Tequila: One Minute Expert

Because there's much more to this barman's favourite than salty shots

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Did your last encounter with tequila involve salt, limes and a morning after you’d rather not recall? You’re missing a trick.

It is actually possible to enjoy tequila. To find a brand that will make tomorrow’s agony a thing of the past, look for the hallmark of quality: it should be “100 per cent agave”. This means it is made only from the blue agave plant, as opposed to an impure, potentially headache-inducing mixto.

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“Then start experimenting with different ages and styles to see what appeals,” says Henry Besant, tequila aficionado and bar consultant. And as for the best way to drink it? “Supped neat from a stemmed glass, with a chilled beer on the side.”

For connoisseurs: Tapatio Reservas de la Excelencia Tequila (£155, thewhiskyexchange.com)

This is no ordinary spirit. Tapatio is one of only a handful of tequilas still made using a traditional tahona wheel to crush the agave. “It’s a much more gentle, and expensive, way to mill the plants,” says Besant. It could rival any single-malt whisky, cognac or rum: the agave flavour is packed with butter, cream and spice. Once only available to the distiller’s friends and family, you’re unlikely to come across it in anyone else’s booze collection.

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For first-timers: Herradura Reposado (£38, thewhiskyexchange.com)

Don’t sling a nervous new tequila drinker in at the deep end with agave-heavy blancos, says Besant, but opt instead for a mellow reposado. “‘Rested’ tequila is more comparable with rum or whisky,” he adds, “as the agave flavours are calmed by more familiar ones such as caramel, which come from the barrel ageing.” Herradura is a high-quality place to start, not least because it was the first brand to introduce reposado. Expect a hit of vanilla, spice and pepper that will banish any negative associations for good.

For cocktails: El Tesoro Blanco (£34, thewhiskyexchange.com)

This isn’t the place to offload dubious bottles of cheap mixtos. “You want something earthy, forward and masculine, which will retain its flavour, even if you’re turning it into a margarita,” explains Besant. El Tesoro is a smooth, sweetish tequila made from 100 per cent agave and is ideal for cocktails. “Tequila is the most sociable spirit in the world,” Besant reckons, “so sling it into a punch, share with friends and enjoy.”

For wine buffs: Tequila Ocho Anejo (£47, thewhiskyexchange.com)

Each year, Ocho’s growers select a single-estate plantation from which the agave is harvested and distilled, resulting in a unique tequila every time. “A vertical tasting (of its different vintages) would be a great way to understand the nuances of taste and flavour, while tasting a consistent style,” says Besant.

For purists: Olmeca Altos Plata (£17, waitrose.com)

“There’s nowhere to hide with a blanco tequila,” says Besant. “This is unadulterated agave flavour, and the best way to test the quality of a distillery and find out what the producer is about.” Olmeca Altos, then, is a spirit for those who are unafraid of the vegetal, herbal and citrus notes delivered in bucketloads by blanco spirit. What this tequila lacks in age, it more than makes up for in complexity: you’ll taste sweetness, a hint of smoke, zest and spice long after you’ve swallowed.