Once a cheap, frat party drink, tequila now gets a hip makeover
It can't be denied. Tequila's got a bad rap. An association with shattering hangovers, unseemly dancing on tables and massive errors of judgment. Not to mention a worrying consumption of salt. If you got acquainted with tequila in college, you're probably shuddering now. These days you're all about single malts and Chateauneuf du Pape, huh? Well, don't turn the page yet. Tequila's working on its reputation too.
“It's been seen as a cheap way of getting drunk outside Mexico for years,” says Magandeep, sommelier, wine writer, trainer and columnist. “But Mexicans know how to savour it. It's a traditional part of their culture. In the last couple of years vodka has become high end, gin's become high end… It should have been tequila's turn next.” Unfortunately, the world over, it's been seen as a cheap, frat party drink, chugged with lime and salt. So now, Corralejo, a house of handcrafted tequila founded in 1755, is organising the first ‘Corralejo Technicians Mixology Challenge' for bartenders — encouraging them to explore the many nuances of the drink.
At Corralejo in Mexico, hand-harvested agave plants are made into tequila which is distilled into Spanish copper stills and then stored in oak barrels. At Dublin (Sheraton Park Hotel and Towers) we investigate four shot glasses holding the powerful unaged Corralejo Blanco, Corralejo Reposado aged for two months, triple distilled Corralejo and Corralejo Anejo, aged for one year. The bartenders were encouraged to experiment with the four varieties to create original, indigenous cocktails.
With names such as ‘Wow,' ‘Baby Fire' and ‘Devil's Handshake,' the range was wide and imaginative. Cocktails were shaken, muddled and stirred. Made with saffron, basil and crushed papaya. They were sweet, salty and complex. It was a clever way to prove the versatility of the drink.
“People don't want tequila to be expensive,” says Magandeep, explaining that the reason we associate tequila with hangovers is because most of us have been drinking cheap tequila all our lives. “If you start with 1,000 litres, depending on how meticulously you distil you can get an 80 per cent yield, which makes the cost of production low, or a 40 per cent yield which is much better tequila.” This is a small but growing style, and is meant to be savoured for its lingering flavours. “If you keep shooting it, you never really taste it. When I first tried savouring tequila, I tasted butter and herbs instead of that vile mix of nail polish and paint normally associated with the drink.”
So what's a wine sommelier doing with tequila? “Well, I've been a bartender in my life, in France. I've judged a lot of competitions. And because of my association with wine, I'm associated with sipping and enjoying a drink, enjoying its taste and elegance, rather than shooting and flaring.”
The competition is currently travelling across the country — Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai — featuring almost 100 bartenders in all. “A lot of the guys were confused because they're never used the drink other than to make a couple of classic cocktails like margarita and tequila sunrise.” There have however been revelations. “It's not all that macho, it has a nice elegant side and it works well with pineapple juice, coconut cream and dairy cream. It also works with herbs and spices. Like fennel, basil, saffron. There are so many options to explore.”
The winner of the challenge will win a trip to visit the Corralejo distillery in Mexico, and also have his recipe featured in the Corralejo Teqnic Book.