People are drinking more tequila now than they ever have. Quality, 100-percent agave tequila brands are popping up everywhere you look. Yet even with this greater tequila selection and wider breadth of tequila knowledge, there are so-called “tequila bars” out there that aren’t representing what the spirit truly is. When you’re choosing a bar to drink some tequila, there are “tequila bars,” then there are tequila bars. Here’s how to tell if you’re in a real tequila bar.
The Bartender Can Recommend the Perfect Tequila for You
Just because every celebrity from The Rock to the Backstreet Boys wants in on the tequila business doesn’t mean everyone has found their style yet. Bartenders at a real tequila bar will be able to find something for you based on other spirits and cocktails that you normally enjoy.
There’s Little to No Kitsch
Real tequila bars have decorations that are reflective of Mexican culture and leave the kitsch to tiki bars. “A true tequila bar should show respect for the category,” Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo, the founder of Casa Noble, tells Supercall. “If they are serving their best tequilas in shot glasses with salt and lime whilst wearing a sombrero, that shows a lack of respect.”
There Are Only 100-Percent Agave Tequilas
If there’s one reason why you haven’t sipped tequila since college, it’s most likely because of mixtos. By law, tequila only has to be made with 51 percent blue Weber agave spirit. The rest can consist of pretty much whatever neutral spirit they want (hence, “mixtos”), leading to some pretty nasty hangovers. Stick to tequilas made with 100-percent agave and even people who think they don’t like tequila will find something to sip.
You Are Slightly Overwhelmed with the Variety
Variety is the spice of your tequila drinking life. There are different styles based on aging time (blanco, joven, reposado, anejo and extra anejo), different methods of crushing the agave (tahona versus industrial) and different growing regions (five different states. and a highlands and lowlands region). A real tequila bar has them all covered.
Your Tequila Hasn’t Touched a Cube of Ice
As with whiskey, you should feel free to drink tequila however you like it best. But you won’t get the most out of your tequila if you’re cooling down all the flavors. Good tequila doesn’t need to be chilled and watered down. Neat should be the go-to at a real tequila bar because room temperature is “important for the aroma that you get from the evaporation,” Antonio Rodriguez, the director of production for Patron, tells Supercall. “If the tequila is not good, the first thing [bars] will do is chill it.”
No One Pulls Out a Salt Shaker or Shot Glass
Sorry, Jimmy Buffett. Tequila doesn’t need to be dressed up. It should be served in a copita or a snifter, and while there’s nothing wrong with a tequila-forward Margarita made with agave syrup, those giant frozen Margarita glasses are a no-go. A lost shaker of salt is also a dead giveaway that you’re not in a real tequila bar. There is, however, one exception to things served on the side.
“In Mexico, it is traditional to serve neat tequila with a chaser of Sangrita,” says Barry Augus, the founder and CEO of Tres Agaves. “Sangrita is typically a spicy tomato and citrus based concoction that is sipped alongside the tequila. If a tequila bar is offering you a Sangrita alongside your tequila, then it must pride itself on serving tequila in an authentic and traditional way.”
The Bartenders Are True Tequila Geeks
Your bartender should be someone who talks about tequila like Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about space. You’re in a real tequila bar “if they geek out on things like whether something is distilled on copper or clay,” says Oscar Leon Bernal, the co-owner of La Loncheria. All that variety is a waste if no one can tell you why the variety is there in the first place.