When he's not behind — or in front of — the camera, documentarian and actor Diego Osorio talks Mexican drinks, namely tequila. He's founder of spirits brand Lobos 1707 Tequila and Mezcal, and believes tequila is more than just a shot to get the party started ... although, it's great for that, too.
Although it seems like a no-brainer to order a margarita at a Mexican restaurant, one of Osorio's missions is to educate people on tequila and mezcal, so when they take a look at their local Mexican restaurant menu, they know which pairings will best compliment the food they crave.
Before you order that frozen marg, Osorio offers suggestions that just may give your next Mexican dinner an extra flavor boost.
Tequila 101: It's all in the agave
More than 200 species of agave exist, but only blue agave is used to produce tequila, and most of those agave plants are grown in the state of Jalisco on Mexico's Pacific coast. Similar to how true Champagne must be produced in a certain region of France to earn its name, tequila must be produced in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit or Tamaulipas to be considered the real deal.
"The agave that's used to make tequila is cooked after it's harvested," says Osorio. "The juice is then fermented and distilled and aged." The different types of tequila — silver, reposado, añejo and extra añejo — refer to the amount of time the tequila has been aged from youngest to oldest.
"Our joven tequila is usually aged for three months, the reposado is aged for seven months and the extra añejo is aged for three years," explains Osorio. "Depending on how long tequila is aged, certain notes will come through more than others." For example, he says, joven tequila (Spanish for "young") is nicely balanced, but the extra añejo is full of aroma and has a hint of molasses in the flavor profile.
"Lobos 1707 ages our tequila in American white oak barrels," he adds. For extra flavor, the tequila is finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry barrels. Tequila's smokier, sexier cousin, mezcal, is made in the same way, using agave roasted in an open fire pit, lending the spirit its signature smoky finish.
In a cocktail or over ice, tequila is endlessly versatile
While Americans typically think of tequila as a spirit you drink as a shot, traditionalists taste tequila more like wine. "A lot of people are tricking themselves out of a great tasting experience," says Osorio.
Served either at room temperature (best for añejo or extra añejo) or chilled, tequila is traditionally served in a small glass and sipped slowly. It's an experience to savor, even if you're enjoying a silver, or blanco, style.
To elevate the experience, some tequila experts even suggest sipping the spirit from a flute, as all the aromas float to the top of the glass, revealing the characteristic earthy, herbaceous notes for which fermented agave is known. Riedel, a company that specializes in beverage-specific stemware, even developed a for tasting the spirit properly. Tulip-style glasses, called copitas, are often used to taste older-style tequilas and mezcals, as the narrower mouth allows for a more concentrated experience of the spirit's aromas.
The next time you hit up a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant, consider diving a bit deeper into the top shelf of the tequila bar, pairing these Osorio-recommended cocktails with common dishes on the menu:
Silver tequila pairs well with fresh ingredients, like those found in aguachile (a shrimp dish made with lime juice, cucumber, onion and seasonings) or ceviche (fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices). Both are refreshing, beachside staples, and so is a margarita or paloma made with citrus and young, bright tequila.
Mezcal cocktails pair with birria, a popular style of taco traditionally made with mutton, but adapted stateside with beef, or even jackfruit. "The robust flavor would be nicely balanced with the smooth smokiness and citrus undertones of mezcal," says Osorio.
Reposado tequila should be paired with a hearty stew like posole, which mixes the bright flavors of lime and green chilies with braised pork shoulder and creamy hominy.
Osorio says younger tequilas, which may be labeled as joven or blanco, are perfect on the rocks or in a cocktail like a margarita or paloma. Reposado tequila, which spends a few months in an oak barrel and carries a light caramel color, can be a perfect substitute for whiskey as "an amazing Old Fashioned with an orange twist."
Partial to extra añejo tequila, aged for a lengthy time period, Osorio suggests drinking that variety neat (poured into a glass with no other ingredients, even ice). "It's so special," he says, "that it doesn't need anything else."
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