Food & Drinks

You’re drinking tequila wrong, ditch the salt

Deano Moncrieffe who is the Don Julio global brand ambassador at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi during a visit in Kenya. Photo | Salaton Njau | NMG
Deano Moncrieffe who is the Don Julio global brand ambassador at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi during a visit in Kenya. Photo | Salaton Njau | NMG 

Salt. Lemon or lime wedge. A shot glass. These are the tequila staples in most Kenyan bars, a practice that started in the US in the late 19 century due to an influx of low-quality tequila.

“The lime and salt were taken to mask the taste of bad tequila,” says Deano Moncrieffe, Don Julio (a luxury tequila) global brand ambassador.

Over time, the trend embedded and it became the more popular way of partaking the salubrious beverage.

For Deano, however, this is not the way that one imbibes a good quality tequila. Just like a fine wine or whisky, you sip it slowly in a beautiful glass with an ice cube if desired, savouring the flavours and work that was put into the tequila making.

Originating from Mexico, tequila is made from blue agave plant to create either white or gold coloured drink.

The heart of the agave plant is ‘cooked’ to ease the process of extracting sugars from the plant through crushing. The juices are then fermented and distilled. The second distillation produces silver or clear tequila referred to as ‘blanco’.

Aged for colour

The tequila can also be aged in white oak barrels that were previously used to make bourbon to create either ‘reposados’ tequila which legally has to be aged between two to 12 months or ‘añejo’ which has to be aged for a minimum 18 months.

The aging process gives colour to the tequila as well as more pronounced flavours from the barrels.

The end product is packaged either as 100 per cent agave tequila or mixed with other sugars such as cane to create ‘mixtos’ tequila.

The 100 per cent agave tequila is rising in price following a shortage of the blue agave plant especially in Mexico.

According to Reuters, the shortage will continue until 2021 as improved planting strategies take years to bear fruit.

The higher prices mean that low-cost tequila producers who make less pure drink that once dominated the market, find it harder to compete with premium players.

“Agave shortages tend to go in cycles. There was one in the 1990s, another about 10 years ago and then now. We {Don Julio} are protected in that we grow our own. This shortage will probably affect the smaller producers,” says Deano.

In Kenya, some of the 100 per cent agave tequilas include Don Julio and Olmeca while Jose Cuervo and Camino are mixtos.

Deano says for him drinking tequila is about celebration and bringing people together in different ways.

“There are four key dates for us each year,” he says. The first is the National Margarita Day on February 22 to celebrate the famed tequila cocktail.

The second in the Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican heritage celebration on the May 5, the third being Mexican Independence Day on September 16 and the last being Day of the Dead celebrated on November 1.

Don Julio was a pioneer in the luxury segment as well as bottling tequila in a square bottle.

“Don Julio created this specifically for his friends and family. He suffered a stroke and when he recovered from it, his sons threw a party for him. He requested a new design for the bottle that could be put on a table and share with each other without having to look around the bottle, which at the time was tall,” explains Deano.

One of the patrons at the party enjoyed the drink so much that he wrote a blank cheque to Don Julio to mass-produce the special drink. Reluctant at first, Don Julio was convinced by his sons to produce the tequila and sell it to the rest of Mexico.

During the first 11 years, this specific drink would only leave the distillery if it had already been paid for. This brought that luxury feel to the tequila.

To get into the tequila drinking segment, Deano advises gin and young rum lovers to try a blanco. For those who are keen on American whisky, go for a reposado. If you prefer the bold flavours of a scotch, then drink añejo.

The blanco is great for cocktails including a margarita.

“I created a tree tomato margarita that is great. With the reposado, I got some great Kenyan coffee beans and put them in for half an hour, took them out then I used sugarcane juice, coconut water, a bit of lime and some sugar to balance it all out,” says Deano.

The añejo, works for after-dinner cocktails or can be used as a substitute in classic whisky cocktails such as a Manhattan or an old fashioned.

“Tequila is a celebration drink but you have to enjoy it responsibly. We have to know our limits and take alcohol responsibly because this can make a difference between a celebration and a tragedy,” he adds.