Everyone’s got a gut reaction when it comes to tequila, and often it’s not such a positive one. For some, the word alone evokes memories of cheap Cuervo shots and table salt during a college trip to Cancun (or a basement in Jersey—take your pick). Others love a good margarita with their chips and guac, but haven’t ventured very far from there in the world of agave-based spirits.
But for those in the craft-cocktail scene, tequila has been one of the breakout spirits of recent years, shedding its negative image and finding its way into drinks that go well beyond the standard-issue marg. For those who take the plunge, there’s a whole world of awesome spirits and cocktails to explore.
Like whiskey, tequila has layers. In fact, tequila is merely a sub-genre of other agave-based spirits, including smoky mezcals. (We know, we know—you’ve just started hacking into the world of blanco, reposado, and añejo, and now we’re asking you to buy into mezcal). To cut through the bottom-shelf haze and figure out how to order like a pro this Cinco de Mayo, we hit up three NYC drink-slingers to school us to the game. Here’s what they had to say.
Chrissy Hassel. Assistant General Manager and Beverage Director of West Village Mexican restaurant El Toro Blanco.
Mat Resler. Beverage Director and bartender at Empellon Tacqueria, fresh off a pre-Cinco de Mayo trip to Mexico.
Philip Ward. Proprietor and Beverage Director at Mayahuel, a tequila-and mezcal-driven cocktail bar in the East Village.