No matter if you like it up, on the rocks or with a salted rim, there’s no denying the popularity of the Margarita. The tequila-based cocktail has gone from a Cinco de Mayo fad to a year-round favorite.
A deluxe version of the drink—made with agave nectar or orange liqueur Grand Marnier and fresh lime juice—has helped the tequila category to shed its frat-party reputation and reinvent itself as luxury spirit. As a result, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, from 2002 to 2016 sales of the category have increased by an impressive 120-percent. And high-end tequilas have experienced even more dramatic sales growth.
By all accounts it’s a good time to be in the tequila business with ever more brands launching every day. There’s just one small problem: It’s hard to get Americas to drink tequila in things other than shots and Margaritas.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with drinking tequila in shots or Margaritas, in order for the category to sustain its blistering growth a few more tequila-based concoctions need to catch on with drinkers. The good news is that there are actually a number of great tequila-based cocktails that could be real contenders and join the incredibly small list of internationally recognized drinks.
If I were going to bet, I think the Paloma has the best odds of being the next big tequila drink. It’s more popular than the Margarita in Mexico and is incredibly easy to master. It’s a refreshing, citrusy combination of tequila, grapefruit soda, fresh lime juice and a pinch of salt. It’s made right in a Tom Collins glass, so you don’t need a shaker or a mixing glass. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s now fairly easy to find gourmet grapefruit soda in upscale supermarkets that aren’t sickly sweet. (You can also use fresh grapefruit juice and some club soda if you prefer.) Depending upon how boozy you want the drink to be you can add more or less tequila.
In many ways, the Paloma is similar to the Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer) that has taken the cocktail world by storm the last few years. The concoction has also helped vodka sustain its position as the country’s most popular spirit.
Several classic recipes are also ripe for a tequila makeover and could become hits. In Mexico, shots of tequila are often sipped alongside glasses of the non-alcoholic, tomato-based Sangrita. While I’m not sure if that pairing will ever catch on in the U.S., the related Bloody Maria has a chance of becoming a breakout brunch star. Obviously, the drink is very similar to a traditional Bloody Mary but subs in the more flavorful tequila for the standard vodka. I think tequila stands up to the spice and the tomato juice instead of getting lost in the drink.
The Negroni is another classic that could become a tequila sensation. Traditionally, the drink is made with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. Over the last few years, as the Negroni has grown in popularity, bartenders across the country have experimented with the basic recipe, substituting in a number of different spirits for the gin and tweaking the ratio of ingredients. The tequila version has gotten some traction and is a nice alternative to the standard gin. However, you might want to dial up the tequila quotient a bit and dial back the sweet vermouth and Campari. (Try starting with a 1 part tequila, .75 sweet vermouth and .75 Campari formula.)
Tequila could also ride the coattails of the Old-Fashioned movement. Back in 2007, New York cocktail stalwart Death & Co. featured what it called the Oaxaca Old-Fashioned, which had been created by talented bartender Phil Ward. What’s amazing about the simple but elegant drink is that back then not too many people were ordering whiskey Old-Fashioneds let alone ones made with tequila. In fact, Ward’s creation calls for both tequila and its agave-relative mezcal and uses agave nectar as a sweetener instead of a sugar cube. It has, according to the Death & Co. book, become the most popular drink ever served at the bar. Clearly, Ward was onto something and very well may have created the next big tequila cocktail.
Created by Phil Ward
1.5 oz El Tesoro Reposado Tequila
.5 oz Del Maguey San Luis Del Rio Mezcal
1 tsp Agave nectar
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Flamed orange twist
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a coupe. Flame an orange peel over the drink and drink it in.
Recipe courtesy of Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails.