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Beyond The Margarita: 10 Tequila Cocktails To Try

Tequila is experiencing a renaissance, with producers crafting single-estate and vintage-dated tequilas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Tequila is experiencing a renaissance, with producers crafting single-estate and vintage-dated tequilas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Salt, shoot, suck. Then grit your teeth and shake your head to clear out the fire burning in your throat. This tequila ritual is familiar to many college students, but if you haven’t sipped the agave-based spirit since you were younger, it’s time for a refresher course.

The liquor is experiencing a renaissance, and producers are crafting single-estate and vintage dated tequilas. These artisanal tequilas have little in common with the processed stuff that stung your throat back in the day.

By Mexican law tequila, which is made by distilling the fermented juices of the blue agave plant, must be 51 percent agave. But that means the other 49 percent can be artificial ickiness. “Called mixto, the cheap stuff contains lots of added sugar and even caramel coloring, which mass producers use in an effort to reproduce the complex flavors in aged tequila,” says Ted Gibson, a bartender who heads up the new All Agave Project tequila tasting program at Rancho Valencia in California.

Not all tequila is alike

Different tequilas may look the same, but their flavors can be very different. Credit: Copyright Thinkstock

Different tequilas may look the same, but their flavors can be very different. Credit: Copyright Thinkstock

Any bottle worth drinking bears the label 100 percent agave. “Quality tequila is an unprocessed natural spirit with depth of flavor,” Gibson says. The best producers focus on terroir, just like with fine wines. A particular tequila’s flavor depends on the growing conditions, altitude and sunlight.

“Typically, an agave plant grown in the highlands (above 6,000 feet) is bigger and contains more stored sugar, and its tequila tends to have a floral essence,” Gibson says. “Tequila from plants grown in the lowlands are often more vegetal and spicy.”

Now, we could just take Gibson’s word for it that tequila is a versatile spirit that you should be mixing into more than margaritas. But where’s the fun in that? Find out for yourself with these 10 inventive recipes that he created. It’s a lineup of cocktails that you can serve at a slew of occasions — the perfect sip for a barbecue, a bacon-garnished beverage for brunch, a twist on an Old Fashioned that’s just right for an after-dinner delicacy and more. Move over, margarita — the tequila game just got a whole lot more interesting. Get ready for 10 surprising new ways to enjoy this spirit. Salud!

Gallagher’s Smash

When we think of fruit and tequila, lemons and limes come to mind. But there are many other varieties that pair perfectly with the spirit. In Gibson's Gallagher's Smash, watermelon makes a sweet counterpart to blanco tequila. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

When we think of fruit and tequila, lemons and limes come to mind. But there are many other varieties that pair perfectly with the spirit. In Gibson’s Gallagher’s Smash, watermelon makes a sweet counterpart to blanco tequila. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: one drink

Ingredients

2 ounces blanco tequila

1 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup

5 cubes watermelon

3 sage leaves

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with a watermelon cube and a sage leaf.

Raspberry Beret

Gibson's Raspberry Beret is a cinch for a party. The recipe below serves one, but it's easy to turn it into a big batch. Just make the raspberry-mint lemonade in advance (purée lemonade, raspberries and mint leaves, then strain), and add the booze once it's party time. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Gibson’s Raspberry Beret is a cinch for a party. The recipe below serves one, but it’s easy to turn it into a big batch. Just make the raspberry-mint lemonade in advance (purée lemonade, raspberries and mint leaves, then strain), and add the booze once it’s party time. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield:  1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces blanco tequila

3 ounces lemonade

4 raspberries

5 to 6 mint leaves

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a raspberry and a sprig of fresh mint.

Juan-y Appleseed

"Herbs go well with blanco tequila, due to the spirit's vegetal and floral flavors," Gibson says. This recipe calls for licorice-scented tarragon, but mint, thyme, sage and cilantro all complement tequila. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

“Herbs go well with blanco tequila, due to the spirit’s vegetal and floral flavors,” Gibson says. This recipe calls for licorice-scented tarragon, but mint, thyme, sage and cilantro all complement tequila. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila

3/4 ounce St. Germain

1 ounce granny smith apple juice

3/4 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce agave syrup

1 sprig tarragon

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with an apple slice and a sprig of tarragon.

 El Jardin

The Pimm's Cup, a classic gin-based English cocktail, is Pimm's No. 1, cucumber and lemonade, lemon-lime soda or ginger ale. Mix things up by swapping the gin for tequila for a clean, refreshing beverage. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

The Pimm’s Cup, a classic gin-based English cocktail, is Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber and lemonade, lemon-lime soda or ginger ale. Mix things up by swapping the gin for tequila for a clean, refreshing beverage. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield:  1 drink

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila

3/4 ounce Pimm’s No. 1

2 ounces lemonade

3 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

3 slices cucumber

3 basil leaves

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with a cucumber ribbon and a basil leaf.

La Piñata

"It's simple to make your own pepper-infused tequila," says Gibson, who admits that La Piñata is his favorite of the tequila creations he makes, because the cilantro and the heat are a match made in mixology heaven. Just slice one serrano in half lengthwise and drop it into a bottle of tequila. Let it sit for 24 hours, then taste. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

“It’s simple to make your own pepper-infused tequila,” says Gibson, who admits that La Piñata is his favorite of the tequila creations he makes, because the cilantro and the heat are a match made in mixology heaven. Just slice one serrano in half lengthwise and drop it into a bottle of tequila. Let it sit for 24 hours, then taste. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces serrano-infused blanco tequila

1 ounce fresh pineapple juice

3/4 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce agave syrup

2 pineapple leaves

1 lime wheel

3 sprigs cilantro, leaves torn

Directions

Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with pineapple leaves, a lime wheel and cilantro.

La Siesta

A Paloma is a beloved cocktail made with tequila and grapefruit juice. Give it a modern twist by charring the grapefruit before you juice it so it caramelizes slightly (simply halve the grapefruit and toss it onto a hot grill until you see grill marks). For a garnish, a charred grapefruit slice adds visual interest and even more smoky flavor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

A Paloma is a beloved cocktail made with tequila and grapefruit juice. Give it a modern twist by charring the grapefruit before you juice it so it caramelizes slightly (simply halve the grapefruit and toss it onto a hot grill until you see grill marks). For a garnish, a charred grapefruit slice adds visual interest and even more smoky flavor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces reposado tequila

2 ounces charred grapefruit juice

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce cinnamon simple syrup

1 charred grapefruit segment

2 cinnamon sticks

Directions

Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with charred grapefruit segment and cinnamon sticks.

The Palomino

Vanilla plays well with reposado tequila, bringing out its rich barrel-aged flavor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Vanilla plays well with reposado tequila, bringing out its rich barrel-aged flavor. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

For this recipe, it’s simple to make your own vanilla bean syrup. Simply combine 1 cup each of sugar and water in a small saucepan, along with a vanilla bean (slice it down the middle and scrape the black seeds into the liquid mixture, along with the pod). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. If you don’t feel like making your own syrup, substitute Licor 43, a Spanish liquor with hints of vanilla and citrus, for the syrup and lime juice called for in the recipe.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces reposado tequila

1 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce vanilla bean syrup

1/2 ounce ginger juice

1 lime wheel

1 candied ginger

Directions

Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Strain over fresh ice and garnish with a lime wheel and candied ginger.

Thyme Me

The Thyme Me is a fun alternative to a Bloody Mary, featuring classic breakfast flavors like maple syrup and bacon. Keep the garnish in place as you sip, so you get the aromatics from the bacon. Then, when you've finished your drink, it's snack time. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

The Thyme Me is a fun alternative to a Bloody Mary, featuring classic breakfast flavors like maple syrup and bacon. Keep the garnish in place as you sip, so you get the aromatics from the bacon. Then, when you’ve finished your drink, it’s snack time. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 ounces reposado tequila

1 ounce lemon juice

3/4 ounce maple syrup

1 bacon strip

3 sprigs thyme

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a strip of crispy bacon and a thyme sprig.

Loosen the Reins

This cocktail, deep and complex, is basically an Old Fashioned made with tequila instead of bourbon. It's perfect for after dinner -- like dessert in a glass, thanks to the addition of the chocolate bitters. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

This cocktail, deep and complex, is basically an Old Fashioned made with tequila instead of bourbon. It’s perfect for after dinner — like dessert in a glass, thanks to the addition of the chocolate bitters. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

2 1/2 ounces añejo tequila

1/2 ounce agave syrup

3 to 4 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters

1 orange peel

Directions

Combine ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, then stir. Strain over fresh ice. Express orange peel over drink and around rim.

Tiny Bubbles

Who knew tequila and prosecco, champagne or cava would work so well together? Balanced, light and perfect for brunch, this cocktail shows that the spirit isn't all muscle and fire. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Who knew tequila and prosecco, champagne or cava would work so well together? Balanced, light and perfect for brunch, this cocktail shows that the spirit isn’t all muscle and fire. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 ounce blanco tequila

1/2 ounce grapefruit-infused St. Germain

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1 lemon peel

4 to 5 seedless red grapes

Sparkling wine

Directions

Combine ingredients (except for sparkling wine) in mixing glass; muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice, then top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon peel and grapes.

Main photo: Tequila is experiencing a renaissance, with producers crafting single-estate and vintage-dated tequilas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Oscar E. Murden Jr.



Zester Daily contributor Bethany Gumper, a Montana native based in Portland, Oregon, has written for magazines including Shape, Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, Natural Health and Weight Watchers. As a senior editor at Fitness magazine, she produced health and nutrition features and penned the "Burning Qs" column, where she solved dilemmas such as what the heck all those egg labels mean at the supermarket and how to use a grill pan without smoking up your kitchen. She works up an appetite running and has completed several half-marathons, as well as the Northwest Passage Ragnar Relay, a 200-mile overnight adventure. She loves hiking with her adorable shepherd mix, Theodore, and trying new restaurants with her husband, Oscar.

 

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