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Cocktail Hour: Tequila Goes From Poolside to Fireside

Maybe it’s the proximity to Mexico, maybe it’s the love of complex flavors, but San Francisco is a town that loves its tequila. It’s often thought of as a drink for summer, but tequila brings something special to winter drinks, too. We spent some time with barkeep Gabriel Cothes of the restaurant Salt House in the SOMA district to get his take on enjoying tequila in the winter.

What’s new in tequila cocktails?

Tequila is becoming a lot more versatile. Bartenders and fans of the spirit are moving away from that sour-based cocktail, and people are looking to pair tequila with other things besides lime and triple sec. Tequila can have so much going on in its flavor profile, so many layers. When it comes to cocktails, people are discovering the versatility in this spirit. Ingredients that contain a spice factor or a savory note have been used quite often of late.

What’s your favorite tequila-based cocktail to make?

I have a new favorite that was just perfected for the winter season. We have taken the idea of the hot toddy and turned it on its ear. In place of brandy, I have selected a gorgeous tequila as the main ingredient, Clase Azul Plata. The buttery profile and subtle sweetness play very well for this type of drink. The tequila has been heated, just a bit, and Firelit Blue Bottle Coffee liqueur is added along with orange peel and dried clove. Very little of the supporting ingredients are needed, just a little here and a little there to accent all the qualities already possessed by the base spirit. The result is a rich, warm, and somewhat decadent cocktail. I will be turning to the Toddy Azul quite a bit this winter, for guests — and myself, I might add!

What do drinkers in San Francisco like versus other places?

People who eat and drink in San Francisco tend to obsess over what they love. If someone’s love is tequila, they tend to do the research and learn about the spirit, then they jump out into the city and experience everything available in terms of that spirit. San Francisco drinkers tend to have an educated palate and because of this they are very receptive to new offerings. People in this town want to leave their comfort zone and see what the bartender has to offer. In other places, drinkers tend to stick with their “old standby” cocktail; they approach their drink like an old friend and not a point of departure. Like anything, however, there are a million exceptions to this rule.

How can people best work with tequila in their home bars? What’s a good, simple default drink to make?

Keep it simple. With a good-quality tequila, you do not want to mask the flavor but accent the flavors already present. It is best not to confuse the cocktail with a ton of input. Gather high-quality ingredients that a bar wouldn’t normally use and then get to creating — you can go anywhere. A great go-to cocktail, for me, involves honey syrup. I combine honey and water in equal parts, add peppercorns, heat up everything to taste. I then combine tequila, spiced honey, orange flower water and a touch of fresh grapefruit juice to make an exquisite cocktail. There are a few steps to this cocktail, but the small amount of work pays off 100 to 1!

Toddy Azul

Courtesy of Gabriel Cothes, Salt House, San Francisco

Serves 1


3-4 inch long strip of orange rind

4-5 cloves

1½ ounces good-quality tequila, preferably Clase Azul Plata

¼ ounce coffee liqueur, preferably Firelit Coffee Liqueur

2 coffee beans


1. Begin by heating a snifter.

2. Pierce the orange rind with the cloves.

3. Pour the tequila and coffee liqueur into the heated glass.

4. Pinch the orange rind, relieving some of the oil, over the glass and drop in.

5. Finish off with a duo of coffee beans.

Photo: Toddy Azul.  Credit: Courtesy of Salt House

Zester Daily contributor Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, and is a contributing reviewer of California wines for Wine Enthusiast.