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Mexico's national drink happens to be one of the things most wrong with the drinks trade. I speak of Tequila of course, rather than beer. Its mysterious hold over the humble weekend drinker has curiously not been the subject of closer scrutiny. Like its Scottish kissing-cousin, Buckfast, its consumption appears to precede outbreaks of daftness, obnoxiousness and, occasionally, violence. A brief poll of Edinburghers suggested that behaviour of a less than sensible nature was usually the direct outcome of and evening spent imbibing the liquid. Some of the respondents went further, claiming that the drink 'isn't the tastiest, but makes for interesting conversation later in the night', some participants simply turned pale at the mere mention of Tequila. It would appear that one disastrous encounter means a lifetime of fear and avoidance of both straight Tequila and cocktails which contain it.  A million students have proven that there is nothing particularly pleasant about rivers of cheap Tequila, but there is plenty of quality spirit about, and it's worth knowing what to look for in order to get over your fear of the spirit.

Tequila's production from blue agave dates back to the 16th Century - so our fate was sealed some time ago.  The area around the city of Tequila is delineated, and only spirits from the specific regions is allowed to carry the name 'Tequila'. The juice from the hand-harvested plants is fermented and then distilled in large pot stills. The resultant liquid is clear, with the darker types a result either of the addition of caramel or oak ageing. Tequila must legally be 51% blue agave (the rest can be made up with sugar and water), but quality spirit is made from 100% agave and will usually indicate this on the label.


The spirit is sold as four types - Silver/White Tequila has no aging and has been kept in stainless steel for a maximum of 60 days, if at all. This is the most basic type, and is used mostly for mixing. Gold/Joven Tequila is simply silver tequila sweetened with caramel, making it ideal for specific cocktails and shots. Reposado Tequila spends at least 2 months in oak, taking on a rounder texture and smoother taste; these are popular in Mexico and are markedly higher in quality than the Silver and Gold types. Finally there is Anejo Tequila, which spends at least one year in oak, giving a more robust and complex taste and aroma. These are often described as being akin to high quality rums, whiskies et al; with the high-end spirit certainly meriting tasting seriously. The application of these spirits in decent cocktails is also worth noting, with bar staff still championing the use of tequila with its unique flavour profile and texture.


Tequila is a much misunderstood drink which deserves another look; regardless of what happened the last time you went near it.


Frances Bentley





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