjoyable experience.
To enhance the experience, some tequila experts even recommend sipping spirits from a flute, as all the aromas float to the top of the glass, revealing the earthy and herbal notes characteristic of fermented agave. Riedel, a company that specializes in tall glasses for beverages, has even developed a custom tequila glass for proper sipping of spirits. Tulip-style glasses, called copitas, are often used for tasting old-fashioned tequilas and mezcals because the narrower mouth allows for a more focused experience of the spirits’ aromas.
The next time you visit a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant, consider delving into the top shelf of the tequila bar and pairing these Osorio-recommended cocktails with the usual menu items:
- Silver tequila pairs well with fresh ingredients, like those found in aguachile (a shrimp dish made with lime juice, cucumber, onion and seasonings) or ceviche (fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices). Both are refreshing, beachside staples, and so is a margarita or paloma made with citrus and young, bright tequila.
- Mezcal cocktails pair with birria, a popular style of taco traditionally made with mutton, but adapted stateside with beef, or even jackfruit. “The robust flavor would be nicely balanced with the smooth smokiness and citrus undertones of mezcal,” says Osorio.
- Reposado tequila should be paired with a hearty stew like posole, which mixes the bright flavors of lime and green chilies with braised pork shoulder and creamy hominy.
Young tequilas, which may be labeled as joven or blanco, are perfect on the rocks or in cocktails like margaritas or palomas, Osorio said. Reposado tequila, which spends months in oak barrels and has a light caramel color, is a perfect substitute for whiskey and is “amazingly old-fashioned with orange flavors.
Osorio favors the extra añejo tequila, aged for a long time, and recommends drinking this tequila straight (poured into a glass with no other ingredients, even without ice). “It’s so special,” he says, “that it doesn’t need anything else.”