A Crash Course on Good Tequila From a Tequila Expert
The lowdown on the Mexican liquor that is loved around the world. Aljor Perreras of A’Toda Madre gives us a crash course on the Mexican spirit.
ESQUIRE: When was your first sip of tequila?
ALJOR PERRERAS: Gosh, I don’t remember. I was maybe 16. It was the usual cheap tequila, Jose Cuervo Especial, which by the way is the best-selling tequila by volume in the world. But I remember my worst ever experience was on Jose Cuervo Especial, when I was 20 years old, and we were shooting them, and someone passed me a cigar which I smoked like a cigarette. I was out for three days, puking green stuff.
ESQ: Can you tell us something about A’Toda Madre?
AP: When I moved back here in 2002 from California where I grew up, I was surprised at how little Mexican food was available here. It was a staple in California. So I always wanted to have a Mexican establishment. I also wanted to educate people about tequila. So here we have something called The Flight, which is a sampling of the different categories of tequila. We also have tequila tastings where we pair them with Mexican food.
ESQ: Can you identify a tequila drinker when you see one?
AP: We basically have three types of customers here. One are the guys like us who have been around the world and know what they want; the next are the curious ones who don’t have any negative feelings about tequila—they just want to try it out and learn; and the third are the toughest ones because they come here and they say, “No, no, no! I’m done with that! I don’t want to pass out or throw up!” And that’s a lot of people. And I say, “Chill out, have a seat.”
ESQ: Where is tequila made?
AP: Tequila is a product of Mexico. It can only be called tequila if it’s from Mexico. It has an appellation of origin, which is like how champagne can only come from the Champagne region, or scotch can only come from Scotland. So if you see tequila that’s not made in Mexico, it’s not tequila.
ESQ: Why are some tequilas more expensive than others?
AP: There are two types of tequila, one they call the mixto, which is mixed, and then there’s 100% agave. Mixto got started because at some point, there was a big demand in tequila so they wanted to increase productivity. So they took the 100% agave and mixed it with other juices and alcohol. The Cuervo Especial is a mixto. It’s not so bad; it serves its purpose.
If the bottle doesn’t say 100% agave, it’s a mixto. Here in our bar, we only serve 100% agave. These are the sipping tequilas. They’re so sophisticated and flavorful, that you really want to sip it to savor the taste.
ESQ: How wide is the range of tastes of tequila?
AP: Very. There are many factors that affect the taste of tequila. One is where the agave is grown—lowlands or highlands. If it’s from the mountains, it’s generally sweeter than the ones in the lowlands. And then there’s how it is processed: what yeast did they use, or how long. Another factor is the wood of the cask they used to distill it in. Lately, there are people who are mixing the categories.
ESQ: Why are there so many different colors of tequila?
AP: There are basically four distinct categories or expressions of tequila: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, and then there’s the Extra-Añejo.
Blanco is the tequila that is not aged and bottled within two months right after distillation. Blanco is very green, citrusy, and it has some grassy notes. The Reposado, or rested tequila is when they put it in a big wooden cask, this is the first time the tequila touches wood, and it gets aged between two months to one day less than a year. This is where the tequila gets the characteristics of the wood: oakiness, butter, and honey notes.
Then they take that Reposado and put it in smaller casks so there’s more surface to liquid ratio, and they age it from one year, up to one day less than three years, and that’s the Añejo. You can now distinguish the taste of apples, cloves, chocolates, and dried fruits.
And then the very last one, they take the Añejo, and they keep it in a wooden cask for more than three years. There are a few exclusive ones that go up to five years. They call this the Extra-Añejo. It tastes very rich, very much like cognac.
The alcohol content is the same, but the taste gets more complex.
ESQ: So how are you supposed to drink tequila?
AP: People ask me that all the time. My answer is, however you want. There are sophisticated ways of drinking it, but it is such a fun drink that you don’t want to limit the experience. However, having said that, I would also recommend that if you’re drinking something expensive, you should savor it. I’m a purist but I would never impose my view on anyone else. If you want to spray it over your leche flan, go ahead. I drink it neat, although I do like it when it’s chilled. When it’s chilled, it takes the edginess out of it.
Respect tequila. If you take care of it, it will take care of you.
A'Toda Madre is at G/F Sunette Tower, Durban Street corner Makati Avenue, Poblacion, Makati City; tel. no. (02) 246-9069 local 498.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.