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By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 3, 2006 6:00PM

2006_05_Tequila.jpgBy the time you read this, Chicagoist will be in a New York state of mind. We'll be catching up with old friends, eating a slice of "Original Simply Famous Really There Can Be Only One" Ray's pizza, gawking at David Blaine's "douchebag in utero" performance art piece - "douchebag" being the word of the week around here - and sniffing out a bar with a wide selection of premium tequilas.

This week's primer on tequila is timely. Between our sore feet from marching on Monday and Cinco de Mayo on Friday, we've got Mexico on the brain. We're genuinely sad to be missing the drunken mating calls of future Republicans drinking frozen margaritas and mistaking Cinco de Mayo for Mexican Independence Day (September 16th, for the curious). Chicagoist has never fully understood the concept of the frozen margarita. Why anyone would want to fashion a cocktail after a Slurpee is something we can't fathom. All that crushed ice dilutes the drink. We want immediate results. Which is why, although we do imbibe in the occasional margarita at places like Pilsen's Picante Grill (with its thirty-five brands in stock), we prefer to sip our tequila with a chaser of spicy tomato juice cocktail. We have more about tequila after the jump.

Tequila is a type of mezcal. Three things make tequila differ from other mezcals: the rigid standards of distillation laid down by Mexico's Tequila Regulatory Council; its regions of production (specific areas in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, and Nayarit); and the type of agave used to distill tequila. Agave azul (blue agave) is a succulent that thrives in high altitudes and arid climates. It looks a bit like aloe, only harmful to you. When it's harvested, blue agave plants are stripped of its leaves, and the hearts are roasted to draw out the sap used for the fermentation and distilling processes.

Once the fermentation and distillation is complete, tequila is either immediately bottled (these are your "blancas", or white tequilas), or aged for anywhere from a minimum of three months for "resposados" (or "rested" tequilas), to a minimum of nine months for "añejos" ("vintage") . What we think of as gold tequilas are actually blancos given some kind of coloring: this is the tequila you should be wasting away in Margaritaville.

Tequilas have to be distilled from at least fifty-one percent blue agave. This thing with premium tequilas made from 100 percent blue agave is a marketing trend that's only come about in the past ten years. For that we can thank - or blame - Sammy Hagar and his Cabo Wabo tequila. We aren't huge fans of Hagar's time in Van Halen, and his reinvention of himself as a lowbrow version of lowbrow icon Jimmy Buffet reeks of pandering, but the man put his money behind a good tequila.

Another tequila we will name check, because it's still fresh in our memory, is Espolón. This family-owned distillery makes tequilas that are must-buys. A taste test comparison of their blanco - aged for thirty days in stainless steel - to Patron silver had the latter tasting like kerosene. Espolón añejo is aged 18-24 months and has a sublime toffee note on the palate. Other tequilas we recommend are Tezón resposado, Corazón, El Tesoro (the platinum makes a real good margarita), Cazadores resposado, and Gran Centenario añejo. These are all smooth sipping tequilas, with good character and bold flavors, that don't need the "training wheels" of salt and lime.