In defence of tequila
My love affair with tequila began quite a while ago.
I was sat in a bar in Mexico with some friends and we decided to order a round of tequilas. We were at the end of a few weeks' travelling in the region and this was on our 'cultural to-do list'. The bartender had clearly seen us coming a mile off. He delivered the drinks on a tray, with the tequila in a carafe, no fruit or salt in sight and a strict warning that it was for "sipping, not shooting".
The tequila in question was Don Julio Blanco (he started us gently) and it was amazing. Like most 20-year-olds, my tequila experience up to this point was limited to the house party staple of a mouthful of salt, a swig of liquid which burned my mouth and the dubious follow-up of a citric explosion as I bit into a lime. But this was different. This tequila was smooth and warming. It slipped down like a dream and for the first time I properly understood what my parents saw in a glass of whisky at the end of the day.
Since then, tequila has become my chosen spirit in many respects. My appreciation of a good whisky has grown enourmously, I share the usual millennial interest in gin and I have even overcome my childhood disdain for vodka (long story). But there is something a bit special about tequila.
It is a fondness which has gained me a bad reputation at house parties, where a fair few people have blamed me for their misdeeds based on the arrival of a bottle of tequila. I'll take responsibility in some cases, but in others I was just trying to prove that tequila is something to be enjoyed, not tolerated or suffered and then later regretted.
Tequila has had something of a boom in recent times. The desire for craft and artisan drinks has led many to turn their eyes to the south of the Americas and the delights being cooked up in the region.
Many would, no doubt, argue that the influx of celebrity tequila brands is behind its growth in popularity, but I'd suggest that most of them spotted a growing trend and hopped on board.
That is not to say you should turn your nose up at those creations. Drinks giant Diageo bought George Clooney's Casamigos in a $1bn deal, which was quite the statement of intent and the drink itself is a lovely foot in the door if you want to try a higher end tequila.
photo courtesy of Casamigos
Naturally, the biggest player in the market recently (and certainly the loudest) has been Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. The former WWF Champion-turned-Hollywood megastar has been an outspoken tequila fan for many years. His new Teremana brand, which launched earlier this year, has been met with great plaudits. It hasn't appeared here in the UK yet, so if anyone can send me tasting feedback that would be great.
photo courtesy of Teremana Tequila
On top of that, Nick Jonas, AC/DC, Michael Jordan and even Rita Ora have kicked off their own brands.
But celebrity trends are not the reason I want you to give tequila another try. It is because it is really, genuinely, good. Ok, you may have to give the José Cuervo a wide berth. If nothing else, it will bring back bad memories for many.
But tequila is being crafted by true artists south of the Us border and the end results are, in many cases, nothing short of spectacular.
This is a spirit which is just as comfortable sipped from a glass on a sunny evening as it is poured and mixed into a cocktail. At the moment, my home cupboard is stocked with two brands: Cazcabel and Tromba.
The Marks & Spencer Cazcabel is ok without setting the world alight, but Tromba is something truly special and a drink which I will be sad to see the end of once the bottle is empty. I discovered it by chance at a work event in Canada, where a representative invited me to try the range. The Blanco is light and (far too) easy to sip, while the Añejo resembles a good cigar with a smoky clout which should be slowly enjoyed and savoured. My heart, however, was captured by the Resposado. A bottle of this lovely, vibrant and thoroughly enchanting drink still holds pride of place in my cabinet and has become my drink of choice.
photo courtesy of Tequila Tromba on Facebook
So, since today is National Tequila Day in the US, try something new. If you are dipping your toe back into the tequila pool - maybe following a "bad experience" - start with something simple like a Don Julio, a Corralejo or even an El Jimador. Stick to the Blanco, it will be lighter and packs less punch. Or, of you want the full experience, track yourself down a bottle of Tromba.
Either way, leave out the fruit and salt and thank me later. Salud.