The Mexican Spirit
Discover the true meaning of tequila culture and how it can help elevate your menu with some captivating cocktails.
Author: Karina Sanchez, Global Ambassador for Don Julio Tequila.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Margaritas are a hit on every menu. The cocktail's deep, zesty flavor with that hint of salt on the tongue has propelled it to cocktail superstar status. We may love the Margarita, but tequila means so much more…
Let’s look at Mexican tequila culture and its bold flavors, styles, and trends. From its ‘lightning-bolt strike’ origins to its home on the menu at local family gatherings, understanding tequila’s use in local culture, and use of flavors, will help when it comes to building great tequila cocktails in your bar.
THE RICH STORY OF TEQUILA IN MEXICO
One of the most interesting facts is that tequila was once thought to be a ‘gift from the gods’ after a lightning bolt hit agave plants in a field and drew locals with its delicious scent. Due to its extraordinary taste and mystical aura, the liquid produced by the agave known as ‘pulque’ was often used in spiritual rituals. When 16th century Spanish explorers discovered that distilling it produced a more potent spirit (originally known as ‘Mezcal Wine from Tequila’) tequila was born. It grew in popularity became a huge part of Mexican culture.
“To understand why tequila has been so successful in recent decades, it’s important to know about its origins and its evolution through the years” says Karina. Learning about the background of tequila, its heritage and production, will give you some amazing cultural facts and stories to share with your guests.
MORE THAN JUST A MARGARITA
But back to culture… We’ve all heard of the Margarita, but in tequila’s birthplace: Mexico, it can be used and enjoyed in lots of different ways, and in different situations.
Let’s move away from the single shot, salt and lime (the original way tequila was served) and be inspired by how the people who create, love and (quite literally) worship the spirit enjoy tequila cocktails in Mexico. It pops up at family celebrations and occasions, casual gatherings and everyday drinks with friends. It’s a huge part of Mexican culture.
Karina says, "Tequila is at the heart of most events, both traditional and modern.
- Mexico’s famous Day of the Dead or ‘Dia de Muertos’ sees families using tequila as an offering to honor their ancestors.
- One of the biggest celebrations of the year, Mexico's Independence Day, means the Paloma, the Margarita and the Bandera are all served up as part of this celebration. ‘Bandera’ means flag in Spanish, and this celebratory cocktail is served in three separate small measured glasses – one white containing tequila, one green with lime, and one red with sangrita.”
For family gatherings such as birthdays, tequila is often served in celebration and is sometimes drunk at midnight the night before to mark the beginning of the person’s birthday. Tequila is also included during Mexican Christmas festivities, when it’s added to a punch-like fruit soup called Ponche con piquete which is enjoyed communally during December.
TEQUILA COCKTAILS: THE MEXICAN WAY
Tequila comes in lots of styles and types; from the younger blanco, and rested resposado, through to the aged anejo tequila. There’s a flavor and type of tequila to suit every cocktail and bringing yourself up to speed on the types of tequila will impress guests.
As tequila can only ever be made in Jalisco, it’s one of the best places to look for modern Mexican tequila culture, mixing the history and heritage of the spirit with how locals are enjoying it as part of casual gatherings. Take a stroll through the bars in Jalisco today and you’ll find menus bursting with tequila inspiration. Karina shares, “In Jalisco, the birthplace of the spirit, it’s very common to find lots of regional tequila cocktails.
“So why not give your guests a real sense of Mexico by adding some of these exciting serves to your menu:
- I love regional cocktails like the Batanga, from the town of Tequila; made using Don Julio Tequila Blanco, cola, lime, and of course, salt.
- The Cantarito is a beautiful citrus cocktail with grapefruit, tequila blanco or resposado and salt and made in a traditional way using artisanal techniques. Always use fresh juices and ritual tools before serving up your drink in a small clay vessel to make sure it’s truly authentic.
- Up in the highlands of Jalisco, in Atotonilco, you’ll find the Chatazo on lots of local bar menus or served up at celebrations. It’s made with tequila blanco, fresh orange juice, bitter pink grapefruit, zesty lime, ice and of course, some salt.”
Karina also shares her love for the Vampirito, a cocktail famous in the Jalisco town of San Luis Soyatlán that mixes up tequila, sangria, juices from both orange and lime as well as ice. A truly delicious combination.
FUTURE TEQUILA COCKTAILS
Take inspiration from Bartender World Class 2023 Don Julio challenge winner Matt Arnold who has combined flavor, culture and the future of tequila to create these simple yet exciting cocktails.
The El Diablo is a celebration of Don Julio Blanco tequila. With blackberry liqueur, ginger beer, and a touch of lime.
Naked and Famous
The Naked and Famous combines the elegant Don Julio Reposado tequila with bold, herbaceous Green Charteuse, Aperol and a pinch of Tajin Mexican seasoning for good measure.
- Tequila’s ‘Gift from the Gods’ origin story still has relevance in Mexico’s culture and celebrations, reflected proudly in its officially protected status.
- It’s a really easy spirit to add to cocktail recipes and can be enjoyed at plenty of different social occasions, from celebrations to casual activities with friends.
- The Margarita is popular worldwide, but there are lots of other traditional and modern tequila cocktail recipes to be tried and enjoyed.
- Look to the history of the spirit as well as modern tequila culture and wider Mexican bar trends to find new ways to use and serve tequila, such as the clay cup Cantarito and the Ponche con Piquete tequila punch.
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