Tuesday 23 July 2019 6:31 am

Why there's never been a better time to drink tequila

Tequila has come to connote summer, fiestas, and the rich culture of Mexico. It’s also incredibly versatile: you can sip it, down it in one, mix it with soda, have it in a margarita, use it to replace the key ingredient in pretty much any traditional cocktail.

For those wanting to explore options beyond shots and margs, there’s never been a better time. Interest in tequila shows no sign of slowing, so more and more products are making their way onto the British market. In addition to the increasing availability of artisanal tequilas and other mezcals (the former being the best known variety of the latter), demand is driving innovation and the development of ultra-premium agave-based spirits.

One of the hot new trends is cristalino tequila, which in just a decade has become the best-selling super-premium expression in Mexico. A cristalino is made when aged tequila is treated to remove the colour it picks up from resting in wooden barrels. Sometimes this is achieved through further distillation, but more often by filtering it with activated charcoal. These processes also remove some the harsher flavours that some drinkers find off-putting, leaving a clear liquid with more body and complexity than an unaged tequila, and in which bold agave gives way to more rounded citrus notes. Cristalinos’ toned-down profile has been controversial among fans of agave-forward tequilas, but they appear to be drawing in consumers who might otherwise have been deterred, and they open up new possibilities for cocktails. 

A trailblazer here was Don Julio 70; first released in 2011 to celebrate the company’s 70th anniversary and available in the UK since May. Marketed as the world’s first añejo claro tequila, Don Julio 70 is made with 100 per cent blue agave, triple distilled, and aged for 18 months in white oak barrels before being charcoal filtered. This process retains much of the deep vanilla and toasted oak that comes from the barrel, while reintroducing tempered notes of the raw agave you would expect in a much younger spirit. It’s smooth, stable, and crystal clear.

Don Julio is one of the brands bringing an artisanal sensibility to tequila

Don Julio’s UK brand ambassador Deano Moncrieffe recommends serving Don Julio 70 in place of gin in a white negroni: a fiendishly clever drink, the unassuming appearance of which belies its satisfyingly bracing bitterness.

For those seeking even greater extravagance, Juan Domingo Beckmann Legorreta – the 11th generation leader of the Jose Cuervo tequila empire – has crafted the first in a new line of ultra-premium tequilas, Maestro DOBEL 50 1·9·6·7.

Two years ago, Beckmann turned 50, and he decided to celebrate by making an exceptional tequila inspired by the year of his birth. He reflected on disparate events – the launch of satellite television, the publication of A Hundred Years of Solitude, and the birth of Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain – to blend a tequila that captured, in some ineffable sense, the spirit of 1967.

When blending the 1·9·6·7, Beckmann dipped into his family reserves, selecting rare spirits to enhance the double distilled, French and American oak-aged, and sherry barrel-finished extra añejo tequila. Only 3,000 bottles have been produced, half of which have been reserved in Beckmann’s cellar. Of the remaining 1,500 bottles, 1,490 were distributed in Mexico, with the final 10 being sent to the UK.

And it is, I can confirm, exquisite. The tang of agave is married with hints of sweet figs, walnuts and spices, easing into a rich butterscotch finish that’s almost chewable. 

It’s intended to be the start of a new tradition, with a new version produced each year, drawing inspiration from the events of half a century earlier. So you can soon look forward to the lingering sour taste of a 1·9·6·8 edition, with flavours influenced by the Students and Workers General Strike in France, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, and the birth of Celine Dion.

• Bottles of Don Julio 70 are available from the Whisky Exchange (£70). If you want to try it in a white negroni, visit Hacha tequila and mezcal bar in Dalston (£9.95 per glass). Maestro DOBEL 50 1·9·6·7 is only available by the glass from bars including The Lanesborough Hotel, Rosewood London, Mandarin Oriental, and Coburg Bar at The Connaught, from £200 a glass.