3 Cocktails To Make You Appreciate Tequila

More than any other type of spirit, I think tequila is the one that gives people the most bad memories. It’s the spirit that I most often hear people say, “Oh no, I can’t drink that anymore.” Too many cheap shots and bad margaritas have given tequila a bad name, but we’re all adults now; it’s time to open our minds and give tequila another chance. Enter: these grownup tequila cocktails that won't make you shudder with regret — I promise.

Tequila, which is made from the agave plant, is actually a very complex spirit (as long as you’re not asking for “whatever’s cheapest” at your college town’s only supposedly Mexican restaurant). That agave is what gives tequila a much brighter, more vegetal taste than many other spirits, most of which are made with earthy grains.

Similar to rum and whiskey, tequila goes through an aging process that creates a more robust, nuanced taste as it progresses. It’s usually grouped into three categories: blanco (“silver” or “white”), which is minimally aged and used most often for mixed drinks; reposado (“rested”), which has been aged in oak barrels for a short amount of time; and anejo (“aged’), which ages the longest and is often sipped straight or on the rocks. The longer the spirit rests, the more prominent deep flavor notes like caramel and smoke become.

Fortunately for everyone who’s wary of tequila, there are plenty of affordable options that won’t bring you back to the cheap, burn-your-throat tequila of your youth. For a more basic brand that you should be able to find at any grocery store, I like La Camarena. On the slightly-higher end, Milagro Blanco has a beautiful agave-forward taste that’s fresh, light, and perfect for mixing. Avion Silver is also a good choice, with notes of rosemary and black pepper that make it an interesting spirit for cocktails.

1. Carrot-Habañero Cocktail

Since tequila has such a fresh, green taste on its own, I thought it would pair well with the sweet-but-still-vegetal taste of carrot juice. I already had some habañero simple syrup in my fridge, which seemed like the perfect complement, since habañero, despite its heat, is a sweet, fruity pepper. Add a little lime juice for acidity, and a splash of soda to give it body and cut the juice a bit, and you have a refreshing summer drink that’s the perfect re-introduction to tequila.

What You'll Need

  • 4 oz. carrot juice
  • 2 oz. tequila (I used reposado, because I liked the more complex flavors it brought, but blanco would be good too)
  • 1 oz. habañero simple syrup
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • Splash of soda water

Combine everything but the soda water in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 10 to 15 seconds, and strain into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with a splash of soda water, and stir gently. Garnish with a lime wheel.

2. Paloma

The most basic version of a Paloma is just grapefruit juice and tequila, which can taste a bit flat. But by taking the time to round it out with lime and some effervescence, the drink comes alive. The lighter flavors allow the tequila to shine through a bit more, with the sweet-sour taste of the lime and grapefruit highlighting the agave notes of the spirit.

What You'll Need

  • 2 oz. tequila (blanco or reposado)
  • Juice from half a lime
  • Grapefruit soda (I like San Pellegrino, which isn’t overly sweet)
  • Salt (optional)

Run a lime around the rim of a collins glass, and dip into salt, if desired. Fill the glass with ice, and pour the tequila, lime juice, and soda over it. Stir gently.

3. The Perfect Margarita

Oh margaritas. The best-known tequila cocktail, and the most misrepresented tequila cocktail. Too many electric-green, blended monstrosities have ruined people’s perceptions of what this drink should be, which is a tequila-forward, refreshing cocktail, perfect for sipping on its own or serving alongside equally bold food. If you’ve worked your way up to a good margarita, then you’ve done it: you’ve learned to love tequila.

What You'll Need

  • 1.5 oz. tequila (reposado would be a good choice, since tequila is the star here)
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • .5 oz. agave or simple syrup*
  • Salt (optional)

Run a lime around the rim of a rocks glass, and dip into salt, if desired. Fill the glass half-way with ice. Combine tequila, lime juice, and agave or simple syrup in a shaker with ice, and shake for 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into your rocks glass. Garnish with a lime.

*This is the classic 3-2-1 proportion for a margarita. If you prefer yours to be more sweet than tart, swap the proportions of the lime juice and sweetener.

Images: Cookie & Kate; Larry, Annie, Eric Driggers/Flickr; Leigh Kunkel