Tom Hall admits he’s obsessed with the wildly variable flavour profiles of tequila (and the spirit’s close cousins mezcal and sotol). The bartender is either inventing new cocktails or finding new ways to match tequila with beer and food. Look out for Tom behind the bar if you take the six-flight stair climb to Mesa Verde in Melbourne’s Curtain House. He’s always happy to wax lyrical about his favourite spirit.
And if you want to give tequila a try at home, here are Tom’s top five ways to mix it up:
1. The Margarita
I had to include the Margarita, as it’s the ubiquitous tequila drink. Being essentially a “sour”, the key to the perfect Margarita is to find a balance between strong, sweet, and sour. To make, combine tequila and a strong orange liqueur, plus fresh lemon and lime juice for the sour component and either a dollop of sugar syrup or agave nectar for the sweet.
I use the following ratios, but experiment to find your ideal balance.
45ml quality Blanco Tequila
15ml Patron Citronge
15ml each of lemon and lime juice
About 10ml of light agave nectar
Shake well, and strain into a lightly salted, chilled cocktail glass.
Take care to not over-do the sweetness, or the salt garnish.
2. Bloody Maria
Tequila is a great spirit to match with the traditional ingredients in a Bloody Mary, as it is spicy, bold, and utterly fortifying the morning after some shenanigans.
Build this drink in a tall glass. I tend to stick to a well worn recipe:
1 or 2 shots of spicy, dry tequila
A generous shake of Worcestershire Sauce (about 10-15ml)
A few dashes of good hot sauce (I love Cholula, but Tabasco works great)
Salt and pepper
Juice of half a lemon (never lime), being careful to keep out the pips
Tomato juice to fill the remaining room in your glass, topped with ice
To combine, either roll the ingredients, or stir well. But whatever you do, never shake. Tomato juice does not like the little bubbles this creates. Garnish with something that has a high water content, like celery or cucumber, to further help your body recover.
3. Tequila and Tonic
In my opinion, this is the greatest mixed drink on earth. The sweet bitterness of tonic is the ideal foil for tequila’s unique profile of spice, subtle vegetal flavours and lovely viscous texture. This is the perfect way to convert gin & tonic drinkers to the joy that is tequila.
Fill a medium size (350-450ml approx) glass with ice
Season your ice with a squeeze of citrus – I prefer a combination of pink grapefruit and lime, but any combination of citrus will do
Pour in a shot or 2 of good Blanco or Reposado Tequila. Tromba or Excelia work great here, but your favourite will do fine
Give a quick stir to infuse the flavours
Top with freshly popped tonic water
4. Tommy’s Margarita (with Mezcal)
Tommy’s Margarita differs from the classic Margarita in that it is simply a combination of 60ml tequila and 30ml Lime, with about 15ml of sweetener (either sugar syrup or dark agave nectar). A fun twist is to introduce some burnt, savoury elements. I like to use Tequila’s smoky cousin, Mezcal, for the 60ml alcohol component. When sourcing Mezcal, finding a balance of quality and value is still a bit difficult in Australia’s retail market, but keep an eye out for Banhez Mezcal Joven, or Del Maguey’s Vida Mezcal.
Teqila, and especially Mezcal, love to be paired with spice. Try charring a jalapeño pepper on a grill, barbecue, or with a brulee torch (if you’ve got one). Then simply drop 2-4 thin slices of the jalapeño in with the rest of the ingredients, and give a really good shake with lots of ice.
Strain into a chilled, fat tumbler, and top with fresh ice. This cocktail is lightly spiced, gently savoury and all delicious.
5. The shot … with chasers
You just can’t beat a smooth shot of quality tequila, whether your party needs a little nudge, or you simply want to dip your mouth into the full-flavoured universe of agave-spirit deliciousness.
Tequila and Mezcal are finally getting the respect (and distribution) they deserve in Australia, which means quality brands are more accessible than ever. So do some research at a good bar, follow up these leads online and find the right tequila for you.
I recommend starting with some Highland Blanco Tequilla’s to experience the surprising natural sweetness and gentle fruit-led profile of cool climate agave, backed by gentle hints of white pepper. Brands like Clase Azul, Tapatio and Milagro are excellent value entry points for the novice and expert alike.
From here, you may find you enjoy the richer flavours of cinnamon, vanilla, tabacco and oak that are introduced to tequila through barrel age (check out Reposado’s, and Anejo’s).
Making some tasty chasers are a great way of experimenting with flavour combinations and contrasting elements. These are often made as liquid-form savoury dips, incorporating flavours such as coriander, mint, basil, lime, grapefruit, lemon; tomato, tomatillo, pineapple and watermelon; plus spices such as pepper, salt, jalapeño and cinnamon. Blend your ingredients together, fine strain and chill for later. Then serve as an accompanying shot for your friends.