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How to drink tequila (hint: forget the lime and salt)

How to drink tequila (hint: forget the lime and salt)
You're under the stars - even when the stars are not out - at Casa Luna, a restaurant in Tlaquepaque. (Alex Pulaski)

"The first taste is to warm you up," tequila guide Clayton Szczech told me. "Let it wash out your mouth. It's like stretching your muscles — not always entirely pleasant, but necessary."

So began my official introduction to tequila, which transpired within the nearly 100-year-old confines of Cantina la Fuente in downtown Guadalajara. I had downed plenty of margaritas before, and the occasional — and, for me, wholly unpleasant — shot of tequila, but Szczech had promised to grant me a lesson in and an appreciation for the spirit, distilled from the Weber blue agave.

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Go slowly, he said. On the second sip, hold your breath and let the tequila coast over your tongue, back and forth. Then swallow and exhale. That burning sensation is your mouth dispatching an initial panic signal to the brain.

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Now, with the palate's screaming done, you can begin to taste the flavors of different types of tequila, starting with the blancos (whites) — the purest expression of the distiller's art. Szczech prefers blancos, which are not barrel-aged.

"You can hide flaws in a barrel," he said. Blancos are also known as plata, or silver, tequilas.

Next come reposados, or rested tequilas, whose golden color hints at the wood barrel-aging process of at least two months.

Finally, the aged añejos and even extra añejos, which take on smoothness, complexity and darker hues as they stay longer in the barrel.

Regardless of which pleases your palate, Szczech said, don't fall into the all-too-common trap of numbing the mouth with salt and lime, then slamming down a fiery shot.

"Tequila is best treated and thought of like wine, because wine expresses terroir," he said, referring to the unique combinations of geology, climate and geography that lend wines their characteristics.

"If you don't want to taste it, why are you drinking it?"

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