Stop and Smell the Agave: Why Tequila Flights Are the Next Big Thing

by Jolene Hanson

Sitting at Jalapeños in Barkley Village, I watch bartender Maribel Rivas pull out an iron flight caddy and fill the first of three cascading shot glasses with Silver.

I’m a little nervous. After my first Irish whiskey flight years ago, I booked an airline ticket to Dublin. So, as Maribel pours Reposado into the second shot glass, I wonder how I’ll handle my tequila and if the weather is nice in Mexico. Have I kept enough of my New Year’s resolutions to feel comfortable in a bikini?

Deciding that I have not, I put away my smart phone and watch her pour Añejo into the third glass. Besides, I’m no longer a college kid drinking indiscriminately and making careless decisions. It’s time to discard old habits and drink like an adult, to stop and smell the agave. The sophisticated drinker can identify the different classifications of tequila and appreciate their color, aroma, and taste…without a hangover or unwanted airline tickets.

Tequila Basics

All tequila is distilled from the Blue Agave plant, and there are three basic classifications: silver (or, blanco), reposado, and añejo. You can often tell the difference by noting the color. Silver is clear, un-aged 100% Blue Agave. It is easily distinguishable from reposado, which has taken on a golden hue from aging a minimum of two months in large oak barrels. Añejo ages for a year or more in small oak barrels, developing a darker, amber color.

Your tequila choice should be savored like wine. Although most tequila flights come in shot glasses, you can ask for a snifter or wine glass. Swirling the tequila releases the aromas and allows you to experience the complexity. Make sure to take smaller sniffs than wine, though, as you don’t want to overwhelm your nose with 80-proof alcohol.

You also don’t want to overwhelm your taste buds. Take a small sip and acclimate your palate to the alcohol, sampling youngest to oldest. Silver and reposado have intense flavors and are generally used in Margaritas like Jalapeño’s famous Big Mama. Añejos is smoother, richer, and worth savoring. No salt. No lime. No mixers. Those interested in a suave, high-end sipping tequila should try extra añejo, aged longer than three years.

Wait! Isn’t there a gold tequila? Yes, however it isn’t 100% Blue Agave. It’s a mixto containing artificial flavors, caramel coloring, and sugary syrups. With a few exceptions, gold tequila is less expensive and, because of that, more accessible to poor college students and likely the culprit of many post-party hangovers. But again, don’t be afraid of tequila because of the mistakes of your youth. Try it again as an adult for the experience.

Tequila vs. Mezcal

Tequila and mezcal are both made from agave, but there are two main differences between the two. While tequila can only come from the Tequila region (think, Champagne in France), mezcal can come from anywhere in Mexico. Also, the agave used in tequila is steamed; mezcal distillers slow-roast the agave, infusing the final product with its signature smokiness.

Go Ahead, Book a Flight

Jalapeños

If you want to know about tequila, ask owner Jesse Cantu. He’ll gladly talk to you about the 108 options lining the shelves above the bar at Jalapeños. The same selection is offered at all three Bellingham locations. If you’re looking for a good, sipping tequila, I recommend the Don Julio 70 Añejos.

Tequila Flights: Patron, Don Julio, KAH, and Herradura
Price Range: $18-22
jalapenos-wa.com

Silver Reef Casino

During your next trip to the Silver Reef Casino, stop at The Cantina. Take a seat at the hypnotic blue bar, and let Bartender Ryan tell you about their 75 brands of tequila.

If you have a reason to celebrate and are looking for the best of the best, there’s a flight for that. It includes Clase Azul Ultra and, Ryan’s favorite, DeLeón Leóna Reserve.

Tequila Flights: Magave, El Zacatecano, and Casa Noble. Four additional flights allow you to compare different brands and top shelf tequilas.
Price Range: $12-$200
silverreefcasino.com/the-cantina

Frida’s

When heading to or from the Anacortes ferry terminal, consider stopping at Frida’s in downtown Anacortes. Not only are they teeming with old world charm and ambience, they have four hundred different kinds of tequila. Yes, you read that right. I couldn’t believe it either. Four hundred!

Tequila Flights: Herradura, Aha Toro, and mixed brand flights of silver, reposado, and añejo.
Price Range: $13-$60
www.fridasgourmet.com