Travel, Food & Drink

Tequila Trend: The Return of Agave

Once a party favorite for a round of shots, tequila, created from the blue weber agave plant, has morphed into a sophisticated spirit perfect for sipping and mixing

Tequila has become so popular that it was named the top trending spirit of 2022, according to the most recent Bacardi Cocktail Trends Report, with about 62 percent of bartenders around the world preferring it to other spirits. “What first drew me to tequila is the way the locals in Mexico drink it like they’re sipping a fine cognac,” says tequila sommelier Audrey Formisano of the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, one of only a few resorts in the world with its own proprietary brand of tequila—CasaMagna.

CasaMagna tequila bottles set against green plant. Tequila is made from the Agave plant
Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa in Mexico boasts its own brand of tequila—CasaMagna—which is harvested from blue agave plants grown at the hotel complex, and in other parts of the region. Courtesy: The Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa

Free from carbohydrates and sugar, tequila has fewer calories than wines, beers, and ciders, so perhaps it’s no surprise that many love it. Several stars of the acting world have launched their own ranges, most notably George Clooney and his entrepreneur business partner Rande Gerber—the pair sold their Casamigos Tequila brand, considered the fastest-growing premium tequila in the U.S., in a deal worth up to $1 billion in 2017.

Singer and actor Nick Jonas and menswear designer John Varvatos launched Villa One in 2020 with master distiller Arturo Fuentes, known as the “Godfather of Tequila,” while Kendall Jenner debuted her brand of premium tequila, 818, in the middle of the pandemic. It’s already won several high-profile awards, including Best Reposado Tequila from the World Tequila Awards.

The latest release, Casa del Sol, comes courtesy of actress Eva Longoria (pictured below), who is of Mexican descent. She launched the company with two other Mexican women, Mariana Padilla and Alejandra Pelayo, both of whom have families with deep roots in tequila-making. Together the trio has created a company composed almost entirely of women and heavily focused on sustainability.

Actor Eva Longoria tries her brand of tequila in a bar
Casa Del Sol, co-founded by actor Eva Longoria, provides healthcare for Jimadors, the farmers who harvest agave plants. It's also developing programs to help level the playing field for women in the Altos de Jalisco region. Courtesy: Brian Bowen Smith

Made from the blue weber agave plant, tequila is believed to have originated from the 16th century. “It comes from the Nahuatl language, Tekilan, which means ‘the place of the workers,” Formisano says. To make tequila, the hearts of the agave plant are cooked in an oven, then the juice is extracted using a roller mill called a tahona before it’s fermented in tanks and distilled at least twice—then bottled.

It is difficult to choose a good tequila because we all have different palates . . . Sometimes I make suggestions based on a person’s alcohol of choice. For example, a wine drinker might opt for a reposado, while someone who enjoys brandy might prefer to sip añejo—Audrey Formisano

There are four general types of tequila: blanco or white, which is lightest in color; reposado; añejo; and extra añejo. Aged for a short time, if at all, white tequila (sometimes also called silver tequila) is ideal for mixed drinks. Tequila reposado refers to those tequilas that have been aged between two to 12 months.

“They typically have notes of vanilla, caramel, butter, and sometimes citrus,” says Rene Velasco, the lead mixologist at the W Punta de Mita hotel in Mexico. Tequila añejo is aged between one and three years, and extra añejo tequila is aged three years or more. Añejos have a smooth, woody flavor that reminds some people of cognac, making them the perfect choices for sipping. When blanco and reposado tequilas are mixed, they’re referred to as joven tequila.

A bottle of Casa Del Sol tequila and a glass of tequila cocktail
Grown in the Altos de Jalisco region of Mexico and cultivated using sustainable practices that rely solely on rainwater, and the sun’s rays, Casa Del Sol contains 100 percent hand-selected blue weber agave. Courtesy: Madison McGaw/BFA.com

Tequila is often confused with mezcal, which is enjoying its own rise in popularity. But while it is a type of mezcal, “tequila is produced with tequilana weber—also known as blue weber, a popular agave that’s steamed in ovens before aging—while mezcal is made with 12 to 50 different species of the agave plant and roasted in underground pits, hence its distinctive smoky notes,” Velasco says.

Look for Tequila Labelled 100 Percent Agave 

According to Mexican law, tequila must be made with 51 percent agave, which means there are sometimes other sources of sugar to help complete blends. For a truly pure tequila experience, always look for those labeled 100 percent agave. “A good rule of thumb to remember is that all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas,” says Formisano, who provides complimentary tequila tastings to guests at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa.

If you’re hosting a party or you want to sample something different, Velasco recommends tequila cristalino. “It is a variant that is becoming more and more popular,” he says. “It is subjected to a filtration process by activated carbon. In this process, the tequila is freed from any bitter and woody notes.”

Ceviche Tequila Bar with large open doors
Treat yourself to a drink at Puerto Vallarta's Ceviche & Tequila bar. There's a local menu, too, featuring the catch of the day. Courtesy: The Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa

Some people pair tequila with other flavors to form a variety of cocktails, the most famous of which is the margarita, a mix of white tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice, and salt served shaken or frozen over ice. Others prefer the slingshot-sting of a tequila shot, especially when sandwiched between a taste of salt and a slurp of lemon or lime juice.

“I prefer to combine it with fresh and citric juices like grapefruit, orange, lemon, passion fruit, and cucumber,” Velasco says. “It adds a bit of tartness to the drink, which complements the tequila.”

With so many variations of tequila, it’s the perfect spirit for a tasting. Most experts recommend having at least two to three different types of tequila, such as white, reposado, and añejo.

Tequila bottles and garnishes
Eating and drinking is a pleasure at the W Punta de Mita hotel in Mexico, with several bars and restaurants to choose from. There's tequila tasting on offer, too. Source: W Punta de Mita

“It is difficult to choose a good tequila because we all have different palates, it’s similar to selecting wine,” Formisano says. “Sometimes I make suggestions based on a person’s alcohol of choice. For example, a wine drinker might opt for a reposado, while someone who enjoys brandy might prefer to sip añejo.” Beyond cocktail hour, tequila is a spirit that pairs well with food. “Once you learn the art of sipping tequila like the locals and pair it with food, you notice it tastes different,” Formisano says. “The flavors begin to pop.”

Like the rules when pairing wine with food, “white tequila goes well with fish and shellfish, and tequila añejos pair nicely with red meats and desserts,” Velasco says. “But in the end, it really depends on your taste.”

Banner image: The Living Room Bar at the W Punta de Mita Hotel, Mexico. Courtesy: W Punta de Mita