We love tequila at Grand Cata. You can’t really get down on Cinco de Mayo without at least a little bit of it. So, for this installation of Understanding Cocktails, we're taking a deep dive into how to use it! If you want to learn a bit more about how tequila is made and how it relates to mezcal, check out this post we did a few months back.
One way to think about crafting cocktails is to imagine each cocktail as a band. In a band, regardless of the genre, you need at least someone to handle rhythm, someone to handle melody, and someone to handle some form of harmony. A rock band, for instance, in its barest form, can be a drummer, a bassist, and a guitar player, provided one of the members also sings. It could also, however, be much bigger, with more complex instruments and many layers. This doesn’t necessarily make the music better, but it does offer more opportunities for intriguing combinations.
Like a band, cocktails have parts that work together to create a singular experience, with some elements seeming more pronounced - like a lead singer - or more foundational - like a rhythm section. Also like a band, if an element of a cocktail doesn’t do its job well, the whole thing falls apart, like an out of tune guitar solo or a drummer that can’t hold the beat.
We’ve chosen this metaphor in a post about tequila because tequila best illustrates our point. Great bands not only work together well, they also have something special about them, be it attitude, or style, or musical genius. Tequila is a genius. It’s that kinda weird lead singer with crazy hair that puts on an incredible show. Or that super funky bassist that gets people grooving. But it also has a bit of an ego, and doesn’t work well with everyone, and can’t play every type of music flawlessly. Tequila has to make its music.
Essentially, this means that when constructed correctly, a tequila cocktail is undoubtedly a tequila cocktail, regardless of whether the flavors of the tequila take centerstage, or act as the rhythm section.
Why is this the case? Because any given tequila’s flavors are laced together with the distinct character that only agave, specifically Weber blue agave, provides. One way to think of this flavor is to imagine the note that makes nearly all tropical fruit taste “tropical.” While mango, guava, passionfruit and pineapple don’t share many flavors, they do share “something,” even if describing that “something” requires words we just don’t have. Agave also has this characteristic, and by extension, tequila has it in droves.
And like tropical fruits, you can’t have tequila in a drink and not notice it. You can’t add guava or coconut to orange juice and still call it simply orange juice. You could, on the other hand, add a pretty significant amount of lemon juice before you’d change the flavor enough to need to change the name.
All this means that if you want the tequila to shine, stick to simple citrus flavors like lemon and lime. Orange works too, but in moderation. Complex components such as Vermouth or Amaro will usually clash with the flavors of tequila. Subtler ones, like Limoncello, orange liqueur, Triple Sec, or single note bitters, work in moderation. Lastly, a flavor that notches right in with tequila is honey. Something as simple as honey syrup, tequila, lavender bitters, and a dash of soda will make your tastebuds sing!
If, on the other hand, you want to make a cocktail where tequila takes on the rhythm while some other flavors take the lead - think funky bassist - choose tropical notes (feel free to use more complex bitters here as well). We’ve already mentioned mango, guava, passionfruit and pineapple. Some others that play well with tequila include dragon fruit, quince, coconut, kiwi, starfruit, and banana. Most grocery stores these days have a “tropical fruits” section. Grab a handful of fruits you’ve never heard of - and can’t pronounce - and start jamming!
Lemon & Honey Juan Collins
½ lemon, juiced
1 lemon wedge (garnish)
1.5 oz clover honey syrup
2 oz blanco tequila
First, you’ll need to make clover honey syrup. You’ll want to make a fair amount, since it’s delicious in just about anything that needs some sweetness. Add ½ cup of honey, and a ½ cup water, to a sauce pan and heat until the honey has completely dissolved. Let cool.
Add everything except soda water to the shaker (if you want, you can add a very tiny amount of soda and it will help keep the shaker from getting stuck together as it cools). Save a few ice cubes for serving. Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into the collins glass. Add the remaining ice, then fill to the top with soda. Give it a light stir, then garnish with lemon wedge and serve.
On Dragons’ Wings
2 oz Reposado tequila
1 oz Clover honey syrup (see above)
1 Lemon peel
1 large wedge of Pomelo (or orange)
⅓ of a dragon fruit
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
Lemon twist (garnish)
Add ice and a bit of water to coupe glass and let cool while you make the cocktail.
Muddle the lemon peel, pomelo wedge and dragon fruit in the shaker. Add Angostura bitters and tequila, along with ice, and shake for 20-30 seconds. Strain into coupe glass. Garnish with the lemon twist and serve.