How to serve tequila & mezcal


Phil Ward is the driving force behind what is seen as one of the best tequila and mezcal bars in the US, Mayahuel in NYC. When it comes to using agave spirits in cocktails he is an expert, and he believes that doing so is the best way to introduce – or reintroduce in lots of cases – tequila-shy drinkers to the category.

Tequila and mezcal are easy to mix and quite versatile, Ward suggests using Blanco in the same way that you would  use gin, while Añejo and Reposado styles can be used as alternatives for cognac and rum.

He suggests that tequila and fortified wines like sherry play very well together for an unexpected combo.

Though he stresses that that not every tequila cocktail is a margarita, one of Ward’s go-to cocktails is a more savoury expression of the classic that uses blanco tequila, Noilly Prat, lime juice, and celery bitters – both tequila and mezcal work better in savoury-style cocktails.

Ward also creates contrasts, using tequila as a bridge to bring seemingly opposite flavours together – like a Negroni variation using tequila, sloe gin and Cynar – tequila is the bridge that brings the seemingly disparate flavours of the other ingredients together.

For those looking to utilise more mezcal in their line-up, try a Negroni-style drink with mezcal, Suez, Cocchi Americano, orange bitters and a grapefruit twist.

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Margaritas make great gateway cocktails, creating a positive tequila-forward experience so that consumers can get more of a sense of what the spirit is about, says Julio Bermejo, creator of the Tommy’s Margarita. And though he can be considered a little biased, he believes that the Tommy’s Margarita can better exhibit the depth of the spirit as there is no interference from the Triple Sec.

Presenting a margarita session at Agave Love, Bermejo explored the idea of experimenting with the tequila in a margarita far beyond Blanco. He suggests keeping them on the cocktail list throughout winter by using aged tequila for wintery oak notes, and a woody spiciness – Bermejo recommends Herradura Resposado or Don Julio Reposado.

For those really looking to up their margarita game, try a Tommy’s Margarita with a single barrel Añejo.



According to McEwan, although it is a completely foreign notion for the majority of Australian consumers, in Mexico 77 per cent of all tequila is consumed in basic long drink form, while the remaining 23 per cent is sipped.

“Casa Herradura’s core objective is to introduce consumers to the versatility and sessionability of authentic and contemporary ways of appreciating premium tequila in long-drinks, cocktails and neat serves,” he says.

Speaking at Agave Love, influential bartender Naren Young spoke along a similar line, suggesting traditional serves that can be easily replicated.

The Bandera sees tequila served with Sangrita and lime juice, arranged to resemble the red, white and green of the Mexican flag. Sangrita, or “little blood”, is a traditional accompaniment and while each bar has its house recipe, the key ingredients are tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi sauce, Tabasco, orange juice, lime juice, onion, garlic, and salt and pepper – Young recommends doubling it as a house Bloody Mary mix. The routine is then for the drinker to “cut” their sips of tequila with alternating sips of lime juice and Sangrita.

Another common accompaniment is Verdita. Similar to Sangrita, and meaning “little green”, it is sipped alongside tequila and can replace the lime juice in a Bandera. Young’s Verdita features lime juice, fresh coriander, pineapple juice, fresh mint, jalapeno, and salt.

Traditional mixed tequila drinks include, of course, La Paloma (tequila, grapefruit juice, soda water and a squeeze of lime), and La Betanga (a Cuba Libre made with tequila and a salt rim). The latter comes from La Capilla Bar in Tequila, Mexico, where it is stirred with a steak knife, the trademark implement of owner Javier who took over when he was 15 – he’s now 89 and still “works” the bar.

Lastly is the Michelada, a concoction that again varies in ingredients from place to place – Young suggests using tequila, beer, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, Maggi, chipotle hot sauce, and salt.



“When it comes to pairing, sometimes we will have a particular spirit in mind – some of the aged tequilas and mezcals go well with certain flavour profiles.

While I was in Oaxaca I learned a few nifty techniques to incorporate mezcal into dishes with sauces and marinades, and we’re starting to use more tequila in food. There is so much potential.

We do vertical flights, the best thing about that is the ability to choose items from the menu that match up with certain types of Reposado and Añejo tequilas. We focus our pairings on similarities rather than contrasts. Our chocolate orange flan has a definite caramel note, and the Clase Azule Añejo has a pronounced caramel flavour, so by matching those profiles you end up with something pretty decent. You can go through the whole gamut of flavours and know that there is something there for everyone.

We try to utilise earthy flavours – we’ll match up a really earthy single origin mezcal with our molé, or we’ll take something with a pronounced lemon or lime aspect and pair it with a really citrusy kind of tombola mezcal. If there are recognisable elements in both the food and the spirit, people can make the association themselves – you don’t have to hold their hand through the process. Personally, I like a bone dry, citrusy mezcal with our fish tacos – they have an achiote rub and chipotle mayo, which matches the smokiness, and with a squeeze of lime you pick up the citrus from the mezcal too. It’s a ripper.”


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PATRICK MCEWAN – Resist the temptation to pour a poor quality house product to try and save a few cents on nip-price. It will hurt you in the long run. Do your research and feel comfortable challenging what brands are telling you. Boutique producers are not always good and large producers are not always bad.

JOHN GAKURU – understand the venue profile in order to match the best tequila – for cocktail venues try sipping tequilas such as Jose Cuervo Tradicional or 1800. Super premium venues can benefit from top of the range variants such as Reserva de la Familia or Gran Centenario.

OCTAVIO GOMEZ-HARO – use a low priced high quality brand like Coralillo Espadin Joven as a house pour and stock genuine artisan mezcal to give customers a make-or-break good first experience. Changes in the laws governing mezcal could soon see cheaper and lower quality versions on the market, don’t compromise on quality. Structure mezcal lists by types of agave and then price point to start a conversation with the customer.

ALANA DEEGAN – Use an all-rounder Blanco or Reposado tequila for the speed rail, then how many labels you stock depends on staff ability to on-sell. Craft tequila is becoming increasingly popular, so having two to three artisan producers is a benefit. With one or two mezcal products most bars are covered, unless you specialise, then you would need a few expressions of each single varietal.

NICK REID – Get good quality 100 per cent agave tequila in the rail. Tequila is often drunk straight up you can sour people’s perceptions of the category by serving them something ordinary. Source a selection of tequilas that are not only valley and highlands but also from regions such as Guanajuato and Tamaulipas.

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