Ah, tequila. A mere mention of the word can send chills of excitement down your spine, or a finger to your lips in horrified remembrance of hurls gone past. Rarely do people feel indifferent about the potent agave nectar. And yet, most folks really know so little about the stuff.
Many of us are introduced to tequila through our ol’ buddy, Jose. Damn near every bar carries Cuervo Gold and 1800; after all, the Jose Cuervo Especial brand is the best-selling tequila in the world. But there are over 2,000 other options.
So in honor of the popular Mexican holiday, Feast of the Assumption, on Aug. 15, I decided to investigate some of these options right here on Maui. What is this holiday about, you ask? I’d assume it’s some sort of Catholic indoctrination—Mary’s passage into heaven and all that. What does this have to do with tequila consumption? Not much.
Anyway, since Aug. 15 falls on a Tuesday, and what with newspaperdom and our dastardly deadlines being as they are, I decided to celebrate on the prior Saturday. My companion and I had limited resources and time, but did manage to make a few surprising discoveries.
On Maui, you will find your better tequila selections at places like Nachos Grande and Compadres on the Westside, Fred’s Mexican Cantina and Horhito’s down south, Manana Garage in central Maui and Milagros on the North Shore.
But if you find yourself in other establishments with that special hankering for el liquido loco—knowledge is power, mi amigos. And you’d be wise to get yourself tequileducated.
Real tequila—not worm-bottomed mezcal—is made from the blue agave plant, a succulent native to specific regions in Mexico. As long as you veer from the lesser-quality “golds”—which are really just young bottlings with caramel color added to look like it’s older—the best tequila is 100 percent blue agave, and divided into three distinct categories based on aging.
The blanco, or silver tequila, is aged up to a couple months in oak barrels, the reposado is aged about a year and the anejo is aged from one to three years. This aging process not only affects the color of the tequila, but also the significance of the oak influence in the many layers of tequila’s complex flavor.
I would say that blancos are best for mixing or shooting, while anejos are ideal for sipping, as you would a fine cognac. Reposados fall generally somewhere in between, and at least for me, often take the edge off of a bellyaching sweet-and-sour mix, making for a slightly smoother, spicier margarita.
Patron Silver seems to be a popular blanco, although it pales in comparison to the Corazon, which my companero and I found to be a suave, more “boutique-y” alternative to Patron’s mass-produced, high-octane kick.
We also greatly enjoyed the light and buttery, chardonnay-like qualities of the Cazadores Reposado. And we came across a rare bottle of El Senor Reposado at Manana Garage that we agreed possessed a “lovely nose and creamy finish,” prompting a discussion comparing the language of tequila tastings with that of wine.
El Tesoro Anejo was another strong contender, with its smooth, full-bodied, butterscotch flavor. Don Alvaro Anejo—which came in a sexy, Chanel-like, art deco bottle—offered a uniquely sweet undertone that reminded my friend of Bailey’s and burnt creme brulee.
We hit a snag with Don Eduardo Anejo, which was smooth but displayed the subtle essence of ashtray, prompting me to imagine waking up in a dusty old bar in Mexico, sitting next to a pistol-packing hombre with a mega-machismo mustache and sombrero and not knowing how I got there. But sometimes you want to feel like that.
The thing with tequila is, there’s one out there made especially for you and your particular palate. You just gotta keep sipping until you find it. MTW