TEQUILA – TO KILL A MYTH

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Comedian Dylan Moran once quipped that drinking tequila is a way of getting the police round without using the phone. Christian Martinez, Ambassador for Hacienda Vieja tequila takes umbrage to that and I find out why.

I met Martinez in downtown Guangzhou for a chat about the world’s most famous, and infamous, spirt.

Martinez was born and raised in Jalisco, a state on the Western side of Mexico. For those of you who know nothing about the “essence of Mexico,” Jalisco is the home of tequila and, not surprisingly, where the drink gets its name, the of Tequila. It’s also home to millions of blue agave plants which, when ready, are snipped and stripped of their external spikes, then boiled to form a pulp – the foundation of tequila.

The story goes that when the Spaniards arrived they soon ran out of their brandy and were in need of an alternative thirst quencher. The Aztecs had their alcoholic drink from the agave plant called Pulque, which the Spaniards soon adapted. By the beginning of the 17th century, tequila was being mass-produced in modern-day Jalisco.

It might be unfair to say American culture has ruined the true tradition of tequila, but it has. Tequila’s supposed to be “drank by sips” and enjoyed slowly, not necked back in the middle of frat party. Martinez recommends to “hold the tequila in your mouth slightly to suck some air in. Most people aren’t used to the taste and it’s a hard beverage.” He points out cognac isn’t shot – which he sees as having the same status as quality tequila.

I wanted to know which variations were permissible and which were definite no-nos. Not surprisingly, the erroneously named Tequila Slammer, is the chief culprit – the whole licking salt off the back of your hand and lime-biting routine has really tainted tequila’s reputation. Its presence in body shots doesn’t help either.

Christian condones the classic Margarita cocktail – as the numero uno drink for girls – the appeal being its mix of sweetness and sourness. There’s also the less well-known “bandera” (flag in Spanish) – named after the flag of Mexico, a popular drink within Mexico that’s made up of three shot glasses, filled with lime juice (for the green), white tequila, and sangrita (for the red). In Jalisco, tequila mixed with grapefruit soda is also a well-liked beverage.

Whatever the variation may be, when tequila is made with 100% agave plant, as Hacienda Vieja is, I’m assured that you can drink and still speak after a few (no more of that “one tequila, two tequila…). Plus, like when quaffing any quality alcohol, a horrific hangover won’t be waiting. Also, for all the guys out there, good quality tequila also does wonders for your stamina. 

As someone who’s had pretty regrettable experiences with the drink, I was keen to be coaxed back. We sampled Hacienda Vieja Resposado – the two most common versions out there being blanco (white) and reposado (rested). Blanco’s not aged and bottled almost immediately while reposado can be aged up to a year. The smooth golden nectar with hint  of caramel had a smoothness developed from being aged in oak barrels, but still included the peppery spice of agave.

It’s clear that he’s passionate about pouring tequila into the Chinese market. For Christian, tequila has a place on the menus of a country that’s responded favourably to rum, whisky and wine. He believes that customers are aware of the more commercial brands, but need to be educated and enlightened on the authentic ones.

He’s keen for the local to “Just try it, slowly and without lemon. Like what the French have done with their bubbly and wine. Mexico has an amazing culture and tequila plays a huge role.”

Oh, and let’s not forget about the worm. Martinez set the record straight: “there are some exotic and high-quality tequilas that may include the worm as a marketing gimmick. But it’s not a Mexican tradition.” 

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