After absinthe, sake-tinis and soy-based vodkas, what's the next big thing in spirits going to be? Quite possibly tequila—but not the paint-stripping firewater that gave you no end of college hangovers. Instead, look for upmarket tequilas better suited to sophisticated, postprandial sipping rather than dilution with margarita mix. There's certainly a renewed consumer interest in premium brands of the spirit. According to the Distilled Spirits Council in the U.S., sales by volume of premium tequila jumped by a total of over 50% in 2003 and 2004—a trend some attribute to increased acceptance of, and appreciation for, Hispanic and Mexican cultures among Stateside consumers.
For the uninitiated, proper tequila is the liquor of the blue agave plant, which, contrary to popular belief, is not a cactus but a lily (and strictly speaking, spirits made from other kinds of agave are not tequila at all, but mezcal). Much like whiskey or wine, tequila has its own system of classifications. Tequila that has been aged for two months is known as reposado
; if it spends more than a year in the barrel, it's classified as añejo
. The other popular designation—gold—refers to tequila that is flavored with caramel. One of the hottest new brands on the market, XXX Siglo Treinta, is a gold. If that's not to your taste, try El Diamante del Cielo, a rather new and fashionable white tequila. And this time, you can pass on the salt and lemon.