A Dead Rabbit alumnus teaches us tequila cocktail basics
You might remember tequila from that period in your life called “college,” and that other time called “the two years I spent pretending I was still in college.” But tequila is a far more sophisticated animal these days, whether you drink it in a margarita, or in a newfangled cocktail, or with a fat slice of cured meat (more on that in a minute). We tapped Franky Marshall, an alumnus of New York’s acclaimed Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, to help get us up to speed on the new basics.
“I love tequila’s versatility and flavor profile. It's satisfying to drink, is bold enough to stand up in most cocktails and works well -- either hot or cold -- with sweet, savory, citrus and cream elements,” says Marshall. “Of course, it also reminds me of being in Mexico, so that's an added bonus.”
Blanco, Reposado and Añejo tequilas have all found their way into the modern mixologist’s arsenal. Dark, supple Extra Añejos are a beautiful thing, but they’re also too damn good to mask amid a vortex of other ingredients. Even some Reposados and Añejos, Marshall notes, “are so delicious and complex, you don't want them to get lost.”
Generally, Blanco is un-aged, and because it hasn’t done any time in barrels, it’s Marshall’s mellow choice for citrus-forward drinks like the ubiquitous margarita, the lime juice & grapefruit soda paloma (which should be more ubiquitous), and anything else involving lemon, orange, hibiscus, etc. “I like the blanco because of its brightness, saltiness and wet stone elements,” she says, a profile to which, when it comes to citrus, “the acidity and flavor can do wonders.”
REPOSADO AND ANEJO
Reposado, which ages in oak casks for anywhere from two months to a year, has a more golden hue; Añejo, aged from one to three years, emerges from barrels smoother than a certain Colt 45 spokesman. “Because of aging, Reposados and Añejos start to take on sweeter caramelized flavors, so you have to consider whether that is going to enhance the other flavors and elements in the drink,” Marshall explains.
“Cacao and vanilla work particularly well, because of the qualities that come with time, aging, and wood; those 'warm', spice and fruit flavors work well together.” A prime example: Marshall’s hefty Cocoa Porter, with white crème de cacao, cream, egg white, and porter beer, welcomes a Reposado “precisely because of those warmer, richer qualities.”
Thanks to minimal aging, Reposados also maintain the body and bite to hold up to more insistent ingredients, even hot sauce and spiced tomato juice. On the other hand, you want to mess around less with Añejo; when you’re not sipping it, it’s best for silky, stirred drinks where the booze truly shines.
THE NEW RULES OF THE MARGARITA
The margarita is a classic for a reason, but the thing with classic cocktails is, their foundations are strong enough that they can handle experimentation, as long as the experimentation doesn’t approach Discotheque-era U2 levels.
Besides using fresh, high-quality ingredients as a base, Marshall suggests you:
- Try out different juices. Clementine, tangerine, watermelon and tamarind are all good bets.
- Forget triple sec and embrace different flavored liqueurs, like pear, instead.
- Try dropping a pinch of sumac on top. It makes the citrus pop while its own tart spiciness adds contrast.
Because she’s very concerned about you going hungry, Marshall also points out that tequila’s companions don’t always have to reside inside the glass. “Tequila, when sipped neat, goes very well with food -- especially salty foods like tomato salad, or even chicken fingers -- because of its complexity, which comes from its terroir, aging and the way the agave is cooked. Also, ice cream works; tequila can stand up to that creamy texture.”
In particular, Marshall recommends a heaping platter of charcuterie: “Rich, flavorful, salty meats are a delight. Think of how certain folks slam tequila after licking salt. There's a reason that works. Make mine salty ham, thank you." Tequila and ham? Now that’s a woman after our own heart attack.
Alia Akkam is a New York-based food, drink, and travel writer. If you meet her, definitely ask her about Queens.