If your Tequila of choice is 100 percent pure, blue agave, you can rest assured that a night sipping this most magical product of the cactus-like Central American plant will not result in a hangover the next day. However, tequila fan Alice Lascelles recounts how a recent trip to Mexico left her and fellow traveller Mark Hix contemplating something far more explosive than a potent shot.
Flicking through the inaugural issue of HIX, one of the first things that struck me was how often people’s memories of Mark Hix involve fags. The fag that’s really burned on my memory is one from a trip to Mexico we undertook together, to the home of Ocho, a single-estate tequila made among the iron-red hills and blue-green agaves of Jalisco. On this occasion the fags weren’t being smoked by Mark but by Ocho’s master distiller, Carlos Camarena, a rugged type who, much to our horror, sparked up right next to the high-proof spirit coming off the still. Miraculously, the stuff failed to ignite, but there was a moment when our existence was definitely hanging in the balance. There’s nothing quite like tequila for making you feel alive.
But tequila can make you feel like death, too. If it does, you’re probably going about it the wrong way. For a start, you should only ever drink the 100% blue agave stuff – if it has a sombrero on it, or calls itself ‘gold’ or ‘silver’ then it’s probably of the low-rent mixto variety, and should be avoided. And take a tip from the Mexicans: sip it, rather than shoot it, preferably with a little something to eat on the side – because tequila’s unusual sweet/savoury flavour profile pairs amazingly with food.
On that same Mexican trip, I experienced one of the most synapse-blowing meals I’ve ever had – a four-hour feast of raw shellfish and citrusy Ocho blanco eaten off a paper-topped table in the midst of Guadalajara fish market. We’d arrived in a stupor after 15 hours of flying, and we left as high as kites. An evening spent in a Jalisco night market eating oozy enchiladas and sipping on reposado tequila and icy beer was pretty fine too – or at least it was until our host started waving a gun around, at which point we all sobered up pretty quickly.
The real magic bullet for me, though, was sangrita – literally ‘little blood’. This is a sort of sweet-and-sour shot that’s often sipped in Mexico as an accompaniment to a glass of tequila. The precise recipe depends on whose house you’re in. It’s traditionally made from the leftover juices of a fruit salad and it’s usually based around a palate-spangling mix of pomegranate, citrus juices and chillies. I’ve also had wonderful sangritas made with herbs, beetroot, apple, tomato and – like this one concocted by Mark and his team – pineapple juice. Sip one of these with a fine single estate from Ocho, and before you know it you’ll be skipping down the street with a vitality all those miserable juicers could only dream of.
Alice Lascelles is a journalist and the author of Ten Cocktail: The Art of Convivial Drinking (Saltyard, April 2015)
Mark’s Pineapple Verdita
1ltr pineapple juice
A couple of handfuls of coriander, including the stalks, washed and dried
A couple of good pinches of salt
A handful of mint leaves, washed
100ml agave nectar
2 medium green or red chillies, or a mixture, trimmed
50ml lemon cordial
200ml grapefruit juice
The juice of 2 limes
Blend the ingredients in a liquidiser and strain through a sieve. Serve slightly chilled.
(reproduced courtesy of HIX magazine) www.hixrestaurants.co.uk