You know the routine: lick salt off the back of your hand, down the tequila in one, suck the lime. It’s all over in seconds. Probably just as well if you’re shooting cheap tequila since the last thing you’d want to do is to actually taste the stuff. But what about when it comes to quality tequila – the 100 per cent blue agave? Shooting this delicious liquid with salt and lime is a crime.
“The best way to enjoy a good tequila is to sip it slowly, on its own and neat,” says Mica Rousseau, head mixologist at the Four Seasons hotel in Mexico City. “You’ll enjoy all the notes of the product and get the full experience. Quality tequila is full of flavours: agave, minerals, citrus and the barrel it’s aged in.” Mica is one of Mexico’s top cocktail barmen. Originally from a small village in the centre of France called Esvres-sur-Indre, he moved to Latin America eight years ago. Now he runs the Four Seasons’ Fifty Mils bar. This mixologist insists on drinking his tequila from a sherry glass rather than a shot glass. “It helps to release the character of the liquid,” he says, and advises that you swirl the spirit around in the glass like a fine wine. A sign of a high-calibre tequila is that, after swirling, you can see the legs of the liquid dripping down the inside of the glass. Then you’re supposed to smell it for the “green notes of the agave”.
There are two broad types of tequila. At the top end is 100 per cent agave tequila, distilled from the juice of blue agave plants grown in the Mexican state of Jalisco, or in specific regions within the states of Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacán and Guanajuato. At the lower end is blended tequila, which features a minimum of 51 per cent blue agave, with the remainder comprising sugar cane or corn sugars. And the infamous worm? That’s actually not found in tequila but in a similar spirit called mezcal, which is made from a different species of agave. Mica has been experimenting with tequila since he first visited Mexico at the age of 18. His skills as a mixologist stem from his family upbringing. His mother and grandmother used to work in a hotel in Tours, near the village he was brought up in.
“Cooking was my whole world,” he remembers of those early days. “My life was full of the aromas, temperatures, sounds and flavours of cooking. The noises of the knives cutting herbs, meat and fruit. My mother never gave us frozen food – she cooked for us every single day, and taught us to cook. We lived in a small village close to the woods and a river. My grandfather taught me how to hunt and fish, and to look for herbs, mushrooms and wild fruit.” Despite his foodie background, Mica’s first introduction to cocktail making was quite the baptism of fire. He was a student at the time, studying nuclear physics – bear that in mind should you order a strong cocktail from him. “It was a Tex-Mex bar in Tours. I started there on a weekend job as a waiter. On my first day the bartender quit and the manager pushed me behind the bar. It was horrible. I didn’t even know how to make a Cuba Libre.”At the age of 23 he then opened his own Latin-themed cocktail bar in Tours. Four years later he had sold it and was heading across the Atlantic. “Mexico was calling me. I fell in love with the country, the culture and the people.”
Fast-forward eight years and now Mica finds himself heading up a team of six bartenders at the Four Seasons. He believes that the secret to making good cocktails is to tell stories through the drinks he creates. “Mixology has a kind of romanticism that allows me to tell a story with a drink and to create an authentic experience for guests. I make them a participant in the ritual of preparation and storytelling. Creating cocktails is my way of getting across my ideas and emotions with people. I love tailor-making cocktails for guests. The feeling I get when I see my customers smiling is priceless.” Work at his bar in Mexico City may be busy but Mica still finds time to enjoy the fruits of his own labours. His favourite tequila is a tequila anejo (aged in oak barrels). “I like to drink it after a good dinner, in small sips,” he says, “while having good conversation with my friends and lots of laughs.” Certainly not down in one with lime and salt.
MICA’S TOP 10 TEQUILA COCKTAILS
Don Julio 70 tequila, rooibos tea, vanilla and nutmeg syrup, avocado, caramelised guava, lime.
Don Julio 70 tequila, Aperol, Cointreau, lime, citrus peel salt, cardamom, pepper.
Don Julio Reposado tequila, chocolate liqueur, nutmeg syrup, old-fashioned aromatic bitters. Serve with candy floss.
Don Julio Reposado tequila, Cointreau, orgeat syrup, chilli, bitter lime and lemon, hibiscus water.
Don Julio Reposado tequila, pineapple, Ancho Reyes liqueur, Angostura bitters, Amaro Averna, lemon.
Don Julio Blanco tequila, lime, Cointreau. Serve straight up.
Don Julio Blanco tequila, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, Campari.
Don Julio Blanco tequila, lime, salt, grapefruit soda.
FIFTY BLOODY MARIA
Don Julio Blanco tequila, fat-washed with bacon, grilled tomato juice, chipotle sauce, lime, Maggi sauce, Worcestershire sauce, celery, salt and pepper.
Don Julio Blanco tequila, Coca-Cola, soda water, lime, salt.