According to the numbers, younger generations are ditching wine for spirits, with tequila leading the charge. According to SevenFifty Daily, agave spirits are now drunk more than American whiskey in the U.S, with off-premise sales of tequila nearly doubled from $1.49 billion to $2.9 billion from February 2020 to February 2023. Mezcal sales have also soared, from $24.5 million to $59.5 million (an increase of 143 percent) in the same time frame.
So why not give agave spirits a place at the holiday table?
How to pair your agave spirits
Costa Rica native Carlos Soto, a self-made tequila entrepreneur, thinks it’s time we rethink out holiday food and drink pairings, suggesting we look at agave spirits for inspiration.
“Tequila may not be the first beverage that comes to mind when planning a holiday meal, but it can actually be a delightful and unexpected addition to your festivities,” says Soto. “From a hosting standpoint, tequila and mezcal can provide the perfect change of pace for your holiday dinner that wine might not bring to the table.”
Soto founded Nosotros Tequila & Mezcal as part of a college assignment while studying in Los Angeles, but he never imagined that his first bottling would win Double Gold Best in Class Tequila at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Distilled in a women-owned and operated distillery run by Master Distiller Citlali Ovalle, Nosotros grew from an underdog in uncharted territory to making Soto a 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 Finalist.
“Agave spirits are extremely versatile when it comes to cocktails,” he says. “There is quite literally a cocktail for every possible meal out there, and this can encourage some fun conversations at the table. This versatility allows you to choose a tequila that complements the flavors on your holiday table.”
“You can select a Blanco with fruity and citrusy notes to complement salad or turkey, or a more robust, aged tequila to pair with roasted meats and savory side dishes, and even a little dessert action.”
Mike Moreno Jr., owner of Chicago’s Osito’s Tap, pairs some of his favorite holiday meals with Alma del Jaguar, a sustainably produced, certified additive-free tequila created to support the conservation of wild jaguars in Mexico.
“Tequila can pair beautifully with various Christmas foods, including certain cheeses,” he says. “Opt for aged cheeses like Manchego, which can complement the flavors of an aged tequila such as the nutty notes of a reposado. If seafood is part of your Christmas spread, tequila pairs perfectly with dishes like grilled shrimp or fish tacos. A tequila-lime butter sauce can elevate the flavors as well.”
The fruity, citrusy notes in Alma del Jaguar Blanco can also complement the flavors of roast turkey, and makes a great match for fruit-based holiday dishes. “Consider incorporating it into cranberry sauces, citrus-glazed hams, or even pairing it with a fruit salad,” says Moreno.
“The Reposado can enhance spiced desserts. Think about pairing it with cinnamon-spiced Mexican hot chocolate or a tequila-infused tres leches cake. Remember, the key is to consider the flavors of the food and the tequila to create a harmonious pairing that enhances the dining experience.”
“Mexican holiday dishes naturally pair fantastically with agave spirits,” says Zury Guindi, co-founder of Mexa Brands, a Mexican owned company that works with small producers across the country to source extraordinary artisanel spirits. Based in Los Angeles and Mexico City, their portfolio includes tequila and mezcal, but also relatively lesser known distillates such as sotol, raicilla, bacanora, and more.
“Mexa Tequila Tahona would stand up perfectly to the rich flavors of romeritos con mole on Christmas Eve,” says Guindi. Romeritos is a Mexican green related to amaranth, traditionally eaten at Christmastime cooked in a unique mole flavored with dried shrimp for flavors that are strong and earthy. “The pairing works well because the tequila starts with sweet notes, followed by classic bitter notes from the agave and a smoky, earthy quality brought by the tahona process.”
“A traditional fruitcake would pair wonderfully with our raicilla Flor de Piedra, which has a perfumed nose and fruity flavors,” he adds. “And on New Year’s Day there’s nothing better to start the day than a hot bowl of pozole paired with mezcal. We like our Mexa Ensamble of espadín and tobalá for its balance and lightly spiced notes from the tobalá.”
For an unexpected pairing that will marry with a variety of holiday staples, try the Raj Mamba, created by Rajat Parr at MINA Group’s Clock Bar at St. Francis Hotel. Parr simply pairs a proper dry Champagne (traditionally Krug) with a shot of mezcal, to be drank at the same time, but separately.
“The reason the champagne works is because it cleans the palate after drinking the mezcal,” he says. “But you cannot use sparkling wine or Prosecco. Only Champagne. And I like ZOMOZ Mezcal as its perfect companion.” Give this a go for your New Year’s toast and amaze your guests.
Dillon Keeler, bartender at Austin’s Suerte, created a few cocktails for food pairing using Aguasol Tequila, a new brand distilled at the family-run distillery of Cascahuín (NOM 1123). “Tequila is meant to be enjoyed with everything, especially good people,” says Keeler. “But if I had to pick one thing, I would say tequila is a great way to end a meal with dessert, and my favorite would be pecan pie. Pair that with a reposado or añejo for sure.”
Aguasol contributes proceeds to the Careyes Foundation in Jalisco, which helps with innovative programs in education, environment, wellness, and the arts to improve the well-being of 12 rural communities along the South Pacific coast of Mexico. Tastes good and does good.
Austin bartender Dillon Keeler’s seasonal version of the margarita, topped with a splash of spiced apple cider.
1.5 oz Aguasol Blanco or Reposado
0.5 oz Cointreau or Triple Sec
1 oz lemon juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
Splash of spiced apple cider
Hard shake, strain onto fresh ice. Top with a splash of spiced apple cider. Garnish with an apple slice and cinnamon stick.
Azteca Spiked Ponche
Enjoy the perfect warm cocktail with family and friends this holiday season with a traditional Mexican drink. Tejocotes are a seasonal fruit, known in English as hawthorn apple. They are available in Mexican groceries this time of year, either fresh or in syrup.
Serves 12 (1 ½ cups with fruit)
4 quarts of water
1 piloncillo cone (or 6 oz. brown sugar)
4 cinnamon sticks
3 whole cloves
3 whole star anise
1 cup fresh tamarind pods or paste (peeled and seeded)
2 tablespoon dried hibiscus flowers
1 lb tejocotes
3 sugarcane sticks (5in each)
1 ½ Lb. guavas (12 guavas)
1 ½ cup chopped red apple
1 cup chopped pear
1 bottle Alma Del Jaguar Blanco Tequila
Add 2 qts of water to a large pot and bring to a boil with cinnamon, piloncillo, star anise, cloves, tamarind and hibiscus. Boil until piloncillo is dissolved (about 15 min) and then strain hibiscus from the pot.
Add the rest of the ingredients and 2 more qts water to the pot and simmer for at least 45 minutes. Add tequila, stir, and serve hot in a mug with some of the fruit. Garnish your cups with a cinnamon stick and an orange slice.