When you’re the Sunday morning scourge of college dorms and your namesake is Tila Tequila, it’s hard to be taken seriously. But believe it or not, tequila – yes, tequila – has variety and complexity worthy of connoisseurship. And by connoisseurs, I don’t mean people at a Jimmy Buffett concert debating sugar or salt on their margarita rims.
Tequila is made by fermenting and distilling the sap of the blue agave plant, which is native to Mexico. Variations of the process yield different products that generally fall into one of five categories. “Blanco” or “Silver” tequila is bottled immediately after distillation; clean, simple flavors make it the popular choice for mixed drinks. “Joven” or “Gold” tequila is also unaged, but is mixed with caramel for color and flavor; this blend, or “mixto,” makes for a slightly sweeter and smoother drink.
The last three categories identify the length of time the tequila has aged in an oak barrel. “Reposado” or “rested” tequila is aged from two months to one year, “Anejo” or “old” tequila is aged from one to three years, and “Extra Anejo” or “extra aged” tequila is aged for over three years. As with other aged spirits, more time in the barrel means more time to absorb the attributes of the wood and mellow the alcohol’s bite.
Adventurous palates don’t need to venture further than Bristol to explore all that tequila has to offer. The waterfront restaurant Agave has curated a menu of over 50 tequilas, from well-known brands like Patron and Cuervo to several that you’ve likely never heard of. Agave offers discounted flights to encourage sampling, so you can explore different ages within a brand, one age across brands or any other combination that strikes your fancy.
Since I’m remodeling a home and really can’t handle any more decisions that have over 50 options, I left my flight tasting completely in the hands of Rachel, the head bartender. Knowing I was a tequila rookie, she wisely brought me a broad sample to help direct my taste buds – Corzo Silver, Corralejo Reposado and Don Julio Anejo. The Silver had an immediate burn, and while some fruity flavors eventually poked their heads through, I couldn’t help but think that this style must be the cheap stuff. The Corralejo and Don Julio were remarkably different – a much smoother taste that fills your mouth, clears your nasal passages and warms your belly.
Aficionados drink tequila straight, at room temperature. Mixers, lime, sugar and salt mask its flavors, as does serving it chilled. But if you want to ease your way into tequila, Agave also offers a cocktail menu with tequila-inspired concoctions. The most popular is The Perfect Margarita, a drink that causes Rachel to sigh, “I make a million a day.” The Agave version is made with your choice of Patron along with triple sec, Grand Marnier, sour mix and lime juice (I’ve read that lime juice is “the key ingredient” to margaritas, which is interesting because Mexicans also put lime in their Corona beer... However, I’ve also read that Mexicans use the lime to ward off flies, not to flavor their beer — I wonder if it’s the same logic with lime in margaritas).
Whether you’re a purist or a fruity cocktailer, Agave delivers the tequila goods as well as any place this side of Guadalajara.