Colorful cocktails from Agave Caliente at Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MOLLIE KIMBERLING
Tequila — that unique distilled spirit derived from the blue agave plant — is far more than just the liquor in your margarita. The process of making tequila is painstaking because agave plants must be 5 years old before they can be harvested, tequila can only be produced in certain Mexican states, and the aging process can take years. Nevertheless, it’s clear that tequila makers are doing something right, as more of it is being consumed in the United States than any prior period. Retail sales have surpassed whiskey and are currently outpaced only by vodka.
There’s a lot to learn about tequila, so we asked DJ Hanna, a bartender at Agave Caliente Tequila Bar at Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City, for the lowdown on the liquor and all the ways you can enjoy it at this premier tequila bar.
Take Your Pick
The Agave Caliente Tequila Bar has more than 127 types of tequilas and mezcals, all available on the rocks, neat, as a shot, or in a cocktail, so it’s easy to try something new every time you stop in. Want to start with something new? Ask for Codigo’s Tequila Rosa, a customized, rosy-hued version of the spirit. “The bartenders at Agave Caliente know how to make some great cocktails,” Hanna says, “including a specialty margarita, using that tequila, but it’s so good you can enjoy it straight up by itself.”
Bartender DJ Hanna presents a flight of cool cocktails at the Agave Caliente Tequila Bar at the Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City.
Know the Difference
Tequila classifications vary based on how long they’re aged. So, what are they and what do they mean?
Blanco tequilas are aged the least, usually bottled shortly after distillation. “Blanco and silver tequilas are in the same category,” Hanna explains. “It’s the clear tequila, and it’s often the easiest one of the three to mix into drinks. Patron Silver is the most requested tequila for margaritas, but Don Julio Blanco is definitely a popular option when you want to do better than well but don’t want to break the bank.”
Reposado is usually aged between two and 12 months in oak barrels and has a pale gold hue. “A lot of people, if they are just having tequila straight up as a shot, they like reposado,” Hanna says, “but plenty of folks also like it in their margarita.”
Añejo is the varietal that’s been aged the longest — between one and three years — and is the most premium (and expensive) of the categories. “It’s the boldest and darkest of the trio,” Hanna says. “We have two that are really special: Don Julio 1942 is really, really smooth. We also have all the tequilas in the Clase Azul collection. Those are really high-end, and people love them. Every time somebody orders one we ring the little bell on top of the bottle.”
With more than 127 types of tequilas and mezcals, it’s always easy to try something new, including Codigo’s rosy-hued Tequila Rosa, with the Agave Caliente name.
Try Something New
Sure, you could opt for the classic margarita, but Hanna suggests mixing things up with the increasingly popular spicy version that utilizes Tanteo, a jalapeño-infused tequila, in addition to fresh jalapeño that bartenders muddle in the shaker with the rest of the ingredients before garnishing the drink with fresh slices of the green pepper.
The almighty Old Fashioned — a combination of rye or bourbon, sugar, Angostura bitters, and a twist — has been making a major comeback in recent years, so it’s not surprising that mixologists have been putting their own spin on the stalwart. “I love Old Fashioneds, and we have a special cask with Maker’s Mark called Pivat Maker’s Mark,” Hanna says of the specialty blend originally created for the Pivat Cigar Lounge at Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage and offered at bars across all three casinos. “A Pivat Maker’s Mark Old Fashioned is out of this world, but if someone wants us to create a tequila Old Fashioned for them, we absolutely can. It’s a fun way to showcase the spirit.”
This story originally appeared in Me Yah Whae: The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Fall/Winter 2023.