James Werrell

A much-maligned beverage from Mexico

Tequila tastes good. No, really, it does.

I recently had some neighborhood buddies over to sample an array of various tequilas. This same bunch has been intently involved in the study of Scotch for the past year or so, and a side trip to Margaritaville seemed like an interesting idea, especially considering that porch-sitting weather finally has arrived.

There was some reluctance. Many of us, at one time or another, went through the ritual of downing shots of cheap tequila, followed by a squeeze of lime juice, salt and an acute urge to vomit.

Shake it off. Repeat. Ad nauseam.

Another alternative was the so-called “frozen margarita,” usually a giant, slushy concoction made with (again) cheap tequila, sour mix, crushed ice and about eight tablespoons of sugar. It conferred a simultaneous headache and stomachache, and inspired a sudden, irrational hatred of sombreros, mariachi bands and Cinco de Mayo.

Unfortunately, those who indulged in these masochistic practices often got the notion that this was the only way to drink tequila. That’s why you run across so many people who, when you mention the word tequila, cross themselves, look to heaven and declare, “Oh, Lord, never again!”

Please, do yourself a favor. Try it just once more.

But this time, no shots, no frozen mixtures. Just tequila, but only sips, followed by a real margarita.

There are basically three kinds of tequila – all from the state of Jalisco, all the good ones made from 100 percent blue agave, the giant succulents that grow there. The three catagories are:

▪ Blanco: This is white tequila right out of the still, stored perhaps in stainless steel tanks but not aged or put in barrels. It has the clean, fruity taste that is perfect for margaritas.

▪ Reposado: This is tequila stored for up to a year in barrels, usually oak and sometimes old Bourbon barrels. It is golden and a little spicy, and also great in a margarita.

▪ Anejo: This is tequila aged for three years or more in wood. It can take on the complexity of aged brandy and should be sipped neat. Mixing it in drinks is a tragic waste.

Try all three if you can. Great tequila can be expensive, although cheaper than single-malt Scotch, but much of it is reasonably priced.

When you’re ready for a margarita, keep it simple: 1.5 ounces of tequila; 1 ounce triple sec; half a lime on the rocks. Stir and enjoy.

Tequila, sometimes justifiably, has gained a reputation as a beverage resembling kerosene with a worm floating in it. Years ago, on a trip to Juarez, Mexico, I was able to pick up a liter or two of no-name tequila for the U.S. equivalent of about $3. And it tasted every bit as good as $3 tequila bought in a dusty, border town cantina should.

But this noble liquid gets a bum rap. Tequila, first distilled in bulk by Mexico’s invading Spanish conquistadors as a replacement for the brandy they missed from home, deserves to rank with the world’s best and most sophisticated spirits.

So, put aside memories of that awful night years ago when the room was spinning and you were cursing the evil gods who had put agave cacti on the earth and planted the idea in the head of some ancient Mexican farmer that he could distill it and make tequila from it. Try tequila again. You’ll like it.

Really! I’m not kidding.

James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by email, at jwerrell@heraldonline.com.