Squeeze your limes, lick your salt, and raise your shot glasses: Cinco de Mayo is here! Commemorating the victory of the Mexican militia over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, for many others around the world, this day celebrates all things Mexico, starting with nation's signature spirit: tequila. Made from agave from the highlands of the country's Jalisco region, whether you go for blanco (unaged), reposado (aged a minimum of two months), or anejo (aged at least 12 months), the following seven tequilas give a shot in the arm to your shot.
It's big. It's dark. It's dangerous. Coming in a sleek satin black glass bottle alluding to the complex layers and undertones lurking within. Each bottle is corked and numbered by hand, and the cork itself is a unique three-piece design to assure a solid seal.
What makes Peligroso (Spanish for "dangerous") so distinct, however, is the double-shaving process of the agave heart and aging 12-24 months in white oak whiskey barrels from Tennessee for a unique body. The result is a golden-amber hue and a silky smooth texture, with nuanced layers of macadamia nut, pumpkin, oak, and spice dancing across the palate. Even then, only after the blessing of Peligroso's chief taste master (tough job, huh?) does the final product pass muster.
"901 is when the evening ends and the night begins," Justin Timberlake has proclaimed, according to the company's website, for the blanco tequila he launched in 2009.
With a crisp, clean aroma exuding a fruity nose, and an exceptionally smooth finish that delivers notes of cooked agave and a hint of sweetness, 901 Silver Tequila (named after the phone area code of Timblerlake's native Memphis) keeps it simple by using only blue agave, water, and a proprietary yeast for a standout flavor. 901 goes even further by triple-distilling to produce the smoothest tequila possible.
For those keeping score, the Timberlake tally: singer, actor, restaurateur, clothing mogul, philanthropist, golf course owner, and now tequila magnate. How does this man find the time?
Tequilas Premium La Pinta (19% ABV)
Call it a lucky coincidence: the Jalisco region, that has soil and climate that's perfect for agave, is also a hotspot for pomegranate growers. Gee, where is this story going?
"La Pinta holds a special place for me," beams Arturo Lomeli, Master Distiller at Tequilas Premium, having based it on his own family's take of the pomegranate-tequila combo, long a Jalisco tradition that varies from town to town and family to family. After several tries, Lomeli found the perfect blend of the sweet-tart juice of pomegranate with the Tequilas Premium classic blanco, Clase Azul Plata, to create a refreshing, ruby-hued liqueur that is a surprising everyman, being equally satisfying chilled, on the rocks, or as a mixer.
The gold medal winner at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Avion Anejo was already sprouting laurels from Neiman Marcus deeming it a "fantasy gift" in its prestigious Christmas catalog.
"We were humbled," founder Ken Austin says. "It was a validation of our quest to create the world's finest tequila."
Indeed. Avion slow-roasts blue weber agave harvested from the highest reaches of Jalisco (the higher the plant, the better the product) and then meticulously distills and filters the tequila for an exceptionally smooth delivery. The flavor is intense, rich in hints of vanilla, coconut, and maple, with tinges of mint and rosemary and a nose of peach and cherry. Such is the stuff of fantasy.
Can't miss it with those whimsical skeletons all over the bottle. With a label inspired by Dia de los Muertos (OK, that's more like Halloween, not Cinco de Mayo, but why split hairs?), Espolon Reposado is another World Spirits Competition medal winner (for 2000), but after the accolades pulled a fast one and vanished from the market. Like a good Cinco de Mayo party host, Espolon left 'em wanting more.
After a decade of pokes and prods, Espolon Reposado made a triumphant return in 2010. Aged six months, this golden-hued tequila gives a bold mouth-feel, leading to a full-bodied palate with rich roasted agave, tropical fruit, vanilla, and spices that gives way to sweet, spicy fade. Good things are worth waiting for.
Partida Elegante Extra Anejo (40% ABV)
"Elegante is a great representation of a Tequila Valley spirit," says Jacques Bezuidenhout, Partida's Bartender Ambassador.
Heralded as the gamechanger when it hit the market in 2008, Partida Elegante Extra Anejo is aged a whopping 40 months before seeing the light of day. To kick up the intensity, after 24 months, a small portion is transferred from 200 liter barrels to 100 liter barrels and, after aging, is blended back together, thus creating Elegante.
Both harmonious and complex, deeply amber-hued, and opening up richly in the glass, Elegante carries notes of dark chocolate and dried fruit with a hint of vanilla that lead to a smooth finish. After 40 months locked in a barrel, they can't wait to get out.
The palate is sweet. The body is smooth. And the rules are broken.
But when your creator is R&B power-player Ne-Yo, expect a shake-up. A unique combination of blanco tequila and coconut-infused Caribbean rum (literally; there is nothing like this elsewhere in the market), Malibu Red is clear, colorless and has a unique, bold fragrance of pepper and tequila, followed by hints of coconut and vanilla. The sweetness of the rum is complemented by the tequila's traditional bite, and neither gets lost in the other, a crafty one-two punch in a single drink. Best served chilled, or as a simple mixer, Malibu Red is the go-to for new spins to your Cinco de Mayo shot glass or margarita.