SANTA FE, N.M. — I'm not a big drinker, but I've always loved tequila. I once even traveled to Tequila, Mexico, on the Tequila Train, where I drank the cutest little minimargaritas, called tequilitas, all the way there and back from Guadalajara.
I did quite a bit of dancing in the aisles, I vaguely remember, and otherwise learned to sip and savor the Mexico-born spirit via la bandera, a drink that's really three, served in small glasses: blanco tequila, a spicy tomato juice and lime juice, the white, red and green of the Mexican flag. (You can, and should, take your time when drinking this. The tequila may come in a shot glass, but it is not to be thrown back like you're at a frat house.)
I've long since given up tequila shots and have gained a healthy respect for Mexico's super-high-octane fermented agave juice. There is tequila that isn't 100 percent agave, called mixto (sugar is added in the distillation process), but I steer clear of that and buy the authentic stuff. It costs more, but it tastes better.
There are four types of tequila: blanco (also called white or silver tequila), gold, reposado and the darkest, anejo.
The difference between them is taste as well as color. The white is the youngest and has a flavor that's sharp and clean and closest to the agave. Simply put, the blanco tequila has the strongest "tequilalike" flavor. It's a little bit grassy-tasting, and this makes the best margaritas in my opinion (and so said the experts at the distillery I visited in Mexico). It's also the booziest, at 90 proof.
Joven, which means young, tequilas aren't aged either. They are a mix of blanco and either reposado or anejo.
Reposado tequilas are darker because they've been aged in oak barrels for two months to a year. They're called reposados because they've rested a bit.
Anejos are the darkest, most tawny-colored of the bunch, are aged the longest, at least one year, and have the smokiest, most scotchlike flavor. They are usually the priciest and are best for slow sipping.
These are just rough guidelines, based on what I've learned over the years and personal taste.
Whichever tequila you like best, there's so much more to do with it than pour it in a glass. Just as brandy, bourbon and vodka have made their way into sauces and marinades, so, too, can tequila.
It offers a sharp and slightly smoky note to all sorts of things that work especially well in the summer. It doesn't take much, usually a spoonful or maybe two, to add a little something different to what you're cooking, and to leave your guests wondering what your secret is. You don't have to tell them. We can keep it between us. And since it's nearly my birthday anyway, shall we drink to that?