I started going out to bars/clubs when I was around 16. My trusty fake ID and flashiest shirt got me into a couple of suspect places where the bouncers kind of knew to turn a blind eye. I’m not condoning underage drinking, I’m just saying I was naive.
We’d have the usual alcopops and eventually somebody suggested tequila shots. At this age I didn’t know anything about booze, I’d heard of tequila and maybe I’d seen some reference to it in films, so, fuck it yeah. Let’s have tequila.
The bartender slides them over with a salt shaker and a wedge of lime. I think they can tell by our baffled expression that we have no idea what we’re supposed to do. A short tutorial later: I’m vomiting in a stairwell.
That was my first experience of tequila and I always wondered why was there salt and lime? Over the years, when I was out in bars, I’d see people drinking shots of this stuff and the salt and lime was a given. No questions asked.
During a lengthy spell peddling alcohol, I’ve come to learn a lot about tequila and its variation, the process of making it, the different types, range of flavours and its rich history. Tequila is definitely one of my favourite spirits, so it pains me that a lot of customers will expect lime and salt with it and look at me like a fool for not automatically giving it to them.
I’ve actually tried to do some research on this (two mins on google), and the most scientific sounding explanation is this:
“Mexicans have salt in their diet. Citrus kills bad taste.”
That’s a snippet from a questions and answer forum and the other answers seem to be different wordings of the sentence
“To hide the flavour and make it easier to drink”
Why in the hell are you paying for something that you don’t like the taste of? If you’re that desperate to get drunk at least order something you’ll enjoy… maybe Fernet Branca?
The origins of this ‘tradition’ all seem to point to bad tequila; lower quality stuff that’s harsh and bitter. I can understand how that evolved, but tequila is huge now. There’s tequila orientated bars and mexican concept restaurants all over the country and they’re only getting bigger and more popular. Bad quality tequila is hard to come by in even semi decent bars but still the lime and salt is expected.
Without boring you: tequila is old. It’s been hundreds of years in the making. Generations have helped their family recipe grow into a global brand which is enjoyed by millions, putting blood sweat and tears into every drop (not literally) and you’re trying to mask the flavour?
Imagine going to a scotch distillery where three generations of one family are working meticulously to produce and age the whisky their forefathers created. They’re proud of there work and rightly so.
The eldest of the 3 welcomes you with a trusting smile as the sea air whistles around the building, handing you a dram of his life work encouraging you to try. You take the glass from him, noticing how weathered but warm his hands are, and place it delicately on the side. Before sampling his gift you quickly hoover up some sherbet into your ungrateful mouth hole. Necking the shot, making sure it spends as little time on your tongue as possible. Then have a quick nibble on an aubergine you’d carefully smuggled in your sleeve, all the while pulling a face like your chin’s getting a minute electric shock.
It makes no sense.
Maybe I’m exaggerating, but in a time when good spirits are so plentiful and the knowledge of the bartenders AND the customer is so high it seems silly to keep this outdated tradition.
HOWEVER. If all I’ve done is whet your appetite for tequila and a bit of salt then I found a bloody “How To” tutorial on drinking tequila. Like, seriously. It’s a thing. Check it out here if you want.
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