When I was in college and I still had to count on my fake ID to get me into bars, tequila options were pretty limited. The brands available were generally Jose Cuervo or Cuervo Gold. You could drink it in a margarita -- frozen or on the rocks -- or, if you were in the right bar, in a Tequila Sunrise. If you wanted your tequila straight, it was served as a shooter. You probably know the ritual -- lick some salt (off your hand or, preferably, the body of a would-be sexual partner); gulp down tequila as quickly as possible to avoid, heaven forbid, actually tasting it; then suck on a lime wedge to clean the palate of any residual tequila molecules that may have wound up there. Followed, usually, by some sort of bellowing and whooping.
Tequila didn't really gain any respect, at least in the States, until the 1990s, when the emergence of pricey "premium" tequilas like Patron gained a foothold among serious drinkers as well as barstool spendthrifts. In the last decade, the market for premium tequilas has exploded, and along with the growing market, new brands seem to be emerging on a weekly basis. It must be getting awfully crowded in the highlands of Jalisco, the Mexican state where the blue agave from which tequila comes must, by law, be grown.
There are three main categories of tequila: blanco, or unaged; reposado ("rested"), which is aged in oak barrels for 2-12 months; and añejo ("aged"), which is aged in oak for 1-3 years. A few years ago, a new extra añejo category was established for tequilas aged longer than three years. As a way-too-general rule of thumb, unaged tequilas are used as mixers, while aged tequilas are meant to be consumed neat. Of course, there are great sipping blancos and plenty of añejos which go great in margaritas (and both get a mention or two here). But for our purposes, I'm checking out sipping tequilas -- añejos, extra añejos and the occasional noteworthy reposado.
A dozen tequilas does not a comprehensive overview make. Hell, a dozen new brands have probably sprung up since you started reading this article. But think of this as the tip of a very large iceberg. As always, let me know in the Comments section about any and all noteworthy tequilas I neglected to mention. With only one liver to my name, trying every tequila in Mexico is a task that would take several lifetimes, so your assistance is welcome.
(Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all these tequilas are 40% alcohol by volume and made from 100% blue agave.)
And now it's your turn to weigh in. What did I miss? Trawling the tequila universe solo is a lonely and tiring task, so I'm sure that plenty of worthy brands have escaped my taste buds. Don't be shy!