Tequila: truth and reconciliation

A lot of people, it seems, have been bitten by tequila. And it’s rarely just a minor flesh wound.

My own bad tequila experience is probably much like yours: I simply drank too much of it. A friend was ordering shots for the table, and being a prudent sort I thought that I should pace myself. Which worked great until last call, when I felt obligated to play catch-up.

At some point before the band quit for the night, I deemed it advisable to pour salt onto the dance floor in an attempt to “boost my moves.”

The ensuing repercussions would be familiar to you, too, and don’t require much elaboration; let’s just say even the aroma of tequila induced a gag reflex in me—for more than 30 years.

In the course of exploring the cocktail universe through these Sunday Specials, though, I felt obligated to give tequila another chance. And I’m pleased to report that it went well. My beloved gin need not worry about my continued faithfulness, but I’ll at least entertain the idea of an mezcal-type cocktail now and then.

Before we get to that, though, a question: Why is it that the catalyst for so many alcoholic misadventures is tequila and not, say, vodka or rum?

In part, I think, it’s the mystique surrounding the spirit. Although fermented beverages made from the agave plant have been around for centuries, tequila was essentially unknown outside of Central Mexico until the late 19th century and wasn’t widely available in the United States until Prohibition, when smugglers began supplying it to speakeasies.

Tequila’s unique taste and powerful punch added to the allure, as did the myth of the worm in the bottle (added to certain brands of mezcal in the 1950s, purely as a marketing gimmick) and the even bigger myth that tequila is a hallucinogen (which seems to have arisen in the 1960s when someone confused mezcal with mescaline, an entirely different thing).

By the 1980s, tequila had gone mainstream (thanks to Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville”) while also becoming a mainstay of college campus culture through the rise of the entirely American practice of drinking straight shots with salt and lime. (Aficionados in Mexico recommend that you sip straight tequila slowly, especially if it’s a complex all-agave variety.) The body count from those shots-parties alone, coupled with the casualty list from the “it tastes like a Slurpee” Margarita crowd, is incalculable.

So what do you do if, like me, the very thought of tequila makes you feel like dumping your chum? I took the advice of M. Carrie Allan in The Washington Post:

  • “Remember that what you experienced of a spirit in your youthful idiocy is not the definition of that spirit.”
  • “Try your nemesis in a drink far removed from the one that made you ill.”
  • And, “scale up gradually.”

Here are three recipes—none involving Margaritas or shots—to help you make peace with the agave spirit.

The Paloma is a simple, three-ingredient cocktail that envelopes tequila’s herbaceousness with the strong sour and acidic flavors of lime and grapefruit. You’ll still taste the tequila, but this is a good cocktail to find out whether you and the hooch are really going to bury the hatchet.

A step up in terms of complexity is the Cantarito, which adds orange and lemon juice to the Paloma mix. Surprisingly, the tequila isn’t buried by the citrus so much as enhanced by it.

If you made it this far, it’s time for the Mexican Razor Blade, basically a tequila-cucumber sour with a slight chile kick. There’s little here standing between you and the source of your ruination, so proceed with caution.

And let the healing begin.


Adapted from Liquor.com

2 ounces tequila blanco
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
Grapefruit soda, chilled
Lime and coarse salt for garnish

Wet the rim of a Collins glass with a lime wedge, then dip the rim in a saucer of salt. Fill the glass with ice, add tequila and lime juice, and top off with grapefruit soda. Stir briefly, and garnish with lime wedge. 


Adapted from The Spruce Eats

1 1/2 ounces tequila blanco
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh orange juice
Grapefruit soda, chilled
Lemon, lime, or orange wedge, and coarse salt, for garnish

Wet the rim of a Collins glass or Ball jar with a citrus wedge, then dip the rim in a saucer of salt. Fill the glass with ice, add tequila and citrus juices, and top off with grapefruit soda. Stir briefly, and garnish with citrus wedge. 

Mexican Razor Blade

Adapted from Punch

2 small slices cucumber
2 ounces tequila blanco
1 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
Cucumber slice and powdered chile for garnish

Muddle cucumber in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, then add liquid ingredients. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a floating cucumber slice and a sprinkle of piquín chile, cayenne, or other powdered chile. 

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