Mexico’s best-known agave spirit tends to get a big boost in the United States around Cinco de Mayo, when Margaritas are suddenly in hot demand. But tequila is a nuanced spirit worth drinking all year round, provided you know how to drink it properly, of course. Angel Bolivar, the head bartender at Casa Neta in New York City, breaks it down.
1. Drink Like the Locals
“In Mexico, tequila is kept in the fridge so it’s perfectly chilled when served and almost always enjoyed neat,” says Bolivar.
2. Skip the Salt and Lime
“When drinking tequila, I want to be able to experience the actual taste,” he says. Usually, tequila’s dominant flavor profile extends to the honey-like notes of cooked agave, accented by zingy citrus or pepper. Save the lime and salt for making Margaritas, Palomas or other cocktails, and sip neat tequila unadorned.
3. Take Your Time
“When presented with a neat pour of tequila, take advantage of the opportunity to actually taste the true essence of the agave plant,” says Bolivar. In other words, savor it and see which flavors you detect. Bonus points for trying out a tequila flight. “Flights are a great way to self-educate.”
4. Know What You’re Drinking
There are three basic classes of tequila—blanco, reposado and añejo—and different ways to maximize the drinking experience for each. “I am always aware of what kind of tequila I’m drinking,” says Bolivar.
Blanco: “When drinking blanco, or silver, a 1-ounce pour neat for a shot does the trick for me,” he says about this category, which is usually aged minimally or not at all. However, “I’m not against a good blanco tequila with soda and lime, just in case you want to drink it slow.”
Reposado: Reposado, or “rested” tequila, is aged in barrels from two months to one year. “Reposados hold hidden notes of vanilla, caramel and butter, and many times a touch of citrus is also present,” he says. Drink repo tequila neat, preferably in a snifter glass, he adds. Bolivar’s top picks for reposado tequilas include Casa Noble, Fortaleza, Siembra Azul and Clase Azul.
Añejo: Barrel-aged for longer than year, this tequila style tends to have robust flavors, often layering on plenty of caramel, toffee and spice. “The añejo drinker is considered to a mature drinker,” says Bolivar. He likens añejo tequila to scotch and suggests consuming it similarly: with one ice cube or a splash of water, or mixed into an Old Fashioned-style cocktail.
5. Never Ask About the Worm
You’ll never find a worm in a bottle of high-quality tequila, so just don’t even go there.