For many, tequila brings to mind spring break shots, a cheap margarita, or a hangover. But this distilled spirit from Mexico is much more than just a hangover cure, and with the recent surge in premium tequilas, consumers are learning to appreciate it as an essential ingredient in cocktails and sipping straight. The agave-based spirit offers a wide range of flavors, from pepper to citrus, honey and vanilla, and even vegetal and earthy notes.
The tequila flavor profile depends on the quality of the blue agave plant and how it is harvested, cooked, fermented, and distilled. The plant's agave sugars are the source of the spirit’s signature sweetness, while other notes—from vanilla to smokiness—may be created by distillation and aging processes.
It's important to keep in mind that tequila is a high-proof alcohol, which means it has a higher ethanol content than most other spirits and liquors. The amount of ethanol in tequila depends on the type of yeast used, the carbon:nitrogen ratio, and the age of the tequila.
In general, tequila tastes best when sipped neat or over ice. This allows the drinker to appreciate the nuances of the spirit, such as a hint of sweetness from the agave and other flavors from the distillation process and aging. It's also important to cleanse the palate between tastings of tequila. More than four or five samples can overwhelm the senses and make it difficult to distinguish between the flavors.