Cinco de Mayo (fifth of May) is an annual Mexican and Mexican-American celebration that commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Outnumbered almost two to one, the Mexican army defeated the invading French army during the battle, and the day grew to become a focal point of Mexican pride and heritage.
Its celebration today in terms of booze can only mean one thing – tequila! But before you reach for the salt and lemon, we're here to tell you that not all tequila consumption is about shot glasses and shame. This story covers tequilas that match up to the loftiest of sipping spirits, as recommended by the people in town who know them best. And no, none of the bottles have worms in them.
Some tequila essentials:
- Just like how only wine from Champagne can be called champagne and only whisky from Scotland can be called Scotch, Tequila can only be made in the region around the city of Tequila, in Mexico's Jalisco state, using the blue agave plant.
- Four of the most commonly seen types of tequila are blanco ("white" in Spanish) which is unaged or aged for less than two months, reposado (“rested”) which spends between two months and a year in oak barrels, añejo (aged or vintage) which is aged between one and three years in oak, and extra añejo, which is aged for three years or more.
- When choosing a quality tequila, always look for the label "100 per cent agave". Anything else is mixtos ("mixed") tequila, which by law only needs to use 51 per cent agave syrup with the rest of the sugars coming from corn, cane or other sources.
- While tequila is considered to be a type of mezcal, it's only recently that mezcals have been appreciated as more than tequila's village cousin. The main difference is that while tequila can only be made with blue agave, mezcal is produced with over 20 different types of agave. The agave that goes into mezcal is also oven-cooked, giving the finished product a distinctive smoky flavour.
Tres Generaciones Reposado
Smooth, strong, tropical tequila
This versatile and affordable tequila functions perfectly as an introduction to the good stuff, and it's the house pour of Señor Taco. “We use it in all our drinks,” executive chef Luis Rodriguez tells us. “It's smooth enough to have as a shot and it has a strong flavour without the burn; smooth, but with presence.” It's peppery and spicy with a bit of tropical fruit flavour from its brief stay in American oak.
Señor Taco | Address: #01-19/20 Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street | Tel: 63371377 | Opening hours: Sun-Thu 6pm-midnight, Fri & Sat 6pm-2am | Price: $12 per shot, $180 per bottle
Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro
Limited edition floral and vegetal tequila
Tequileros love mixing things up with a limited edition bottle like Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro, produced to mark Don Julio's 70th anniversary in 2012. According to Chef Rodriguez, who hails from Mexico City, Don Julio is one of Mexico's most famous tequila producers. The 70 shows exactly why. Aged in American white oak barrels for 18 months and then filtered carefully to give it its crystal clear colour (most añejo tequilas have a gold to brown colour from the aging process), the result is an incredibly smooth mix of blanco tequila characteristics – floral and vegetal – and the whisky-like complexity of an añejo.
Señor Taco | Address: #01-19/20 Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street | Tel: 63371377 | Opening hours: Sun-Thu 6pm-midnight, Fri & Sat 6pm-2am | Price: On request
IXÁ Organic Tequila
Organic, eco-friendly tequila - like cut grass
Produced in Mexico by the Los Angeles-based Greenbar Craft Distillery, IXÁ is a 100% organic, carbon negative tequila (if that's not eco-friendly enough for you, they also plant a tree for every bottle sold). It's made with traditional techniques like slow, clay oven steaming and fermentation and distillation with agave fibers. "It has a full-on hit of agave – not smoky and not too sweet," The Secret Mermaid's bar manager Kevin Petrie shares. "Just herbaceous, cut grass and planty agave flavours." Petrie, who spent two years working at a mezcal bar in Guatemala (more on that later), compares it to the roasted agave that's a popular street food in Mexico.
The Secret Mermaid | Address: #B1-08/09, Ocean Financial Centre, 10 Collyer Quay | Opening hours: Mon-Fri 5-11pm | Price: $18 per shot, $104 per bottle (retail), $187 per bottle (in-house)
Sparkle Donkey Reposado
Sweet, earthy and smoky tequila - like caramel corn
The fabulously-named Sparkle Donkey, imported from Mexico by Seattle's Black Rock Spirits, pokes fun at other distilleries who try to emphasise connections to tequila's history and heritage no matter how tenuous the links. Behind the joke is a truly awesome beverage. Sparkle Donkey is made with a blend of agave from the highlands and lowlands which offer sweet and earthy flavours respectively. Half of the agave is steamed while the other half is kiln-cooked to give it some smokiness. The finished blend is aged in wet American whiskey barrels and the end product has a unique flavour mix dominated by caramel corn. “It makes a killer Old Fashioned,” Petrie says.
The Secret Mermaid | Address: #B1-08/09, Ocean Financial Centre, 10 Collyer Quay | Opening hours: Mon-Fri 5-11pm | Price: $17 per shot, $98 per bottle (retail), $177 per bottle (in-house)
Tequila Ocho Single Estate El Carrizal 2008 Extra Añejo
Butterscotch, coffee and candied fruit tequila
"Inviting you to change your perception" is the motto of Tequila Ocho, the first tequila producers to label their bottles with the year of vintage and the estate of origin of the agave plants that went into making it, much like a fine wine. "The agave plant takes eight years to grow," says Diego Araud, sales representative at Fine Spirits by La Maison du Whisky. “Depending on the type of soil and whether it is grown in a valley or on a mountain, it's going to express itself; it's a product that is very much linked to terroir.” Indeed, the tasting notes for this exceptional, rich-textured tequila are as lengthy as any top-class wine – olive brine, molasses, candied fruit, butterscotch, coffee and more.
Fine Spirits by La Maison du Whisky | Address: #01-10 The Pier, 80 Mohamed Sultan Road | Tel: 67330059 | Opening hours: Daily Store noon-midnight, Bar 6pm-midnight | Price: $22 per shot, $173 per bottle (retail)
Ilegal Mezcal Reposado
Produced by the people behind the famed Café No Sé bar in Antigua Guatemala (the same one that The Secret Mermaid's Kevin Petrie worked at), Ilegal Mezcal gets its name from the bar's illegal import of mezcal from across the Guatemala-Mexico border back in the day. Ilegal Mezcal Reposado is an ideal starting point for someone who hasn't tried mezcal before, with its balance of vegetal agave notes, wood characteristics and mellow smoke flavour.
Fine Spirits by La Maison du Whisky | Address: #01-10 The Pier, 80 Mohamed Sultan Road | Tel: 67330059 | Opening hours: Daily Store noon-midnight, Bar 6pm-midnight | Price: $13 per shot, $89 per bottle (retail)
Mezcales Esenciales Mezcal del Gnomo
Sweet liquid smoke mezcal
Mezcales Esenciales bottles mezcals produced on a small scale by different mezcaleros using a variety of techniques and an array of different agaves. Each bottle is hand labelled with the all the details. While it's initially sweet when you sip it Gnomo turns into liquid smoke in your mouth. It's intense and lingers indefinitely. If you enjoy the peatiest of peaty whiskies, this is the mezcal for you.
Señor Taco | Address: #01-19/20 Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street | Tel: 63371377 | Opening hours: Sun-Thu 6pm-midnight, Fri & Sat 6pm-2am | Price: $17 per shot