Tequila: A Short Guide
Tucson’s best restaurants are its many authentic Mexican eateries, and many of them offer hundreds of different kinds of tequila, an alcohol made in the state of Jalisco, in a city called Tequila. Tequila is made exclusively from just one species of the agave plant, the blue agave. Another drink, mezcal, is made from 100 percent agave, but is prepared in a different way than tequila, giving it an earthier, almost “dirty” taste that some borderlanders — including your author — prefer over the more popular and widely available tequila.
The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HA-kah) is known for producing superior mezcal, but it is also made in other regions of Mexico; whereas tequila, by law, is made only in Jalisco.
A simple rule to go by is this: All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila. Mezcal is probably best known in the United States as the drink with the worm at the bottom of the bottle. Contrary to myth, the worm has no hallucinogenic properties (trust me — I’ve eaten dozens of them).
Not too many restaurants and bars in the Old Pueblo serve mezcal, although you can usually find one or two brands at some Tucson’s better-stocked liquor stores. Try The RumRunner (3131 E. 1st St., 520/326-0121, www.rumrunnertucson.com, Mon. 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. noon–6 p.m.) on Speedway east of Tucson Boulevard, or Plaza Liquors (2642 N. Campbell Ave., 520/327-0452, Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m.) on Campbell just north of Grant Road.
Of course, if you make a short drive to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico’s tourist area just across the border, there are many stores that sell Oaxacan mezcal. I recommend the brand Gusano Rojo (“red worm”).
As for tequila, there are several different kinds to choose from, not to mention myriad brands. For my money, the top tequila bar in the Old Pueblo is Bar Toma at the downtown historic Court Avenue location of El Charro.
Now, if you’re having a margarita, a popular tequila-based cocktail with lime juice and other flavors, it’s not overly important that it be made with the most expensive, best tequila (although it certainly doesn’t hurt). Usually an oro (gold) tequila, which has colors and flavors added to it, will do. If you’re a bit confused by all the different kinds of tequila available, remember: Blanco (white or silver) tequila is bottled less than 60 days after being distilled in stainless-steel barrels; reposado (rested) has been aged anywhere from two months to one year in oak barrels; and añejo (aged) has been aged for at least one year.
If you want to drink your tequila straight (with a bit of lime and salt added), it’s best to choose a brand made from 100 percent agave, with no sugars or other ingredients added. Or just ask your bartender — I’ve found that they are usually very nice, understanding people.
© Tim Hull from Moon Tucson, 1st Edition