Tequila and Mexican cocktails are closely intertwined. But Mexico’s contribution to the global liquor cosmos has a rich history since its origins date as far as 1000 BC. The Aztecs began fermenting and processing the Agave plant to create a milky liquid called Pulque.
However, the tequila you know today—which has become a staple not just in Mexican cocktails but also in bars worldwide—was only popularized relatively late. Perhaps, credit goes to the Spanish Conquistadores, who distilled the plant to produce sizeable quantities of the alcoholic drink.
Tequila is Not Just Branding
The name comes from the hamlet of tequila (yes, such a village exists) in the State of Jalisco. Some distributors may claim that they are selling tequila, but it won’t count unless the product comes from any sanctioned areas in Jalisco, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, and Michoacan.
The liquor might come from blue agave and undergoes the same process, but it’s technically not tequila. Mezcal is also present in Mexican cocktails, but not all mezcals can be considered tequila.
Officially, tequila maxes out at 55% ABV (alcohol by volume), but you will generally find between 38% to 40%. In contrast, Mezcal is usually stronger than tequila and Mexican cocktails.
The Mexican government rigidly regulates the production and distribution of tequila to ensure the highest quality, especially for exported products.
Tequila and Mexican Cocktails: Different Grades
The standard tequila has five various grades.
- Extra Añejo. Considered top-level grade, this variety ages at the distillery for at least three years. The term añejo itself is the giveaway since it means “old.” They use French or American oak to seal in the flavour. You do not mix extra añejo with other Mexican cocktails because they will overshadow the taste.
- Añejo. Unlike the extra añejo, a tequila must sit at the distillery for a year before earning the grade. The age allows the liquor to take in that smoky flavour without necessarily sacrificing tequila’s complexity.
- Reposado. The Tequila sits between two months and a year in a wooden barrel, which subdues the essence of the agave. The liquor’s spiciness, quality, and taste will vary depending on age.
- Silver. The liquor will only age about two weeks inside the wooden barrel, so you still taste that strong agave flavour. The silver variety is often used to mix with other Mexican cocktails. Silver or Blanco tequila is characterized by its clear appearance.
- Gold. It is ironic that silver seems to be more prized compared to gold. Considered the lowest grade, the distiller immediately bottles gold tequila once it distils. Some manufacturers add colours into the liquid to market it better. However, adding colour also means that the tequila is technically not 100% agave.
Common Types of Tequila and Mexican Cocktails
The only tequila you do not mix with other Mexican cocktails is extra añejo. All the others are fair game.
Nevertheless, the most common tequila mix when you order Mexican cocktails are:
- Tequila Sunrise: The drink is a blend of three parts of tequila with orange juice and grenadine syrup.
- Paloma: A few bar patrons order Paloma outside of Mexico but mixing it is quite straightforward since you only need two ingredients—tequila and Jarritos grapefruit.
- Margarita: Margarita is one of the most popular Mexican cocktails. You only need Cointreau liqueur, lime juice, salt, and tequila.
Margarita distils the relationship between Tequila and Mexican cocktails into a single drink. It’s the reason why Margarita has been elevated to iconic status when it comes to Mexico’s party scene.