Tequila comes of age — it’s better be sipped and savored, not downed in a shot

For some drinkers, tequila evokes horrible memories of doing shots at frat parties and the heavy-duty hangovers that occurred afterward. Yet, like college students after graduation, the Mexican spirit made from agave has grown up and evolved into a fine drink appreciated by connoisseurs and tasters who demand a quality tequila.

It’s not like there wasn’t a market for quality tequila before. There have been great 100 percent agave tequilas in Mexico for decades, but somehow the product that reached us was a low-grade spirit that contained about 50 percent agave and other neutral spirits, like sugar cane or grain. In the last few years, the tide has turned with a more educated consumer looking for a more refined approach to spirits.

“It is not something that happened overnight, says Greg Cohen of Patron, a tequila manufacturer that has been in the market for two decades.

Food photos -- Wednesday, May 18, 2011Staten Island Advance/Bill LyonsPure agave tequilas such as Patron, Avion, Siembra Azul and Corzo are featured at venues like Maizal in Rosebank and South Fin Grill in South Beach.

“But in the last five to eight years,” he continues, “people have discovered that 100 percent agave tequila is a much different spirit than what they remember from so many years ago. It’s a much different spirit today when you’re talking about the higher-end ones.”

Philadelphia-based restaurant owner David Suro-Piñera, concurs. “Unfortunately for many decades, the tequilas that were largely consumed in the United States were ‘mixto’ tequilas. And that makes a huge difference, because they are made of sugars that don’t necessarily need to be from agave,” he points out. “The regulations allowed the mix to be produced with 49 percent of any sugars and only 51 percent of sugars from agave,” explains Suro-Pinera, who is also the producer of the kosher-certified Siembra Azul Tequila.

“Back in the 1990s when the real tequilas (note: he avoids using the term “premium”) became available in the United States, people who appreciate quality didn’t take too long to recognize the unique and sophisticated qualities that exist in 100 percent agave tequilas,” Suro-Piñera says.

Pure agave tequila has rich flavor. There is almost no “burn” afterward. Leisurely sipping (not shooting) presents different flavor notes on the palate. Silver Patron, a tequila with no aging, is bright and light, whereas aged tequilas (“reposado” and “añejo”) have more dimension and a longer finish.

Sophisticated brands like Patrón, Avión, Siembra Azul, and Corzo are featured at venues like Adobe Blues in New Brighton, Angelina’s Ristorante in Tottenville, The South Fin Grill in South Beach and Maizal in Rosebank.

And Staten Island certainly has an audience for that, according to Maizal owner Leonel Zelaya.

“Absolutely,” he said during a recent visit to his restaurant, noting, “We just had two ladies who ordered a margarita made with Sauza Tres Generaciones, one of the higher-end tequilas.

When asked about his own favorite, he names Tres Generaciones, which he describes as “very superior tequila.”

Tequila companies have relied on restaurant and bar staffs to educate the American sipping public.

“Education happens in a number of ways, primarily at a bartender level,” Cohen says. “When you go to a high-end restaurant and you have people behind the bar that are knowledgeable about what they are serving, that’s where the education comes from. And there’s also the word of mouth.”

Restaurateur Suro-Pinera says, “I love to see how the consumer became really savvy. We have consumers who come here to ask for a specific region or a specific process of tequila, almost like wine drinkers. I would say that the increase of consumer knowledge was noticeable in the last 10 years.”


With so many new tequila trends appearing in the market, here are some common questions of curious palates for the tequila experts.

Q: What kind of food pairs best with tequila?

A: “I think Mexican food, absolutely,” says Leonel Zelaya of Maizal Restaurant in Rosebank. “Whenever you sit here, you get some chips with some salt and something spicy that complements the tequila. Tequila wakes up your taste buds — sea salt and tequila are like a match made in heaven.”

Q: Is there etiquette for drinking tequila?

A: Patron’s Greg Cohen says no. “People enjoy tequila in lots of different ways,” he says. “Obviously margaritas are the No. One cocktails in the U.S., but high-quality tequila like Patron is very versatile, very mixable, so if you enjoy a cosmopolitan, a mojito or even a bloody Mary — drinks that usually call for vodka or rum or other light spirit, you can mix with 100 percent agave tequila instead and it really enhances the flavor of those cocktails. We’re seeing consumption of Patron in lots of different ways. I drink it over ice, with a twist of lime, just by itself, so there’s really quite a few ways which you can enjoy it.”

“Tequila is not meant to drink with lime,” explains Zelaya, adding, “You have silver, añejo and reposado. The silver comes out of the distillery ready to drink. Then you have the reposado, which is aged 60 days in oak barrels, and añejo is 100 days, so it takes the properties of the oak barrels that are usually used over and over. You can sip it with one ice cube just to chill a little bit.”

Q: If I drink tequila and then follow with wine at dinner, will it make me sick?

Moderation is key in this case. You can certainly have a margarita at the bar and then have dinner with a glass of wine or two. “I think it varies from person to person,” Zelaya says. “But I don’t do it myself. I think one beer and tequila is OK.”

: Can you cook with tequila?

“There are many other uses for tequila, particularly tequila that is silver, is to cook with it,” says Zelaya. “Our menu has a few dishes, like Pollo Patron, which is chicken breast with Patron tequila, with mushrooms, guajillo peppers and a touch of cream, and you have your tequila lime chicken over rice.”

SPRINGTIME BLISS (Makes 1 drink)

2 ounces tequila, preferably Silver

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 ounce simple syrup

4 raspberries

Mint, for garnish

Add ingredients, except mint, to a shaker filled with ice. Shake until combined. Pour into a tumbler. Garnish with mint leaves to taste.

— Courtesy of Avion

(Makes 1 drink)

Kosher salt

Chipotle powder

1 1/2 ounces tequila, preferably 100 % Agave Reposado

1/2 ounce peach-flavored liquor

2 ounces orange juice

Kosher salt

3/4 ounce simple syrup

1 ounce fresh lime juice

Lime wheel for garnish

Rub salt and chipotle powder around the rim of a margarita glass. Add tequila, peach liquor, orange juice, 2 dashes chipotle powder, simple syrup and lime juice to a shaker filled with ice. Strain or serve over the rocks and garnish with lime wheel.

— Courtesy of Patron Tequila


6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons of lime juice

Garlic salt

For the chipotle cream sauce:

10 medium cloves of garlic (peeled)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 pint heavy cream

1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles

Wash and dry chicken breasts, put in non-reactive pan. Add olive oil and lime juice and sprinkle with garlic salt. Turn chicken to coat evenly with marinade. Allow chicken to marinate at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Grill chicken breasts on a barbecue set to medium high heat, about 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

For the chipotle cream sauce:

In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, add garlic and onion and cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are evenly charred, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the vegetables from the pan and add to blender along with heavy cream and chiles. Process until sauce is smooth. (You might want to add a portion of the chiles, blend and taste, adding more if you taste buds can handle it.)

Refrigerate if not using immediately, and heat gently over medium heat before serving.

— Recipe from Corzo Tequila


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