Want to taste agave spirits in a range of ways? Here are some ingredients and tools that will help you hit the sweet spot. You and your guests can go back and forth between tasting the spirits and using them in cocktails, and discover how you most enjoy them. Ask everyone to bring a bottle they want to explore and share; all the more interesting if you get a real range, which should help convey where agave spirits are these days — all over the place.
These bottles represent a range of what’s available, but they barely scratch the surface — especially in the tremendously diverse mezcal category.
El Tesoro de don Felipe’s Reposado: Agave connoisseurs tend to look to silver/blanco iterations as the purest and best expressions of the spirits; the time the booze spends in barrel is not cherished as it is in the world of whiskey. But if you’re sampling, you should throw at least one aged tequila into the bunch. This one lets the agave come through while adding some of the vanilla notes you expect from barreling. It might win over the bourbon drinkers.
Patron: Largely abandoned by agave snobs these days, Patron was the gateway premium tequila for many people whose previous experiences with the spirit had scared them off. Sippable and smooth.
Siembra Azul: A beautiful, more traditional blanco tequila that highlights agave, citrus and bell peppery notes. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the Siembra offerings; for a particularly interesting one, try Siembra Valles Ancestral, which is made using older production processes that industrialized tequilas have abandoned.
Banhez Joven: Mezcal writer Emma Janzen’s go-to, entry-level bottle. It has a nice complexity, surprisingly great price point and the flexibility to work well in most cocktail recipes.
Del Maguey’s Vida de San Luis del Rio: The mezcal you’ll see most often behind the bar, even in bars that don’t specialize in agave spirits. It’s great for cocktails — try it in a margarita — and delicious on its own. Founder Ron Cooper specializes in “single village” mezcals named for their place of origin; try the Chichicapa for a mezcal with citrus, smoke and a hint of mint.
Mezcal Vago Elote: Made more delicious and strange with an infusion of roasted corn. Imagine the fragrance of a fresh corn tortilla infused into a mezcal with notes of smoke and honey. “That was the bottle that roped me into the mezcal world,” says Janzen. “When it came along, my head just exploded.”
A cocktail shaker, to shake up margaritas
Jicaras and/or copitas (tasting cups for mezcal, available online)
Cocktail coupes or margarita glasses
Limes: Whether you want to suck on slices of them or squeeze their juice for margaritas, sangrita or something else, they’re a must.
Salt: To taste with neat spirits and lime, or to rim margarita glasses
Oranges and other fresh fruits: To slice up as accompaniments with sal de gusano, or express the peel over an Oaxaca Old-Fashioned
Ting or other grapefruit soda: A key ingredient in the refreshing Paloma
Cointreau: For margaritas, if you’re making them
Agave nectar: A sweetener made of the same genus of plants as the spirits you’re tasting
Sal de gusano: A mix of salt, chile and ground agave worms; tastes like a savory, spicy salt. Available online.
Correction: A previous version of this article said Patron’s tequila has changed over the years. According to a spokesman for the company, Patron changed distilleries in 2002, but the company has not changed production methods since it launched in 1989 and the tequila has not changed. This version has been corrected.