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11.15.18

Thirsty: Feliz Navidad

Blame it on the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger tasted a tequila sunrise at a tour party in 1972, and the band consumed many gallons of the stuff on its tour that year, introducing their new discovery to trendsetters around the world. Before that, cheap tequila was almost exclusively the domain of frat parties, spring break debauchery, and wayward trips to Mexico.

Now tequila is cool. And not particularly cheap. George Clooney, the heartthrob actor, was pretty much AWOL from movie theaters last year. Maybe that’s because he sold the tequila brand Casamigos, founded with a friend pretty much on a lark, for a BILLION dollars.

According to one organization that counts stuff like this, Americans drink 80 percent of the world’s tequila. God bless these United States. Not surprisingly perhaps, the border states of California and Texas lead the pack: Californians guzzle more than 3.3 million cases a year and Texans knock down almost another 2 million. Massachusetts ranks a respectable twentieth in consumption among U.S. states, drinking nearly 230,000 cases a year.

You may be surprised to know there is an actual town in Mexico named Tequila, where almost all tequila is made. It’s near Guadalajara, in the central Mexican state of Jalisco, a region that happens to have a perfect climate for the blue agave cactus plant, which by Mexican law has to account for at least 51 percent of every batch. There are two museums in town that tell the histories of the Sauza and Cuervo families, who battle to this day about who can claim what accomplishment in the tequila universe.

Steve Myrick

You might also be surprised to learn that of the thousands of brands of tequila now vying for a spot in your margarita, most are made by a handful of contract distillers. Lower grade brands made by the same distillers are often pretty much identical, despite the price. The biggest difference is the bottle. This fact triggered a bout of near panic among the Thirsty Test Kitchen minions, who were far too secure in their tequila brand snobbery.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, if you’re looking for variety, you won’t do better than Sharky’s Cantina, which stocks more than one hundred bottles of tequila in both its Oak Bluffs and Edgartown locations.

Owner and tequila aficionado JB Blau says that in his first years operating the restaurants he fought a constant battle. “A lot of people’s last tequila that they had was a $3 bottle at college,” he said. “They remember drinking it and not a whole lot else, other than they never want to touch tequila again.”

Now he advises patrons to try an ultra-premium brand like Casa Noble. “You’re going to drink it neat, not on the rocks, no lemon or lime, no salt on your hand,” he said. “Those are all tools to mask the flavor.”

There are five general grades of tequila, based on the time they are aged. The youngest of the grades is silver, or blanco. Next is gold, then reposado, añejo, and extra añejo, which is aged more than three years.

Where to begin? According to Blau, it depends on your personality.

“Sometimes it’s good to start at an añejo and work your way down as you want to get to know the agave better,” he said. “You undress it as you go down to the silver. If you’re a jump in the pool type of person, okay, go for a silver. You can’t hide from a silver. A true agave tequila kicks you in the neck a little bit.

“If you’re a dip your toes and let your body adjust kind of person, start with añejo and feel comfortable, then go to a reposado, which is younger and has a little bit more kick to it. Then go to the silver.”

Just make sure to hold the lime and the salt. And, with no offense to Mick and the boys, while you’re at it save the juice for breakfast.

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