Cinco de Mayo is here again and one of the necessities of celebrating it is tequila. There is a lot of misconception out there about tequila. A lot of people think it’s dangerous or that the night is going to get out of control if shots of it are involved. I’d like to take this time to shed some light on a rather mysterious spirit. 

First of all, how it’s made — tequila is distilled from the agave plant grown in Jalisco, Mexico. They take a long time to ripen, like years, and when they do they can be up to one hundred pounds. After it is distilled, it is either bottled or aged in oak barrels. The age statements mean the same thing throughout all tequila, but the exact amount of time in barrel varies from producer to producer. Silver or Plata is unaged or spends a maximum of two months in barrel. Reposado, or “rested,” spends from two months to a year in oak. Anejo, or “aged,” spends from one to three years in barrel. And finally, Extra Anejo is anything over three years.

Your choice of tequila is very important and really depends on how you intend to drink it. Let’s talk about the best ways to drink each style.

Silver tequila is young and fresh. It’s meant to be drank with a little lime or in one of the famous tequila cocktails: margarita, paloma or tequila sunrise. Basically, any cocktail that has a high amount of acidity allows Silver tequila to really shine. It works so well with acidity because there aren’t any of those heavy oak flavors. It’s one of the most flavorful and approachable unaged spirits out there. Depending on your budget, you’ll want this one to be wallet friendly since we are mixing it with so much. For Silver tequila, I’m a huge fan of El Jimador and Casamigos.

Now that we’ve got a little time in barrel, we’ve got Reposado. This one starts to show off a little bit of that baking spice oak barrels are famous for. It’s not over the top but it does start to come through. Also, because of the barrel influence, we start to have a smoother mouth feel. Reposado is great for sipping or more complex, mixology cocktails. Its slightly vegetal flavor makes it a great pairing with basil and rosemary. You can get really creative with this one. Some of the best Reposado tequilas out there are Casamigos and Altos Tequila.

Anejo tequila is a special thing. Oak is a major influence here with lots of spice and softening the rough edges of young tequila. Think of it as a mature, sage-like spirit that can give you great life advice. You can make a great tequila Old Fashion with it. Try a little agave nectar for sweetener and Angostura Bitters (unless you have a Mexican style bitters) since it has more of a clove influence. Personally, this is like a nice bourbon to me. I’ll sip it with a fat ice cube or maybe just lightly muddle a lime wedge with a pinch of confectioner’s sugar. You don’t need to add much to this to make it sing. These can get pricy but check out Herradurra Anejo, Don Julio 1942 or Clase Azul. 

Tequila is an often-misunderstood spirit. It gets a horrible reputation from already drunk people taking shots of the cheapest tequila in the building. It’s become so popular in mixology in the last few years that there is actually an agave shortage right now. Always enjoy your tequila responsibly and try something new.