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¡Viva Tequila!

¡Viva Tequila!
Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures
Folk art photography by John Pozdro

With a festive blend of inspired recipes for fabulous drinks and dishes, lively personal anecdotes, spicy cultural history, and colorful agave folk art, proverbs, and lore, America’s premier tequila expert shows us how to savor the most Mexican of all libations.

May 2013
This book is out of print and no longer available.
288 pages | 8 x 10 | color illus. |

“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.

  • Introduction
  • Part One: One Plant, Three Spirits
    • Understanding the Agave
      • History of la Milagrosa, the Miraculous Maguey
      • Glossary: A Plant with Many Names
      • Three Agave Elixirs
    • Pulque
      • In Search of Pulque
      • Producing Pulque
      • Pulquerías: Mexico's First Cantinas
      • Modern-Day Pulquerías
    • Mezcal
      • Regional Variations
      • Full Moon and Mezcal in Oaxaca, 1980
      • Making Mezcal in Santa Catarina Minas
      • Del Maguey Mezcal
      • Mezcal Today
      • The New Mezcalerías
    • Tequila
      • Blue Agave: The Lily of the Field
      • More Than a Decade in the Making
      • A Necessary Castration
      • La Jima (The Harvest)
      • Alchemy of an Agave Elixir
      • Production Methods
      • Tequila Styles, Categories, and Tasting Profiles
      • Protecting Mexico's National Spirit: Government Regulation of Tequila
      • Tequila Tierra
      • Bottles and Brands: Selling the Bottle Instead of the Tequila?
      • Tequila Trends
      • How to Taste Tequila
  • Part Two: Tequila Cantina
    • Recipes, in Order of Appearance
    • Cantina La Lucinda
    • Stocking the Home Cantina: Ingredients You'll Need on Hand
      • Tequilas
      • Liqueurs
      • Sodas
      • Juices/Purées
      • Flavorings
      • Agave Syrup
      • Sugars: For Sweetening Drinks And Rimming Glasses
      • Limes, Ice, and Salt: A Popular Trio
      • Cantina Classics: Homemade Seasoned Salts, Flavored Syrups, and Tequila Infusions
      • Barware
      • Glassware
      • Garnishes
      • The Cantina Garden
    • El Arte de la Coctelería: Crafting Tequila Cocktails
      • Cocktail Mania
      • Tequila Drinks al Estilo Mexicano
    • Jalisco and Texas Favorites
      • How Mexicans Drink Tequila
      • How Texans Drink Tequila
    • Copitas y Coctelería (Shots and Cocktails)
      • Luncheon at the Herradura Hacienda
      • How Don Aurelio Drinks Tequila
      • Sip and Savor
      • Sangrita: Tequila's Spicy Chaser
      • Tequilas Picosas
      • Cantina Classics: Tequilas Curados (Cured Tequilas)
    • La Margarita
      • History
      • Ingredients
    • Frescas y Frías: Refreshing Icy Drinks
      • The Daiquiri Debate
      • Frozen Margaritas
      • Gilding the Lily (Fancy Fruit Margaritas)
    • Sabor a Mí: Fresh Fruit Drinks with Tequila
    • Muddle, Splash, Spritz
      • Muddle It Up
      • Making a Splash: Classic Cocktails
      • Spritz It Up!
    • Punches for Parties
      • En Salón Tenampa
      • Memories of Holiday Punch in Atotonilco
      • Posadas Navideñas
    • After-Dinner Drinks
      • Cantina Classic Liqueurs
      • Tequila Nightcaps
      • Coffee and Tequila: Always Compadres
      • Chocolate and Tequila: An Ancient Love Potion
  • Part Three: Tequila Cocina
    • Recipes, in Order of Appearance
    • Cantina and Cocina: Cooking with Tequila
      • Ingredients to Stock
    • Fiesta Food
      • Tostadas Compuestas
      • Sombreros: Tostada Toppings
      • Directions for Making Homemade Tostadas
      • Directions for Making Tostada Chips
      • Flautas
    • ¡Tequila y Queso, Por Favor!
    • Sazonando: Spicing It Up! Pestos, Marinades, Sauces, Chutneys, Salad Dressings, and Salsas Picantes
    • Let's Salsa! Chunky Salsas Frescas: Another Kind of Tequila Cocktail
      • Fruit Salsas
      • Savory Salsas
    • Festive Frijoles: Have Some Tequila with Your Beans!
    • Beyond the Tequila Sunrise: Brunch Anytime
      • Festive Quick Fixes
      • Gazpacho
    • Platos Fuertes: The Main Attractions
    • Los Dulces Divinos (Divine Desserts)
    • Tequila for Whatever Ails You
      • A Shot a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
      • A Love Potion
      • Hangover Helpers
  • Gracias
  • Resources
  • Bibliography
  • About the Art
  • Photo Credits
  • Cantina Index
  • Comida Index
  • General Index

Lucinda Hutson is a nationally celebrated food, garden, and lifestyle writer and lecturer who gives colorful slide presentations across the country. She also creates festive events and consults on recipes and menus. She is the author of The Herb Garden Cookbook: The Complete Gardening and Gourmet Guide, Second Edition, and her articles on food, spirits, entertaining, and gardening have appeared in Fine Gardening, Food Arts, The Herb Companion, Kitchen Garden, Horticulture, Edible Austin, and many other publications. Lucinda has hosted HGTV in her garden and has been a guest on PBS, and her gardens and recipes have been featured on the cover and inside Southern Living.


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!




“This eye-catching book is interspersed with colorful photos, most of which highlight items collected from Hutson's travels. Beyond the recipes, Hutson provides funny and inspiring travel stories of an adventuresome woman meeting the open-hearted, joyful culture of Mexico. For anyone who is looking for a summer full of fiestas, ¡Viva Tequila! Cocktails, Cooking, and other Agave Adventures is a must-have.”
Austin Woman

“In this new work, Hutson and her publisher pull out all the stops to create a gorgeous and informative book which will be every bit as much at home on an upscale cocktail table as it will be in the bar area.”
The Austin Chronicle

“There is no question in my mind that this will be the definitive work on tequila. . . . [I found it] hard to put down because of the author’s obvious passion, storytelling ability, personal anecdotes, and sense of humor. . . . Most readers will be unable to resist rushing out to acquire some of the recommended products, even before they’ve gotten to the actual recipes! More importantly, putting tequila and mescal into historical and cultural perspective enables the reader to appreciate and enjoy them on a level other than just taste. . . . It is a joy and privilege to read this book.”
James Peyton, author of El Norte: The Cuisine of Northern Mexico and La Cocina de la Frontera: Mexican-American Cooking from the Southwest

“This is an exciting and unique book. . . . Lucinda Hutson weaves a compelling account of Mexico’s magical agave spirits through her stories, her personal connection to Mexico, and her intimate knowledge of tequila traditions. Her travel and adventures in the 1980s recall a Mexico of hospitality and celebration. Her curiosity and lifelong love of Mexico distinguishes this book from recent books that focus more on tequila as a trendy ingredient for mixologists. This is not just another book on tequila; it is a book written with passion that comes from long experience with and deep knowledge of her subject.”
Ann Clark, author of Quick Cuisine: Easy and Elegant Recipes for Every Occasion and Ann Clark’s Fabulous Fish