In childhood, we form sensory memories that can last a lifetime: the smell of baking might remind you of your grandmother’s home, for instance. It can also work in a negative way – for many, the taste of tequila reminds them of overpowering nausea and vicious hangovers.
But this spirit, made from the blue agave plant, is undergoing a renaissance, with premium spirit brands and independent producers releasing increasingly sophisticated varieties that are a million miles from the stuff they served in your student union.
Leading the charge is Casamigos, a boutique tequila distillery founded by George Clooney and Rande Gerber. “George and I were in Mexico and we were drinking a lot of tequila,” says Gerber. “He turned to me and said ‘why don’t we make our own?’
"If you can't sip it, it isn't good tequila"
“A tequila buzz is different to whisky – it’s happy, it keeps you awake, makes you feel good. But people are used to drinking it in shots – they’re not used to a premium product. It took us two years to perfect. We wanted it to be smooth with no burn, something that you don’t have to cover the taste of with lime and salt.”
Casamigos has gone on to win dozens of awards, helping to raise the profile of this once-maligned spirit. When you’re buying, look out for a rich, amber colour, and the word “anejo” (aged in oak barrels no larger than 600 litres for at least a year) or “reposado” (“rested” for less than a year). “Blanco” is unaged and “oro” has often been artificially tinted and should be avoided at all costs.
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“Good tequila is always aged in quality American or French oak”, says Ron Cregan, head of business development at creative agency Sedley Place and a judge at the World Drinks Awards. “When you get a good one, you can’t always tell what it is – people think it’s an armagnac or a cognac.
"It shouldn’t have that ‘tequila’ taste – you should be getting caramel, chocolate, sweetness, and a hint of grassy green from the agave plant it’s made from. And you should drink it neat. If you can’t sip it, it’s probably not good tequila.”