Ah, Cinco de Mayo. Elsewhere the holiday honors the Mexican army's victory over French invaders on May 5, 1862. Here, though, it's more of a caliente St. Patrick's Day in which stout and whiskey are replaced by lighter cerveza and far more dangerous tequila. But if you fear a Sexto de Mayo morning after, it's time to reconsider your tequila of choice. The truly good stuff is more plentiful than ever and goes down a lot easier than you might remember — even if your preferred mode of consumption remains a shot glass or one of the delicious cócteles we've rounded up for you down below with help from the folks at Mayahuel in New York (the best place to spend Cinco de Mayo we've ever found north of the Rio Grande).
If the label doesn't say 100% de agave, keep moving—it's the one sure way to avoid the swill you learned to hate back in Cabo.
El Tesoro Añejo, from $50
The Añejo tag means a tequila has been aged no less than one year and no more than three, and it's tough to find one that isn't smooth. El Tesoro pulls off a coup, balancing silkiness with enough heat and spice to remind you that it is a tequila meant for drinking, not fetishizing.
Siete Leguas Blanco, from $34
The aged version might seem like the choice for sipping, but to really know what tequila tastes like, start with blanco. Also known as silver, it's the purest expression of the spirit, earthy and crisp. Should you happen upon a bottle from this distillery, one of Mexico's oldest, buy it.
El Jimador Reposado, from $18
As a rule, tequila cocktails call for blanco or reposado (one notch up the aging scale). The latter is rested in oak from 2 to 11 months—long enough to soften the bite but not so long that it tastes wooden. For the price, it's tough to beat El Jimador (from the makers of Herradura).
Sombra Mezcal, from $30
Underneath its tough rep, mezcal, tequila's cousin, has a sensitive side. Its distinguishing feature is that the agave is baked over mesquite and distilled over a wood fire, resulting in a unique smoky flavor (softened, in the case of Sombra, by a fruity sweetness and piercing citrus tang).
While there's no denying the appeal of a fine margarita, there's a lot to be said for diversity. This bracingly pungent grapefruit-tinged concoction is a breeze to assemble—good news, considering you'll be ready for another one in less time than it takes a bathing suit to dry.
1 lime, halved; pinch of salt; 2 oz blanco or reposado; tequila, such as Herradura or El Jimador; chilled grapefruit soda, such as Squirt or Jarritos
Fill a tall glass with ice, squeeze and drop in the lime halves, add the salt and tequila, and top with the soda to taste.
The Nuestra Paloma
Created by the ace bartenders at Beretta in San Francisco, this is not so much a riff on the basic Paloma as a full makeover: an elegant elderflower-laced cocktail in the guise of a laid-back summer cooler.
2 oz blanco tequila, such as Patrón Silver or Siete Leguas;
3/4 oz Cointreau; 3/4 oz St. Germain; 1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice; 1 oz fresh lime juice; 3 dashes Angostura bitters; 1 large strip of grapefruit zest
Combine all the ingredients except the grapefruit zest in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice, shake, and strain into a highball glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with the zest.
La Vida Rosa
A cocktail made with rosé is a rare thing, but one that also successfully incorporates tequila is too uncommon to be missed. For this inspired charmer from Mayahuel in New York, be sure to start the infusion a few days ahead, and let the strawberries be your timer: When they turn white, it's ready.
1 (750 ml) bottle blanco tequila, such as El Jimador; 5 cups strawberries, hulled and cut into thirds; 12 oz chilled dry rosé 8 oz St. Germain; 8 oz chilled club soda; sliced strawberries for garnish
Pour the tequila over the strawberry thirds, cover, and infuse at room temperature for three to four days, then strain and store the tequila in the refrigerator. One hour before serving, combine a cup of the infused tequila, the rosé, and the St. Germain in a pitcher and refrigerate. To finish, top with the club soda and divide among eight small wineglasses, garnishing each with a few slices of fresh strawberry.
A Beer and a Smoke
The singular kick of mezcal can raise all kinds of hell in a cocktail shaker. Fortunately, Jim Meehan of New York's PDT has managed to harness that swagger into a brooding, weirdly refreshing spin on the Michelada.
Lime wedge; celery salt; freshly ground black pepper; 1 oz mezcal; 3/4 oz fresh lime juice; 4 dashes Cholula hot sauce; pinch of kosher salt; 1 bottle chilled Mexican lager, such as Pacifico, Modelo, or Dos Equis; pinch of grated lime zest; pinch of grated orange zest
Moisten the outer rim of a tall glass with the lime wedge, then coat lightly with celery salt and pepper. Add the mezcal, the lime juice, the hot sauce, the kosher salt, the lager, and a pinch of celery salt, then garnish with the citrus zest.
Also on Details.com:
The Best: Our Three Favorite Mezcalerias North Of The Border
Spice Up Your Cocktails, Six Flavors To Give Your Drinks A Fresh Kick
How to Master The Sake Menu