One drink that had a good lockdown was tequila. Home bartenders have turned to Mexico’s national spirit more than ever before, with UK sales rising 94 per cent in the past two years, according to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association.
But what if the mere word makes you shudder at long-suppressed student memories of slamming shots of the stuff with a wedge of lime and a salt chaser? Rest assured, tequila has had something of a sophisticated makeover in recent years.
Distilled from the Mexican agave plant, it is now considered delightfully drinkable if you get the right brand — so much so that the cool crowd actually sip theirs, either neat or simply over ice in a tumbler. And a host of celebrity stakeholders, from George Clooney and Justin Timberlake to model Kendall Jenner, extol tequila’s virtues.
The spirit’s low-calorie credentials have helped it appeal to younger, more health-conscious drinkers. A shot of tequila contains around just 70 calories (far less than wine and roughly the same as vodka) and the distillation process means it has zero carbs, perfect for anyone following a keto or low-carb diet.
UK sales of Mexico’s national spirit have risen 94 per cent in the past two years. Tequila is now considered desirably drinkable if you get the right brand
Not only that, tequila contains fewer congeners, a by-product of fermentation considered to be one of the main culprits behind hangovers (after alcohol, obviously), compared with brown spirits such as rum or whisky.
So rather than holding your nose and hoping for the best, which tequilas are the ones worth trying?
Here, Femail’s drinks expert Helen McGinn picks the best…
SLOW AND SMOOTH
Mijenta Tequila Blanco 70cl, £49.95, amazon.co.uk
Produced by a team that includes maestra tequilera Ana Maria Romero, one of the most awarded tequila makers in Mexico, it’s made using a slow cooking process to get the best flavour
This has a distinctly artisan feel to it, from the sustainable packaging (the label is made from agave waste) to the unfiltered liquid inside. Produced by a team that includes maestra tequilera Ana Maria Romero, one of the most awarded tequila makers in Mexico, it’s made using a slow cooking process to get the best flavour. It’s not cheap but it really is delicious with lots of spice and vanilla on the palate, and so smooth. 8/10
EARTHY AGED GOLD
AquaRiva Reposado Tequila 70cl, £31.94, The Whisky Exchange
AquaRiva is refreshingly different in looks (not a skull in sight) and is earthy and smooth enough to be sipped on its own, or poured over ice
Cleo Rocos, actress and long-time comedy partner of Kenny Everett, came up with this one after a bad tequilaslamming experience in her youth. She fell back in love with the spirit when she tasted a proper 100 per cent blue agave one. AquaRiva is refreshingly different in looks (not a skull in sight) and is earthy and smooth enough to be sipped on its own, or poured over ice. 8/10
Casamigos Blanco Tequila 70cl, £45, Waitrose
George Clooney started Casamigos with his friend, and husband of supermodel Cindy Crawford, Rande Gerber
This tequila comes with a liberal sprinkling of celebrity stardust courtesy of the brand’s founder George Clooney. He started Casamigos with his friend, and husband of supermodel Cindy Crawford, Rande Gerber, only to sell the business a few years later for a cool $1billion. The tequila is genuinely pretty good. Made from 100 per cent blue agave, it’s crisp and clean with less of an earthy edge than most. 7/10
Espolon Reposado 70cl, £27, Majestic
Named after the Spanish word for ‘spur’, this brand was created by a legend in the tequila world, Cirilo Oropeza
Named after the Spanish word for ‘spur’, this brand was created by a legend in the tequila world, Cirilo Oropeza. He was determined to make tequila so good, people would take it as seriously as any other spirit — and even played classical music to his tanks of fermenting booze. This one is aged for at least two months in American oak barrels, giving it a little colour and a touch of spice on the nose. The quality is fantastic and the price very reasonable. 9/10
AGED FULL THROTTLE
Herradura Añejo 70cl, £39, masterofmalt.com
This is a full throttle tequila, amber in colour and aged in American Oak barrels for 25 months, over a year more than is legally required. In fact, Herradura is credited for launching the first ‘añejo’ tequila back in the 1960s and they are masters of the aged style to this day. The flavours are full and rich with a hint of nuttiness and that trademark touch of earth and fire. 8/10
1800 Silver Tequila 70cl, £30, Tesco
Named after the year the first real tequila was made, this is made from 100 per cent blue agave from the Jalisco highlands, near Guadalajara
Named after the year the first real tequila was made, this is made from 100 per cent blue agave from the Jalisco highlands, near Guadalajara. It comes in a striking pyramid-shaped bottle, a nod to the Mayan stone pyramids found across Mexico, and is labelled as ‘Silver’ rather than Blanco, but is basically an unaged tequila.
It’s one of the smoothest around, with no burn and a bright, almost sweet note to it, with that typical tequila earthiness reminding you where it’s from. Sip it neat on its own or over ice in the fanciest tumbler you can find. 8/10