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Tequila! The Cure for the Mexican Itch

on 01/07/13 at 4:11 pm

Booze News

indexDavid A. Embury, the Linnaeus of the cocktail, has a piquant description of his first encounter with tequila. “When the cork was drawn there emanated from the bottle an odor faintly resembling a combination of overripe eggs and limburger cheese,” he wrote in “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” (1948). In “Everyday Drinking” (1983), Kingsley Amis observed: “About the commonest causes of death in Mexico are murder and heart disease. . . . Although no figures are available, I can’t help thinking that tequila makes a contribution in both departments.”

Until recently, this was the common perception of tequila—it was a revolting liquor consumed only during destructive benders. It was also never to be drunk straight. “Pour some table salt onto the back of your left hand round about the base of the thumb,” advised Amis. “Grip a slice of lime in your right hand. Have a tot of neat tequila standing by. As fast as possible, lick the salt, suck the lime, shut your eyes and drink up.” Embury referred to this familiar practice as the “Mexican Itch.”

But something changed in the early 1990s. A new brand of tequila started appearing on liquor-store shelves. Patrón came in a handblown perfume bottle with a glass stopper. It carried a premium price tag. And, like fine Scotch, it was meant to be drunk straight. At first, Patrón sold about 10,000 cases a year. But by 2011 sales had skyrocketed to two million cases and $1.1 billion annually. Tequila, which is distilled from the blue agave plant and has been made in Mexico for more than half a millennium, was suddenly a sophisticated beverage.