An everlasting youth. PATRICK LECLEZIO touches base with an old friend.
First published in Prestige Magazine (June 2016 edition).
In the movie Betty Blue, there’s a memorable scene in which Zorg, one of the principal characters, mixes shots of alcohol with a carbonated beverage in a glass, that he then wraps in a napkin and pounds on the table, inducing an explosion of fizziness, before downing the mixture. It was a slammer of course, one of the many epically, vigorously festive drinks which tequila has bestowed upon us, and at the time it struck a deep chord; I had to get out there and give it a try at the soonest opportunity. And so began my tempestuous friendship with tequila. Twenty odd years later I feel that I’ve grown up (somewhat), but that tequila hasn’t – all dressed up it can look the part, but at heart it’s still stuck in its twenties, ready to tear it up given the faintest nudge. We’re still friends, we still indulge in the occasional big night (and still there’s no-one who’s more fun in these instances!), but I’m reluctant to invite tequila to an elegant adult gathering for fear of intimidating my other friends or for risk of trashing the event? Its illustrious, outrageous exploits may just have pigeonholed it for life.
The success of tequila is hinged in my opinion on three factors. Firstly, the incipience of the mythical “tequila buzz”, a widely believed-in phenomenon despite having with no scientific basis –alcohol is alcohol, differing only in flavour so this can only be explained psychosomatically, as a self-fulfilling prophecy – has been a powerful influence on the cult of the drink. Secondly, tequila has cornered the market on ritualised drinking. Shots with lemon, lime and salt, body shots, shots with oranges segments, “no hands no faces”, slammers, and all manner of other customised practices – I’ve even participated in some involving raw eggs and physical abuse (don’t ask). These all form a largely universal party language that everyone wants to speak and can only be understood with tequila. Thirdly, tequila is the base of one of the world’s most popular cocktail: the margarita, an incredibly tasty, versatile drink, made with tequila, lime juice, triple sec and salt, that seems to suit just about every moment – lunch, dinner, smart, casual, summer, winter, and everything in between.
These forces have propelled tequila into our consciousness, where it lives a large but limited life. It is a party drink, a carousing, revelling, raucous, rioting drink. Yet, the older tequila, that friend who never quite grew up, has all the potential, the proven potential, to be a responsible, sophisticated member of society. Tequila is made using the heart of the blue agave plant, an unusual medium for alcohol, which tends to be made from grains or fruits, and then distilled primarily in alembic stills made from copper or with copper components. There are five basic types of tequila which result: Blanco, unmatured or minimally matured tequila – which is what is mostly used for margaritas; Gold, effectively Blanco with some colouring, the stuff that created the legend; Reposado, aged a minimum of two months (in oak barrels); Anejo, aged a minimum of a year (in small oak barrels), and Extra Anejo, aged a minimum of three years. These latter categories, the Extra in particular (added in 2006 for this very purpose), are the face of respectable tequila. The guy who has trimmed his hair, put on a good suit, and gets to work on time in the morning, and whose rough edges have been smoothed away (in multiple senses). I like him, I like that he’s trying, I can’t fault his efforts, but somehow I just can’t take him seriously enough in this alternative guise.
I recently took two tequilas out for a spin. I relived some youthful moments with Sauza Blanco, a couple of slammers for old time’s sake, and a margarita, to which I’m still partial. This is the tequila I know and love. There’s a certain magic to the flavour, general to tequila, and faithfully represented by the Sauza – it’s repulsively attractive on its own (after you get to know it better), and outright delicious in thoughtful combinations, as in a margarita. There’s a uniqueness to it that you just won’t come close to finding with any other spirit. My second outing was with Patron Anejo – from the cleverly crafted range Patron Spirits, which you may or may not know was founded by shampoo-guy Paul Mitchell. Yes, you can sip it. You can see that this is the direction in which it’s going. The richness and mellowness of the cask maturation is apparent, but I still found myself shooting it, albeit without the need for any kind of fruit to follow. The Anejo is still a bit on the young side, but it shows enough to validate tequila’s claim to the status of fine spirit. Habits are habits though, and this is the nub of it: whilst the fundamentals may be in place the perception will take longer to shift.
Given enough time you can reinvent yourself. I’m not sure though that I want my friend tequila to change though. In fact I think I need this friend to stay true to what I know it to be as a connection to that part of myself that might otherwise get lost. We may not hang out as often as we used to but it’s good to know that we can if we want to. Everyone has to have a friend like tequila. Adios for now amigos.