Tequila: the source of giddy laughter, semi-hallucinations, and unfortunate fights. Its unique aroma and magical character should always be handled with care and when produced properly can be as fine of a sipper as a single malt scotch or small batch Bourbon.
If all you’ve ever known is tequila shots with lime — from your college days, or yesterday — it’s time to upgrade. Get ready to do your happy dance as we break down the types and best places in San Diego to taste tequila.
Your game is going to improve exponentially.
How its made
Did you know that tequilas must be made in specific areas of Mexico? Mexican law dictates that tequila has to be made by a Consejo Regulador del Tequila location, of which exist in only five Mexican states — a vast majority of which are located in the state of Jalisco.
Tequilas are all made from blue Weber agave plants and must be distilled from at least 51 percent agave. Depending on whether they are made from the Highlands or the Lowlands, tequilas will either take on sweet and fruity notes or more herbaceous tones.
Blanco (“white”) or plata (“silver”): This version is clear, and is bottled directly after distillation with no aging, or is aged for less than two months, in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels. Examples: Patron Silver, Fortaleza, Milagro Silver.
Joven (“young”) or oro (“gold”): This style is created in two ways, either blanco with caramel coloring, oak, or additive, or from blending blanco with aged tequila. Examples: Jose Cuervo Gold, Sauza Gold, Casa Noble Joven.
Reposado (“rested”): Must be aged at least two months, but less than one year in oak barrels. Herradura introduced this category in 1974. Other examples: Corralejo, El Jimador, Cazadores, Sauza Hornitos, Ocho.
Añejo (“aged”): Must be aged at least one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels. Examples: Don Julio, 1800 Añejo, Corazón, El Tesoro.
Extra Añejo (“extra aged”): Must be aged at least three years in oak barrels. This designation is fairly new (established only in 2006) and can be quite expensive. Examples: Gran Patrón Piedra, Herradura Selección Suprema, Don Julio Real, Chinaco Negro.
(Note: Many of the examples listed here make versions in Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo. If you find a brand you like in one style, chances are you will like their other renditions.)
“O tequila, savage water of sorcery, what confusion and mischief your sly, rebellious drops do generate!”
― Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker
Where to taste tequila
El Agave: Known for their mole and outstanding cuisine, this Old Town favorite showcases over 2000 selections in their “Tequila Museum,” including their own proprietary bottling, the award-winning Tequila Agave Artesanal.
2304 San Diego Ave B, Old Town, 619.220.0692, elagave.com
Cantina Mayahuel: Consistently rated as one of the best Mexican restaurants in San Diego, this North Park staple pleases with more than 200 tequila selections, including their own Don Lorenzo Reposado Reserva. Ranging from $5 to $50 a shot, there is something for every type of tequila lover, and you can bet there are margaritas.
2934 Adams Ave., North Park, 619.283.6292
Don Chido: With their “Drink Bible” firmly in hand, you might have a hard time choosing from their 100+ tequilas, Margaritas and cocktails. Try the El Viejito, with Cabo Wabo Añejo, Aztec chocolate bitters, agave, and muddled orange peel or for a splurge, the Margarita Lujosa, with Don Julio 1942, egg white, lime, agave, and Grand Marnier 1880 for $55. And during May, try the Prickly Pear Lavendar Margarita, a special for PACIFIC’s Margarita Month.
527 Fifth Ave., downtown, 619.232.8226, donchido.com
La Puerta: Head to the Gaslamp for a selection of more than 100 tequilas, each marked with a geographical designation (HL for highland and LL for lowland). For a quick education on the steps of production, check out the tequila page on their website. Looking for something out of the ordinary? Try the Remember the Alamo, with Fortaleza Reposado, Cocchi Americano, honey syrup, Angostura bitters, lime, and… Laphroaig (remember Islay Scotch?)
560 4th Ave., Gaslamp, 619.696.3466, lapuertasd.com
Tequila Tuesday at Starlite: For a different tequila vibe, head to Starlite near the airport. Check out their range of cocktails and margaritas each week, including the Faux Zebra with Cholula and mole bitters, the Jargarita with grapefruit and orange, and the Velvet Diablo, with Cimarron Blanco, falernum, creme de cassis, lime, and ginger beer.
3175 India St., Middletown, 619.358.9766, starlitesandiego.com
Make it at home
Thanks to the makers of Milagro, and Atlanta bartender Navarro Carr, you can make a Diego — a simple tequila cocktail — at home or at the next party you attend.
2 parts Milagro Reposado
1/2 part Cocchi Americano
1/2 part Benedictine
2-3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
2-3 dashes Coffee Bitters
Add ingredients to mixing glass and stir over ice. Strain and serve up in a coupe. No garnish.
With 18 years in the restaurant and beverage industry and more than 850 reviews under her belt, Laurie Delk is a one-stop guide to all things craft beer, wine and spirits and is a Certified Specialist of Spirits through the Society of Wine Educators. You can follow Delk on Twitter @lauriedelklife or Instagram @sandiegobeer. Send ideas for featured drinks to firstname.lastname@example.org.