Tequila is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the blue agave plant and produced primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila in Mexico. It has a distinctive flavor and is commonly consumed straight, meaning without mixing it with other ingredients like lime, salt, etc. Drinking tequila straight allows you to fully experience the complex aromas and flavors of this unique spirit. However, there are some important considerations when drinking tequila neat in order to fully enjoy and appreciate it. In this article, we will explore the best practices for sipping tequila straight, from choosing high-quality expressions to proper glassware and tasting techniques. We will also provide guidance on how to detect flavors and aromas, as well as maximize your enjoyment. So read on to become a true tequila aficionado!
Choose 100% Blue Agave Tequila
The first step in drinking tequila straight is selecting a high-quality, 100% blue agave tequila. Tequila is distilled from the fermented juice of the blue agave plant, and lower quality tequilas will contain only 51% blue agave with the remainder being other sugars. 100% blue agave tequilas will say “100% de agave” or “100% puro de agave” on the bottle. Focus on tequilas labeled gold/joven/blanco for sipping – these are unaged and will have the true expression of the agave. Reposado and añejo tequilas are aged in barrels and take on more complex flavors. While delicious, the wood aging masks some of the natural agave notes. Selecting a 100% blue agave tequila ensures you are tasting the true essence and terroir of the agave plants used.
Recommended 100% Blue Agave Tequila Brands:
- El Tesoro
- Casa Noble
- Calle 23
Choose Your Preferred Varietal
Within the category of 100% blue agave tequilas, there are different varietals and styles to choose from. The main varieties of agave used for tequila production are Tequilana Weber Azul and Tequilana Azul. Tequilana Weber Azul is the most common and produces classic tequila flavors of citrus, black pepper, and earthy agave sweetness. Tequilana Azul results in herbal, fruity tequilas with distinct floral aromas. Try different varietals side-by-side to determine your preference and get to know the range of flavors agave can produce. Popular styles like highland and lowland also impact the flavor, with the highland tequilas being more robust and bold. Experiment to find the style that best suits your palate.
Recommended Tequila Varietals for Sipping:
- Tequilana Weber Azul – Traditional, peppery
- Tequilana Azul – Fruity, floral
- Highland Tequilas – Robust, earthy
- Lowland Tequilas – Bright, citrusy
Select Appropriate Glassware
The proper glass is key to optimizing the tequila experience. Flavorful tequilas need a glass that concentrates the aromas and allows you to savor them. Look for a glass with a wide bowl that tapers toward the top, like a brandy glass or snifter. This shape accumulates the vapors at the tapered mouth which you can inhale as you sip. A narrow flute-style champagne glass is not recommended, as it disperses rather than concentrates aromas. The correct glass also allows you to swirl the tequila to open up more complex aromas. Choose a glass size around 8-12 ounces so you can adequately swirl and smell without any spilling. While tequila is traditionally served in a caballito 1-1.5oz glass, this is too small for nosing and analyzing flavors. Go for a larger, tulip-shaped glass for straight tequila sipping.
Best Glasses for Serving Tequila Neat:
- Brandy glass
- Tulip-shaped wine glass
Prepare Your Palate
Before tasting straight tequila, you’ll want to prepare your palate to best detect the subtle flavors. Start by cleansing your mouth with plain water to remove any other tastes. Avoid brushing your teeth right before tasting, as menthol in toothpaste will numb your taste buds. Light, neutral foods like plain bread or unsalted crackers can also reset your palate between tastings. If serving multiple tequilas, go from blanco to reposado to añejo to experience the increase in flavors. Taking small bites of lime or orange between different tequilas helps cleanse your palate. The citrus oils lift and remove lingering tastes, reviving your mouth for the next tequila.
Ideal Palate Prep Foods & Drinks:
- Plain bread or crackers
- Citrus fruits
Proper Tasting Technique
Once you have selected your tequila, glassware, and prepared your palate, use proper tasting technique to uncover the full range of flavors and aromas. Pour 1-2 ounces of tequila into your glass. Hold the glass up and slowly twirl, allowing oxygen to open up the aromas. Breathe in deeply through your nose and mouth to smell the vapors – this is referred to as “nosing”. You may detect fragrant notes of vanilla, pepper, citrus, herbs, baked agave, flowers, and more.
Next, take a small sip and let the tequila spread across your tongue. Hold it for a moment before swallowing. As you swallow, exhale through your nose to circulate more aroma. Let the flavor profile continue to develop and consider the texture and mouthfeel as well. Go back and forth between nosing the aroma and tasting the flavor. Add a few drops of water to open up additional layers – just a splash is all you need. Take your time with each step to explore and contemplate the intricate aromas and tastes.
Key Tasting Steps:
- Swirl – Open up aromas
- Nose – Smell the vapors
- Sip – Spread across tongue
- Swallow – Exhale through nose
- Add water – Open more layers
Detecting Flavors & Aromas
One of the joys of sipping tequila is detecting the complex layers of flavors and aromas. Here are some of the tasting notes you may experience:
Floral: rose, honeysuckle, lavender
Fruit: lemon, lime, grapefruit, pineapple, fig
Spice: black pepper, cinnamon, cloves
Herbal: spearmint, thyme, sage, chamomile
Vegetal: cooked agave, green bell pepper
Wood: oak, vanilla, caramel
Earthy: mushroom, leather, tobacco
Track the flavors you recognize as they evolve during nosing and sipping. See how they interact and transition. You may start with bright citrus and pepper, leading into herbal and earthy tones. The more you practice mindful tasting, the better you will become at detecting subtle nuances. Take notes in a tasting journal to look back on and compare. Tequila is incredibly complex, so explore and expand your flavor vocabulary.
Enjoy the Finish
The finish or aftertaste is how the flavors linger after you swallow the tequila. Consider how long the flavors persist and how they change. Fruity and floral notes often appear in the finish. You may notice white pepper, cinnamon, or other spices tingle on your tongue minutes after swallowing. Letting the finish develop and watching the transition of tastes is an essential part of tequila tasting. Go back for another sip only once the finish fully plays out. If you drink too quickly, you miss much of the experience! Sip slowly and appreciate the patience required.
Add Mineral Water for Dilution
Adding a few drops of pure mineral water to your tequila can “open up” more aromas and flavors. The water interacts with the complex molecules to release more layered notes. Try adding just one or two drops at a time and see how the nose and palate evolve. The dilution should be minimal though, as you still want the spirit to shine. Just a splash is sufficient. If you notice the aromas become muted, you added too much water. Try again with a fresh pour and even fewer drops of water if needed. The right amount of dilution enhances without overwhelming the tequila’s natural flavors.
Try Side-by-Side Comparisons
Comparing different tequilas side-by-side helps train your senses. Try tequilas of the same varietal from different regions or distilleries. Or compare an aged and unaged version from the same producer. Analyze their similarities and differences. Pay attention to the agave aromas versus the oaky notes. Contrast the flavor profiles – is one fruitier or more herbal and earthy? Does one have a peppery bite while the other is smooth? Take detailed tasting notes and see if you have a preference. These direct comparisons highlight the range of styles and flavor nuances across different tequilas.
Pair with Complementary Foods
For ideal enjoyment, pair your tequila with foods that complement or contrast the flavors. Bright blanco tequilas pair well with lime, salted nuts, oysters, ceviche, or herbaceous dishes. The peppery spice of reposados matches nicely with spicy foods and bold flavors like mole sauce, chili con carne, and hard cheeses. Sweeter añejos work with desserts, caramel, chocolate, and rich Mexican mole poblano. Create perfect pairings to bring out the best in both the food and tequila.
Recommended Tequila Food Pairings:
- Blancos – Ceviche, oysters, herb dishes
- Reposados – Spicy food, hard cheese
- Añejos – Chocolate, caramel, desserts
Pace Yourself and Stay Hydrated
When drinking tequila straight, remember to pace yourself. Sip slowly and carefully, allowing time to analyze each nuance. Since you aren’t drinking diluted cocktails, the alcohol content will impact you faster than normal. Sipping 1-2 ounces neat should be enough for analytical tasting. Drinking plenty of water between pours is important to stay hydrated. The ultimate goal is to mindfully enjoy the tasting experience, not consume excess amounts of alcohol. Sip responsibly and keep water on hand to drink.
Avoid Lower Quality Mixers
When enjoying tequila straight, avoid mixing with low-quality juices, sodas, or other mixers. These can overpower or clash with the subtle flavors of the spirit itself. If adding anything, opt for pure mineral water, a sprinkle of high-quality salt, or a slice of fresh citrus. Or complement it with equally high-quality mixer ingredients like artisanal citrus juices, specialty sodas, or hand-crafted sangrita. Anything you mix with fine tequila should enhance the flavors, not mask them.
Enjoy the Ritual
Drinking tequila slowly and thoughtfully makes for a special ritual. The experience engages all the senses between the complex aromas, unique flavors, and time involved. Appreciate the craftsmanship and heritage behind tequila, generations in the making. Use it as an opportunity to unwind, concentrate, and open your senses. Allow the flavors to silently develop without distraction. Embrace tequila sipping as a meditative, ceremonial experience. Let it be a break to reset and focus your mind completely on the moment.
Tequila is a sophisticated spirit with intricate flavors deserving of slow appreciation. Drink it neat in proper glassware and spend time nosing the aromas before sipping. Concentrate on detecting subtle tastes of agave, fruits, spices, herbs, and more as they transition and finish. Compare different varietals and brands to train your senses. Add small amounts of mineral water to open up layers. Pair with complementary foods, pace yourself, and stay hydrated. Free your mind to embrace the ritualistic experience. Ditch the shots, salt, and lime – sip tequila straight to fully savor the complex pleasures produced from Mexico’s native agave plant.