Cold, hard truth: Tequila is a big deal in Mexico, but Cinco de Mayo isn’t.
The May holiday commemorates an important 1862 military victory over the French. A national holiday, yes, but not one with country-wide partying like Mexico’s Independence Day in September.
Here in the U.S., we’ve adopted Cinco de Mayo as our main day for celebrating all things south of the border. In addition to tacos and mariachi bands, that means lots and lots of tequila.
As much as we love a good Margarita, we think tequila and its agave-based cousin mezcal should also be admired for their versatility. It’s astonishing what they can do when used to replace the base spirit in a wide range of classic cocktails.
The results are so good, you may make every day a holiday.
There are lots and lots of Bloody Mary recipes, using just about every type of spirit. In our minds, a good Bloody has to be spicy, and no spirit pairs with hot sauce, horseradish and chiles quite like tequila. Don’t believe us? Watch top San Francisco bartender Jen Ackrill whip up her version of the Bloody Maria in our new How to Cocktail video. It’ll start your Cinco de Mayo morning off right.
View recipe: Bloody Maria
Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby always come in quick succession—heck, they’re sometimes on the same day. So it’s surprising that Margarita-Mint Julep mashups aren’t more common. Incorporating fresh blackberries for a blast of summery flavor, this tasty drink might kickstart a trend. Plus, it calls for tequila that’s aged in former bourbon barrels. Perfect, we think.
View recipe: Blackberry Mint Julep Margarita
The classic Manhattan is named for America’s largest city, so it only makes sense that the tequila version would be named for Mexico’s. (Like Washington, D.C., Mexico City is not part of any individual state; it’s in its own Federal District—Distrito Federal in Spanish) The subtle oak flavor of a lightly aged reposado is your best bet to combine deliciously with sweet vermouth and bitters.
View recipe: Distrito Federal
What today we call an Old Fashioned is really just the original definition of the cocktail, as published in 1806: a combination of any kind of spirit, sugar, water and bitters. The booze wasn’t limited to whiskey back then, and we don’t think it should be now, either. Liquor.com advisory board member (and tequila expert) Jacques Bezuidenhout created this clever spin, which sweetens with maple syrup and incorporates slightly spicy Fresno chiles.
View recipe: Spiced Old Fashioned
The Last Word was a pre-Prohibition concoction nearly lost to history, until it was rediscovered about a decade ago by Seattle bartender Murray Stenson. Many of today’s cleverest mixologists have used its formula as a basis for experimentation. In this version, Phil Ward of New York’s Mayahuel replaces the original gin with a pineapple-infused mezcal. The spirit’s subtle smokiness adds a new level of complexity, while the pineapple pairs beautifully with Chartreuse.
View recipe: Trato Hecho
Bartenders love the Negroni for its bracing bitterness; it’s the ideal antidote to overly sweet drinks. And just as gin’s herbal notes are a pleasant match for Campari, so are tequila’s grassy ones. For purity of flavor, a tequila Negroni (Tegroni, get it?) works best with an unaged blanco bottling.
View recipe: Tegroni
No, the original Mojito is not from Mexico; it’s Cuban. But what both countries share is brutal summer heat and a population of drinkers looking to escape it. When you use tequila instead of rum—plus agave nectar in sugar’s stead—the result is a fresh and bubbly cocktail from the other side of the Caribbean.
View recipe: Tequila Mojito
If you love the salty, briny character of a Dirty Martini, you probably also love the smoky, earthy qualities of mezcal. Well, this drink has both. It also has serious pedigree: Creator Raul Yrastorza is one of America’s foremost authorities on mezcal, and his Los Angeles bar Las Perlas offers an amazing selection of both it and tequila, along with creative cocktails.
View recipe: Dirty Oaxacan Martini