Philip Ward of Mayahuel demonstrates how to make a spicy paloma with jalapeño-infused tequila. Produced by Jessica Chou
We’ll admit that plenty of our first experiences with tequila involved some grimy bar, harsh tequila, shot glasses, and fervent sucking on limes. And while Cinco de Mayo may as well just be called Cinco de Drinko (and be an excellent excuse to down plenty of tequila shots), we’re going to try and start the day off in a classy way with some top-notch infused tequilas, mixed into margaritas, obviously.
We chatted with Rob Day, beverage director at Washington, D.C.’s El Centro, as well as with New York’s Philip Ward (of tequileria Mayahuel) about tips for infusing tequila. Here are some rules to live by:
Only Use 100 Percent Agave
None of that bottom-shelf stuff. "It’s the Mexican tradition to use 100 percent agave tequila," Rob Day, beverage director at Washington, D.C.’s El Centro says. "You get a certain type of flavor profile, and we want the flavor to be very pronounced. It’s more of a pure tequila taste, whereas if you don’t use 100 percent, there’s a burning sensation at the end."
Opt for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
For those who like sweets or fruitier drinks, try fruits like pineapple, watermelon, or strawberries. For a little kick, toss in jalapeños or serrano peppers, removing the seeds if you want a milder, vegetable taste and only using the seeds and membranes if you want a little heat (leaving them in for only 15 minutes, as Phil Ward at Mayahuel does). For other fruits and vegetables, Day removes the leaves or the rind, cuts them into small squares, and lets the produce sit in the tequila for two to three days to soak up the flavor.
If you’re doing a longer infusion, taste the tequila every day. "Typically an infusion takes three days, and I want to ensure that after that three-day mark it’s giving me that same consistency," Day says. But of course, with something like a spicy jalapeño tequila made with seeds, remove all the seeds after the first 15 minutes and check to make sure that tequila isn’t getting hotter. You don’t want to waste good tequila as hot sauce.
Sure, Day’s staff goes through all his infused tequila in a week or so, but we’re not heavy enough drinkers to match the entire population of D.C. So if you’re leaving that fruit in for longer than a week? Consider the fridge.