One wretched night is more than enough to make you swear off tequila for good. But with some careful mixing, it is possible to get back into the spirit again.
Cocktail enthusiasts insist that tequila is one of the very finest spirits, fantastically complex and entirely distinctive. But for victims of the Bad Tequila Experience—an ailment so common, there’s even a band from Philly named after it—the drink is liable to bring back painful memories. Especially since many BTE sufferers are not only unable to knock back the stuff, they can’t stomach a passing whiff.
“I’d say maybe 50 per cent of people who sit down at my bar are adamant that they don’t want tequila,” says Adrian Stein of Riverside’s Boots & Bourbon. “They say, ‘No, no, no, it’s the one liquor I just can’t handle.’”
But why tequila, specifically? How come nobody ever begs off a snifter of bourbon, citing one rough night in college? Darcy O’Neil, a chemist who writes about alcohol on his Art of Drink blog, says tequila might do more morning-after damage than other spirits. He chalks that up to its high quantity of congeners, impurities like fusel oils and acetone that are a natural by-product of fermentation and manage to sneak through the distillation and filtration process. Very loosely speaking, vodka and gin are low-congener spirits, while tequila and brandy are high. Congeners give the drink its signature flavour, but they may also be responsible for wicked hangovers and correspondingly bad associations.
“The gag reaction is because of tequila’s unique smell,” says O’Neil. “Unlike gin, which might smell of citrus, tequila is easily identified by the brain’s protective membrane as that bad poison that nearly killed you the last time you had it.” Of course, that last bout of alcohol poisoning wasn’t brought on by a single glass of premium pure agave añejo, slowly savoured after dinner. Both the quantity and quality of your drink factor into the Bad Tequila Experience.
“It’s always shots,” says O’Neil. “And it’s never shots of the good tequila. High-quality spirits tend to have fewer congeners than cheap stuff.” Lesson learned: Drink less and, crucially, drink better. Luckily, there’s a new clutch of premium products at the LCBO to help. The crisp Los Azulejos is now available at a reduced price ($49.75), while the sweet, soft, and sorta-local Tromba Reposado (it’s made in Mexico’s Los Altos, but owned by a Canadian company) will set you back $57.75. At $98.50, the refined Dulce Vida Anejo has some serious sticker shock, but given its hazelnut and vanilla notes, it’ll still disappear quickly. Hey, Cinco de Mayo is looming—this is an ideal time to let go of your tequila grudge.
Adrian Stein’s gentle cocktail Desert Pete ($10) will ease you back into your tequila ways:
1.5 oz Tromba Reposado
1 oz jalapeno-agave syrup
1 oz lime juice
2 oz pineapple juice
3 drops orange bitters
Big sprig of mint
Steep de-seeded jalapenos in equal parts heated water and agave syrup. Shake tequila and juices over ice. Strain into glass over fresh ice, add bitters, and garnish with mint.
Boots & Bourbon, 725 Queen St. E., 647-348-0880.