Instant Expert: Tequila for Grownups

Time to put those reservations (and bad memories aside) and give tequila another try — this time in the kitchen.

Tequila. We'll skip the introductions, because chances are, you've already had a memorable encounter or two (hopefully positive ones) with the agave-derived spirit. And while the first the thing that might pop into your head when you're thinking about tequila is a gleaming shot glass with a sticky salty rim and a fresh wedge of lime, there are plenty of other less rowdy (and less nauseating) ways to enjoy — yes, actually enjoy, this iconic drink.

Before we delve into a delectable list of must-try recipes, there are a few things you should note:

Not all tequilas are created equal. If you've had a less-than-positive run in with tequila (hello, hangover), this post probably has you running for the hills. But your bad experience might not entirely be the result of a little, shall we say, overindulgence — it probably had something to do with the type of tequila you drank too. Just like wine, the region and the composition of a tequila plays a big role in its flavor profile, texture and ultimately how you'll end up feeling if you go a little too heavy on the spirit. Rule #1 of tequila — avoid “mixtos" at all costs. A good tequila is made with 100% Weber blue agave, while mixtos contain only 51% of the pure plant extract. What comprises the other 49%? Sugarcane, molasses, food coloring and any other ingredients the producer sees fit. Doesn't sound so appetizing does it? But it's all that sugar you can thank for your raging headache after a night of slinging back a slew of Margaritas.

Like wine, aging changes tequila's flavor profile. There are five different classifications of tequila: blanco, joven, reposado, añejo and extra añejo. Each classification refers to how long the tequila has been allowed to age.

  • Blanco tequilas, also known as silver tequilas, are only aged for two months after distillation, if at all, before being bottled and sold on the market. This type of tequila is clear in color and has a strong agave taste, although a good one will also exhibit notes of honey, florals, pepper and citrus as well. Their smooth nature makes blancos best for mixing and are a good option for making a top-notch Margarita.
  • Joven tequilas, or gold tequilas, are more than likely the culprit for all those killer hangovers you've experienced. Gold tequila, like silver is unaged, but the major difference is that they are typically mixtos and therefore not made with 100% agave.
  • Reposado tequila refers to tequila that has been aged in an oak barrel for at least two months, but less than one year. While it starts out as silver, the aging process renders the tequila a light golden color and infuses it with a more mellow flavor. The use of other types of barrels, like bourbon barrels, will further add to the tequila's flavor profile.
  • Añejo tequila is aged in oak or bourbon barrels for one to three, sometimes even four, years and exhibits a warm caramel or amber-like color and is a good tequila for sipping (yes, we said sipping). While this type of tequila doesn't come cheap, it has a more complex palate with rich caramel notes, which makes the higher price totally worth it.
  • Extra añejo tequila is some of the priciest tequila out there, but it's also top of the line and difficult to make. Extra añejo means the tequila has been aged for four years or more and like the other classifications, in an oak or bourbon barrel. These types are definitely not for mixing and should be sipped slowly and savored like a fine whiskey or cognac.

Tequila makes a mean addition to an average dish. Tequila definitely isn't just for drinking. It's a great addition to ceviche, grill marinades and and fruity desserts. And despite the quick lesson in tequila noted above, you don't need to dish out the big bucks to elevate your cuisine. However, you should stick to the rule that if you wouldn't drink it, you shouldn't cook with it either. If you're feeling adventurous and want to doctor up one of your favorite booze-infused recipes with a little tequila, it's a good idea to try and choose a tequila that exhibits similar qualities to the spirit you plan on replacing. For example, añejo tequila is a good substitute for cognac, while bourbon can be replaced by reposado. Silver or blanco tequila is best reserved for recipes calling for vodka or gin.

Here are few recipes to get your started on your tequila adventure:

And for the times when you're not in the mood to take your tequila straight up, these tequila cocktails are on-point:


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