Tequila! For many of us, drinking it means sloshing down a cheap shot of clear liquid -- quickly followed by lick of salt and a bite from a lime wedge to wash that bitter taste away.
Long gone are the days, however, when Jose Cuervo and Sauza were the only tequila options at the bar. Today, we can actually enjoy this Mexican-born spirit in a cocktail or two thanks to an emerging array of small-batch, specialty spirits. And what better way to celebrate than tomorrow, July 24, better known as National Tequila Day.
Tequila is the product of the blue agave, a succulent desert plant native to Jalisco, Mexico. The process of creating a quality tequila is actually a long one, as it can take an agave plant up to 12 years to mature for tequila production. Once its ready for harvest, the plant's large, thorny leaves are hand-removed by blade-wielding workers known as jimadors. After, the heart of the plant is roasted, breaking down plant starch into sugar, after which the juice is extracted, fermented and distilled.
Each year, more than 300 million Mexican blue agave plants are harvested for tequila production. By law, tequila must be at least 51 percent agave. Of the five types of tequila, most is around 80 proof, but it can be distilled as high as 110 proof. Unlike most spirits, there are many different types of tequila, each one classified by the length of its distillation process, or how long it has been aged. This process is what gives the reposado (aged two months) and añejo (two months to a year) its bronze hue, while blanco -- the clear tequila -- is bottled immediately after distillation. The older tequilas have a mellower, often woody taste drawn from the barrels they are stored in.
But what do you really need to know for National Tequila Day? Where to find the best tequila cocktail, of course. Across Broward and Palm Beach County, bars have started using tequila in a variety of creative ways, with cocktails that help highlight the spirits often complex flavor. Here are our top picks for tequila drinks in South Florida:
The largest margarita ever made was 10,500 gallons. We can only imagine that's close to what Delray Beach establishment El Camino goes through in a week thanks to an ever rotating list of specialty margaritas, everything from a smoked pineapple to watermelon and strawberry-infused. But the drink that makes this list is nothing but tequila, served smoked old fashioned-style and finished with the zest from an orange peel garnish.
This Boynton Beach craft cocktail bar has an ever-rotating lineup of specialty drinks, but a tequila-based drink known as the "Spice of Life" has stood the test of time since the establishment first put it on the menu, making it one of their signature picks. It's a combination of reposado tequila, amaro, cilantro, cucumber, strawberry, lime juice, agave and a dash of sriracha.
New Rebel House beverage program manager Bill Binder launched this summer's second seasonal cocktail menu a few weeks ago, and on it you'll find a well balanced and flavorful tequila drink known as the "Tequila Cowboy." The drink combines Tease Me silver tequila with fresh squeezed citrus and a house made chai tea- and ancho chili-infused liqueur.
The Himmarshee Public House in Fort Lauderdale is an official Avion tequila-slinging bar, and as such, makes a pretty good tequila cocktail. The "2nd St. Sweet and Heat" delivers the perfect balance of -- well, sweet and heat -- with a combination of jalapeño infused Avion tequila, pineapple agave nectar and lime juice. The drink is garnished with a grilled pineapple wedge for a final touch.
The Harbor Beach Marriott restaurant, 3030 Ocean, offers an impressive array of infused and house made cocktails. Here, restaurant manager and drink aficionado, Taylor Hall, has put together an impressive selection of drinks for the bar at this well-known Fort Lauderdale seafood establishment. For tequila lovers, it's a jalapeño-infused tequila. Paired with cucumber and agave, it's mellow and sweet with just a touch of heat.
It doesn't matter if you visit the Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach or Fort Lauderdale location (we hear the Brooklyn, New York restaurant is opening soon, as well) -- Rocco's is South Florida's undisputed champ when it comes to tequila. With a dozen specialty margaritas and more than 300 tequilas to choose from, there's quite possibly no better place to celebrate National Tequila Day. Especially when, every year, tequila connoisseur and bar-top-dancing owner Rocco Mangel celebrates at all four South Florida locations offering half-off all bottles found in his famous "tequila bible" featuring anejo, reposado, plata, mezcal and oro after 7 p.m. The cocktail of choice, however, is the frozen Mexican colada, a mix of Herradura silver tequila, Kahlua, Patron Citronge orange liqueur, pineapple juice and coconut cream.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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