Tequila is made from the agave (or maguey) plant, whose center, or piña, matures for seven to ten years before being oven-roasted, then juiced, fermented and distilled. The Aztecs knew about the magic of the agave plant long before modern tequila came along; they were making a fermented agave spirit called octli (and later called pulque) and offering it to their gods as a sacred beverage.
Like wine, truly great tequila has a terroir that defines its flavor profile. Highland tequilas, which are grown 6,000 or more feet above sea level, are fruity and almost sweet; lowland varieties tend to be more dry and mineral-like, tasting of the earth in which the agave plant grows. If you're still a tequila naysayer, pop into one of L.A.'s cocktail havens and ask for a brief education. Sipping various, artisanal tequilas straight -- and slowly like a fine whiskey -- will quickly yield an "I think I've got it" realization of their sophistication. And drinking them in a cocktail -- something other than a margarita please -- will open your eyes to the versatility of this once maligned spirit. Here are three watering holes (and there are oh so many more) to get your agave fix.
Beverage Director Pablo Kovacs clearly saw the similarities in ingredients (chili, lime, fruit) between the cuisines of Thailand and Mexico in making his South East Asian-influenced Tuk-Tuk. Here, lime and a coconut milk infusion balance the heat of the serrano chili-infused tequila. According to Kovacs, the drink was "inspired by a fondness for green curry by both our lead bartender Andy Hoff and myself. We ended up making our own infusion using coconut milk, galanga root, basil, lemongrass and kafir lime leaf - the essentials of a green curry but without the garlic." 3500 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach; 310-546-6180.2. Cinco
At Cinco, tequila takes on a decidedly classical cocktail angle with the Tequila Gimlet. The concept is logical, given tequila's natural affinity with lime. "While gimlets are a popular drink order, they are rarely thought of as craft cocktail", says co-owner/bartender Ben Molina regarding the genesis of the drink. "We aim to change that perception by using a house made lime cordial that really sets this drink apart." By swapping out the traditional gin for the agave spirit, the gimlet gets a thoroughly modern restyling, but stays true to its roots. 7241 W Manchester Ave., Los Angeles; 310-910-0895.