“Tequila is my soul mate,” Lucinda Hutson exclaims. “Mexico in a bottle, its flavor is as melodic to the mouth as a mariachi tune is to the ear—bold, spicy, and full of life!” For nearly forty years, Lucinda has trekked through tequila country, distilling adventures and knowledge to present them to enthusiastic readers around the world. Her 1995 book Tequila! Cooking with the Spirit of Mexico helped usher in the boom that transformed the tequila industry. Now in ¡Viva Tequila! she returns to her lifelong passion, bringing us deeper into the traditions and vibrant present of Mexico, and creates fabulous, flavorful recipes for drinks and dishes made with Mexico’s agave spirits.
¡Viva Tequila! begins with a lively tour of the history and culture of spirits made from the miraculous maguey—pulque, mezcal, and tequila. Lucinda follows her chosen elixir from fields of blue agave, to distilleries both family-owned and internationally operated, to the bewildering array of brands now available in the market. She offers advice on how to host a tequila tasting, discover your favorites, and stock your home cantina. With imaginative garnishes and presentations, and inspiration drawn from her travels throughout Mexico, Lucinda presents recipes for dozens of drinks featuring favorite Mexican libations, while also highlighting mezcal and tequila in new and bright ways that go far beyond the ubiquitous margarita. And because no fiesta is complete without festive food, Lucinda shows you how to use agave spirits in delightful dishes that feature fresh produce, fragrant herbs, and chiles picantes, prepared with techniques from Mexico's kitchen. For occasions ranging from lavish buffets to morning meriendas, leisurely afternoon tardeadas, last-minute happy hours, or dessert socials, you'll find original recipes and traditional ones, some of which Lucinda has altered with contemporary touches, that are sure to please every palate.
Tequila is my soul mate. Mexico in a bottle. Its flavor is as melodic to the mouth as a mariachi tune is to the ear—bold, spicy, and full of life! Upon the first taste, it gives a liquid jolt to the senses that makes our tongues trill, trumpets resound in our ears, and throatily bellowed ay-ay-ay! gritos fill the air. Tequila makes macho men burst into passionate lyrics of unrequited love and shy women dance on tables.
My affinity for tequila seems to be a natural one, a legacy from my West Texas hometown of El Paso, a border town steeped in three noteworthy events in tequila's history: (1) the first three barrels imported into the United States passed through there in 1873, (2) the first margarita may have been poured in a bar in nearby Juárez in 1942, and (3) it was where I first learned how to drink tequila.
Back then, good food and fun were always found in Juárez, on the Mexican side of the Río Grande. In the late 1960s, our coming-of-age initiations included escapades to rowdy Mexican cantinas on Saturday nights. The most dangerous thing about Juárez then was tipsy Texan teenagers running amok drinking nickel shots of tequila with dime beers. In 2009, Juárez was deemed the most dangerous city in the world, overtaken with battling drug cartels, and it has since remained in the top ten most violent cities in the world. In 2010, more than three thousand people lost their lives to violence in Juárez. Few now brave crossing the border—all more reason to create our own tequila cantinas at home.
Looking back, we were young and life was an uncomplicated fiesta. While my companions guzzled Singapore Slings and Zombies—cloying concoctions promising speedy inebriation—I would slip into the kitchen of our favorite Juárez cantina. Tío Mauro Orozco, the uncle of my family's housekeeper, was the cook. He would pour me a shot of tequila reposado, and with ranchera music blaring on the radio to the rhythmic patting of tortillas, I learned how to cook and how to drink tequila. Meanwhile, my amigos eagerly imbibed what they would regret the following morning.
My love for Mexico persisted. Her comida y canciones (cuisine and songs) and the generous spirit of her inhabitants filled my heart. Often, I felt more at home in that country than in my own. Speaking Spanish fluently and longing for adventure, I had no fear of riding buses to visit small towns, the only güera (blonde) aboard. Before the age of twenty, I had traveled alone throughout many parts of Mexico.
More often than not, I ended up in simple kitchens, much to the surprise and delight of my humble hosts, who did not expect such enthusiasm for their country from a gringa. And many times, that precious bottle of tequila or mezcal was brought down from the shelf for a toast to friendship and to la vida buena.
In 1976, I visited La Perseverancia, the Sauza tequila distillery in the town of Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico. There I saw another lone blonde, dancing barefoot to her own tune, her scarlet sheath slipping from her shoulders. An expression of sheer pleasure lit her face. One hand was flung in the air, clutching a bottle of tequila; the other linked her to a circle of dark-haired Mexican maidens frolicking in Bacchanalian delight. This image hung on the thick-plastered walls of the distillery, part of a mural painted by Gabriel Flores, depicting the fateful discovery and production of tequila in the sixteenth century. I was astonished: the blonde in the painting even looked liked me! My curiosity was aroused. I knew I wanted to learn more about tequila, the seductive spirit that sang to my soul.
So began another Mexican journey—this time, a tequila quest. I visited fields planted with endless rows of blue agaves, formidable plants with a profusion of sword-like blades exploding from a central core. I learned that these noble agaves take nearly a decade to reach maturity for harvesting. In rustic and modern distilleries alike, I watched the agave's magical transformation into tequila, the spirit of Mexico. I tasted shimmering silver tequilas straight from copper pot stills and amber-hued ones from fine oak casks.
I also sampled memorable meals in the homes of field-workers and in the homes of distillery owners. As a cook, I recognized tequila's potential in the kitchen as well as in the cantina but was surprised to find that Mexicans seldom cooked with it. Tequila's versatile nature—lively, peppery, and robust, with herbaceous and fruity characteristics—complemented my own style of cooking. I eagerly embarked upon a new culinary adventure, using recipes to showcase tequila in a festive way in food and in drinks. With emphasis on garnish and presentation, and inspiration drawn from the libations enjoyed by Mexicans, I created drinks that highlight tequila in fresh and bright ways, far beyond the ubiquitous margarita. In this celebratory fashion, one drink becomes a special event.
About the New Book
The first edition of this book, printed in 1995 by Ten Speed Press, was "one of the most trail-blazing books on tequila," according to Wyatt Peabody, a spirits contributor for LA (Los Angeles Times Magazine), who's written several intriguing articles about mezcal and tequila.
Since then, I have embarked upon other agave expeditions, returning with more stories to tell and recipes to share. I've even added more tales of my earlier adventures. I'll tell you about visiting a remote palenque (rustic distillery) in Oaxaca, where mezcal is made just as it was four hundred years ago by the Spanish, and about following an old woman in Michoacán, as she tapped the sweet aguamiel (honey water) from a giant maguey plant to make pulque, another agave elixir. We'll visit a distillery that is handcrafting tequila in an old-fashioned manner that makes grape stomping look like child's play.
I've once again traversed the tequila-producing state of Jalisco and will share my adventures with you. In the lowlands, I visited distilleries that have withstood the test of time, those of tequila's founding fathers—Cuervo, Sauza, and Herradura—as well as other innovative, smaller producers. Across the state in the highlands, I've watched once-sleepy villages hosting family-run tequila distilleries transform into bustling towns. Following in the footsteps of much of the tequila production in the lowlands, giant multinational spirits corporations have built huge high-volume distilleries, often disregarding tequila traditions in their pursuit for profit. Along the way, I've had the pleasure of visiting Mexican family-run distilleries striving to preserve tequila's character and authenticity.
Tequila's inimitable flavor has seduced drinkers worldwide, and enthusiasts quaff it fashionably and frequently. However, I sometimes fear the soul of tequila will be forgotten amidst the massive commercialization underway today. That's why I've returned to this book after fifteen years. Though it's timely to write about what is happening in tequila today, I also think it's very important to preserve the tequila of yesterday—the proud heritage of Mexico's beloved national spirit and the traditions that are quickly being left behind.
By knowing more about tequila (and mezcal), we can make our own demands for quality and integrity in what we drink. The tequila industry, once dominated by Cuervo, Sauza, and Herradura, now boasts more than twelve hundred brands, with new ones bombarding the market even as I write. Despite its booming popularity, however, tequila remains the most misunderstood of spirits, its reputation tarnished by erroneous information regarding its origin, production, and characteristic effects.
Let's get to know tequila on its own tierra and its own terms in this three-in-one book: a cantina (bar) book, a cocina cookbook, and a memoir filled with personal anecdotes for active participants and armchair travelers alike.
I've collected tequila traditions and customs, dichos (proverbs) and lore, folk art and photographs, and recipes and songs to share. Sometimes I've added contemporary twists where appropriate, always honoring and celebrating the agave, the spirit of Mexico. As a cook, a gardener, and a Mexican aficionada, I consider this a joyous task!
As I slowly savored a shot of tequila reposado in a Mexican cantina, I scribbled this note on a cocktail napkin:
Almost everyone has a tequila story they want to forget. Let's change that to a tequila adventure they want to remember!
Join me in stepping out of that circle of drunken revelry depicted in the distillery painting from long ago. Let's gather together, linking arms, as fellow tequila enthusiasts with a respect and reverence for the oldest distilled spirit in America. Let's raise our glasses in appreciation, a toast to tequila, and, yes, upon the first sip, we hear the mariachis begin to play!