If you equate tequila with salty shot glasses and regret, it's time to try sipping instead of slamming. These premium tequilas are a good place to start
Credit: iStock / igorr1

If you equate tequila with salty shot glasses and regret, it's time to try sipping instead of slamming. These premium tequilas are a good place to start

Scan the shelves of your local liquor joint and you’ll likely see tequila bottles embellished with snakes and scorpions, deer heads and donkeys, or in the shape of skulls and handguns. (There’s even one that’s supposedly inspired by an 18th-century European decanter, but we suggest you hide it in the cabinet when your in-laws visit.)

It’s no wonder many people still approach tequila with a little bit of fear and much loathing, especially the day after slamming back shots at some beachside bar. The problem isn’t what’s on the outside of the bottle, unless its an absence of the all-important words "100% agave." If the label simply reads "tequila," then it’s mixto, a blended spirit that has a minimum of 51% agave sugars. What’s the other 49%? Let’s just say that’s where the post-drinking hammering in your head comes from.

Rule no. 1 about tequila: Read the label. Only buy 100% blue agave, unless you’re hankering for a hangover.

Here are five superb sipping tequilas you can sample at the Vancouver International Tequila Expo, running May 24, 2013, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, guaranteed to leave you with a proper appreciation of the agave spirit. Salud!

Uno Mas Blanco

Uno Mas Blanco

Whether it’s called silver, blanco or plata, clear tequila is typically un-aged and bottled right after distillation, which allows the vegetal, fruity and herbaceous flavours of the agave plant to shine through.

Contrary to popular belief, good-quality blanco tequila can be enjoyed neat. Case in point: Uno Mas Blanco, a gold medal-winner at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits, is an elegant and affordable (about $50 a bottle) blanco that’s ideal for sipping.

Aroma + taste: Uno Mas tequila has eucalyptus and mint aromas. Flavours include sweetness, combined with herbaceousness and a hint of citrus. Sip and repeat: Uno mas, por favor!

Rule no. 2 about tequila: Drinking tequila neat means that it should be served at room temperature without ice, which waters down the spirit. And who wants that?

Cabo Wabo Reposado

Cabo Wabo Reposado

Tequila lovers and ardent Van Halen fans will already know that Cabo Wabo tequila was spawned by Sammy Hagar back in ’96. And while Van Halen only won a single Grammy, Cabo Wabo reposado has snagged multiple awards at spirits competitions. (Not convinced? Hagar sold 80% of Cabo Wabo to Gruppo Campari for a cool $80 million US.)

For those who haven’t honed their agave IQ, reposado is the Spanish word for "rested," and that means the tequila takes a little interlude in oak casks from two to 12 months. Tequila rookies, note Cabo Wabo’s recipe for Tequila on the Rocks: Add the ice to a rocks glass. Pour the Cabo Wabo tequila over the ice and sip slowly. Tequila savants: commence sniggering.

Aroma + taste: Aromas of citrus and fresh herbs. Pepper-forward flavours with a touch of fruit. Savour while listening to vintage Van Halen (post-David Lee Roth, of course).

Rule no. 3 about tequila: To taste tequila’s complexities, sip the spirit from a small snifter. You already look pretentious, so go all out: take a good old whiff of the spirit before savouring slowly.

T1 Tequila Uno Estelar Añejo

T1 Tequila Uno Estelar Añejo

It's quite common for añejo (Spanish for “aged”) tequila to be compared to cognac or single-malt scotch for its depth of flavour. T1 Tequila Uno Estelar Añejo, crafted by master distiller Germán González of Chinaco fame, easily earns that distinction thanks to the robust flavours suffused into the spirit from sitting in scotch barrels for two years (reposado tequila is usually aged in ex-bourbon barrels). The result is a smooth spirit that, bottled in a tear drop-shaped crystal decanter, belongs on the top shelf of the bar.

Aroma + taste: Aroma of toffee and herbs. Bittersweet cocoa flavours and hits of ripe peach and citrus, with lingering spice. Reserve Estelar Añejo for evenings in the man cave spent debating stock futures or cursing the Canucks (again).

Rule no. 4 about tequila: Don’t go for the "gold." A tequila with the word "gold" on the label is mixto; the colour comes from additives (see rule #1). Reposado and añejo tequilas get their golden and carmel hues from the aging process.

Clase Azul Reposado

Clase Azul Reposado

Tequila has been around for centuries and some producers still opt for small-batch artisanal processes instead of industrial manufacturing. Clase Azul exemplifies the old ways, harvesting organic highland agaves, distilling the spirit in a local village and packaging it in hand-painted ceramic Talavera bottles.

Aroma + taste: Fruit, vanilla and toffee aromas. Cooked agave and caramel flavours. Share the spirit on any occasion, preferably with people you like. Making a cocktail? Give this artisanal spirit the respect it deserves and mix it with premium ingredients.

Rule no. 5 about tequila: Don’t limit tequila to Mexican cocktails such as the traditional Paloma. Instead, replace the rye in a Manhattan or the gin in a Negroni with reposado tequila for a fresh take on the old standards.

Crótalo Plata

Crótalo Plata

There are hard and fast rules and there are exceptions. Crótalo Plata tequila falls into the latter camp. Although clear tequilas are typically double-distilled and presented un-aged, by law they can be aged from zero to 59 days before landing in reposado territory.

Triple-distillation, argue tequila purists, kiboshes the agave characteristics. Crótalo Plata manages to make triple-distillation and aging (45 days in French oak, which imparts more subtle spice, compared to American oak’s bolder vanilla and cream essences) work in its favour.

Aroma + taste: Agave and citrus on the nose, with touch of vanilla. Natural sweetness of highland agaves followed by peppery finish. This smooth spirit is perfect for introducing tequila to your vanilla vodka-drinking friends.

Rule no. 6 about tequila: If you ever drink tequila from a bottle with a worm in it, you will get what you deserve.