All Grown Up

Tequila experiences a cocktail renaissance.

El Jefe Taquería Garaje

Forget the salt and lime. Virginians are drinking more tequila, and they’re drinking it in new ways. Once associated mainly with stiff shots and sugary margaritas, tequila was the stuff of country music choruses, wild parties, and questionable decisions. Now, a range of innovative and upscale tequila-based cocktails are conquering new territory.

In 2018, Americans drank 10.6 percent more tequila than the previous year—faster growth than that of any other spirit. Tipplers in the Commonwealth accounted for a record-high 2,563,200 liters of that. And although the spirit is indelibly linked with Mexico—legally, to be called tequila, it must be made with at least 51 percent blue agave in designated regions there—it’s actually the United States that drinks more than 80 percent of the world’s production each year.

Dr. Stoner’s Hierba Loca Blue Agave Tequila

All that drinking is driven by the rise of premium tequilas and sophisticated, luxurious cocktails. “There’s a tequila out there for everybody,” says Coty Robertson, manager at El Jefe Taquería Garaje in Lynchburg, which offers more than 80 varieties of tequila. Previously a bartender at a premium bourbon bar, he says that there are many similarities between the range of flavors you’ll find in bourbon and tequila. The versatility and nuance are among the spirit’s great strengths. Because it comes in a range of varieties, from light, unaged blanco (“white”) to darker, aged reposado and añejo (“rested” and “aged,” respectively), it can be used in place of both clear and dark liquors. 

Tequila’s diversity lends itself to careful attention. Similar to wine, connoisseurs can spot an abundance of tasting notes and aromas—you might hear them praise the sharp citrus of an unaged blanco or the caramel spice of a five-year-old añejo. Bartenders can use tequila in drinks like the effervescent and sunny Paloma, then turn around and create something totally different, like a mellow tequila Old Fashioned. In Virginia, there’s even one producer creating its own tequila—Chesapeake Bay Distillery in Virginia Beach imports blue agave from Jalisco, Mexico, to create its earthy and citrusy Dr. Stoner’s Hierba Loca Blue Agave Tequila.

Here are five recipes for tequila cocktails from mixologists around the Old Dominion:

The Fourth Amigo

The Fourth Amigo

Brittany Nicole Jones and Ryan Wirt, One for the Road mobile cocktails and consultants, Richmond,

“This cocktail will propel you into fall,” says Jones. “It has crisp flavors of apple and cinnamon, while fresh pineapple and lemon will linger with you like all the good times of a quickly passed summer. The star of the show, Herradura Reposado Tequila, will help numb the pain of the coming winter.”

1  Gala apple

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 ½ ounces Herradura Reposado Tequila

¼ ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao 

½ ounce lemon juice

¼ ounce pineapple juice

½ ounce cinnamon-infused agave syrup


freshly ground cinnamon

In a shaking tin, muddle ⅛ of the apple with the bitters. Combine tequila, Curaçao, lemon and pineapple juices, cinnamon agave, and a pinch of salt. Add ice, shake, and finely strain into a rocks glass over ice. For the garnish, thinly slice a chunk of the remaining apple, spread the slices into a fan shape, and lightly dust with freshly ground cinnamon.  

For the cinnamon-infused agave syrup:

3 cinnamon sticks

1 cup agave syrup

1 cup water 


In a skillet, lightly toast the cinnamon sticks, then break up the sticks. In a saucepan, combine the toasted sticks, agave syrup, and water. Cook on low heat, keeping just under a simmer, for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let steep until cool. Add a small amount of vodka to prolong storage time. Finely strain and store in a closed container in the refrigerator. For best results, use within one month.

Smoky Bandito Old Fashioned

Coty Robertson, El Jefe Taquería Garaje, Lynchburg,

Smoky Bandito Old Fashioned

1 teaspoon agave syrup

1-2 slices of lime

1 ½ ounces Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila (reposado style)

½ ounce Tanteo chipotle-infused tequila 

dash of Blackwater orange bitters

burnt orange peel 

Muddle the agave syrup and lime. Add tequilas and stir; add bitters. Serve over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with burnt orange peel.

Mr. Fancy 

Esteban Ordonez, Buena Vida Clarendon,

Mr. Fancy 

While tequila must be made from blue agave, mezcal is a broader category of spirit that can be made from a variety of agaves. In creating this drink, Ordonez says he wanted to undermine the popular conception that mezcal and tequila are best taken as shooters with lime and salt. “I wanted to show the versatility and give it a spin without changing its character. This drink is full bodied, smoky, with herbal and citrus notes—a restrained flavor profile perfect for cooler weather.”

2 ounces mezcal reposado

1 ounce Trincheri sweet vermouth

½ ounce Curaçao liqueur

1 maraschino cherry

1 large lemon peel

Stir together first four ingredients. Serve over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with the lemon peel.

La Mexicana

Esteban Ordonez, Buena Vida Clarendon,

La Mexicana

Ordonez named this cocktail after the colors in the Mexican flag that it represents—green lime, red pomegranate seeds, and white soursop. “It’s a rich and complex cocktail,” he says, “fruity and floral with a great tropical aroma without being overwhelming. It’s a great drink for cocktail aficionados.”

1 ½ ounces blanco tequila

1 ounce soursop purée (Goya brand or comparable) 

¾ ounce lemon juice

½ ounce simple syrup

7 fresh pomegranate arils

1 lime wedge

Combine first five ingredients in a shaker. Shake well until chilled. Serve up in a coupe glass; garnish with a lime wedge.

Spiced Tamarind Paloma

Amanda Cannon, Food.Bar.Food, Harrisonburg,

A fresh take on fall flavors in a classic tequila cocktail. “I love grapefruit in cocktails—the flavor is bright and fresh and not too sweet,” says Cannon, “while the fresh ginger in the syrup adds spice and earthiness to complement the cinnamon-infused tequila.”

1 ½ ounces cinnamon-infused tequila

2 ounces ginger-tamarind syrup

grapefruit soda (Cannon suggests Fresca, Squirt, or Jarritos—from driest to sweetest)

Combine tequila and syrup in a Collins glass over ice. Stir, then top with soda. 

For the ginger-tamarind syrup:

2 cups water

1 cup sugar

½ cup seedless tamarind paste

3-by-1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

Whisk together the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add seedless tamarind paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and mixture has just come to a boil. Add chopped ginger. Turn off heat and let steep until cool and ginger flavor is apparent but not overwhelming, about 30 minutes. Once cool, strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve and discard solids.

This article originally appeared in our Drink 2019 issue.

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