Tequila is all the buzz | VailDaily.com

Tequila is all the buzz

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The tequila program at Maya is opening guests' minds to what's possible with this versatile spirit

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa

Tequila has come a long way since its reputation as a shooter you force down with salt and lime. It has come to earn the widespread respect of mixologists and chefs alike thanks to its versatility and accessibility.

"Tequila is the most versatile spirit out there, which makes it fun to experiment with for building a cocktail list," says Kayla Wittich, Director of Food and Beverage Outlets at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa.

The staff at Maya, in The Westin Riverfront, get fired up when beginners show an interest in tequila. It's like an initiation of sorts — especially when a guest proclaims they aren't interested.

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"One of my favorite challenges of tequila is hearing that a guest 'hates tequila' from a previous experience, then I find out what they normally like to drink  — like gin or scotch — and introduce them to a tequila that may suit their palate," Wittich says. "I love educating guests about tequila and changing someone's mind about the spirit. It's not always easy, but more often than not, the guest walks away not hating tequila anymore."

Tequila's complexities

There are lot of rules surrounding how tequila is made and what makes it true tequila. Generally, it has to be prepared from the heads of the Blue Weber Agave plant, in addition to other regulations about its fermentation and distillation processes.

The production process, as well as the cultivation of the Agave, must take place within the territory specified in the Declaration of Protection of the Tequila Appellation of Origin, according to the National Chamber of the Tequila Industry. Tequilas also must follow the Mexican Official Standard for Tequila.

This production process results in the five different classes of tequila: blanco, reposado, anejo, extra anejo and gold (see factbox), which also relates to how tequilas drink.

"The production process is key to a true high-end tequila, keeping it rooted in the traditional way tequila has been made for centuries," Wittich says. "Smooth-tasting tequilas are based on personal preference, but we definitely have something for everyone, from smoky to sweet to crisp and citrusy."

Wittich is excited about Maya's latest house tequila, Maestro Dobel, which is known for smooth-tasting tequilas.

"They were the first major tequila house to create a clear, multi-aged tequila — a blend of reposado, anejo and extra anejo — and then charcoal-filtered to give it a crisp and clean finish," she says. "They were also one of the first to release a smoked tequila, which would speak to scotch and mezcal drinkers due to its earthy and smoky flavor."

Pairing tequila with food

Wine pairings are the standard in most restaurants, but at Maya, tequila pairings are creating a lot of buzz. Maya Executive Chef Angel Munoz Jr. says tequila is a piece of art, synonymous with respect and culture. He thinks of tequila as something special, just like he would of a great cut of meat, a good fish, a delicious chocolate or a beautiful piece of art.

"Tequila can increase and even improve the eating experience," Munoz says. "The versatility of tequila is enormous, as huge as the great variety of ingredients that can be pair with it."

Munoz looks for the flow and balance in flavors, textures and aromas when he's pairing tequila with food. He looks for ways in which both the tequila and the food work together. Some classic pairings include anejos with beef, silver tequilas with fresh vegetables or fish, and anejos with sweets.

Citrus often goes with all tequila classes, which is Munoz's favorite pairing.

Tequila knowledge

Maya's staff is well versed on tequila and can lead customers to just the right ones for their respective palettes. A traditional margarita with an affordable reposado or anejo would be an approachable introductory cocktail for someone looking to branch out and try some new tequilas, Wittich says. For someone looking to try something higher end, though, cocktails are not the way to go.

"I would not select one of the higher end repos or anejos to mix with much of anything," she says. "Try them with a slice of orange dipped in cinnamon and sugar, instead of a lime with salt, to bring out the flavor of the aged spirit."

Regardless of how you consume tequila, the staff at Maya just wants guests to open their minds to tequila's incredible versatility.

"I would like to invite all customers to approach to tequila in a different way, with the mindset of identifying the ingredients, aromas and different flavors that other products don't have," Munoz said. "We would also like to help people lose that concept of tequila is low-quality spirit."

The five classes of tequila

Here are five total classes of tequila, all of which refer to a tequila’s aging process.

  • Blanco, or plata — or white or silver in English — tequila, is usually clear, unaged and bottled right after distillation.
  • Reposado, or rested, tequila has been aged in oak containers for at least two months, impacting flavor and color. Reposado tequilas often have notes of vanilla, oak, chocolate, coffee, nuts and whiskey.
  • Anejo, or aged, tequila, has been aged in oak barrels for at least one year, trading in most of their agave essence for oaky characteristics, according to Experience Tequila. Anejos can resemble cognac or Scotch because of this aging process.
  • Extra anejos are aged in oak barrels for at least three years.
  • Gold, or young, tequilas are blends of other classes — blanco and one or more others — or they are mixed with coloring and other additives.
  • Source: Experience Tequila, a tour operator in Mexico that also provides education for bar and spirits industry professionals

 Try these tequila cocktails at Maya

  • Agavero Margarita: Made with reposado tequila, fresh-squeezed sour mix and a splash of Damiana liquer
  • Mexican Mule: Perfect for summer, made with cilantro, lime and ginger beer.
  • Paloma: Like a margarita but made with grapefruit juice instead of sour mix. Try topping it with sparkling wine.
  • Old fashioned: Try this classic drink with an anejo tequila or mexcal. The sweetness of the sugar and fruit balances the smoky flavor of the spirit.