Tequila is tricky, and let's face it, we've all had our tequila terror stories: that night your don't remember, the salt burn on your hand, the horrific hangover that leaves you in the fetal position on the cold, hard, bathroom floor until 4 p.m. the next day. We've heard it all, but Danielle Griffin, the Tequila Goddess of La Hacienda at The Fairmont assures us tequila can be tasty, fun and regret-free.
Good news, seeing as tequila will be readily available at this weekend's Arizona Taco Festival. While it may play second fiddle to the food, you're going to want some tips on what to drink and what to skip...
Click through for Griffin's shooting, sipping, mixing, dining, and penny-pinching Tequila picks. Plus: How she'd take tequila at breakfast and her ultimate margarita recipe.
So, how do you wade through the more than 10,000 tequila brands in the world and pick the right one?
"For me, it depends on my mood, who I'm with, what time of day it is, what I'm eating: It depends on everything," Griffin says.
"The more you learn and the more you try, the more you know your palette."
Her stand-out favorite: Herradura. "I could drink Herradura any time of day: breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
We ask the Tequila Goddess, What's the best tequila for... Shooting? In America, we shoot blancos. And we use what I call training wheels: salt and lime. If the tequila is good enough, you shouldn't need it. Blancos are aged up to 2 months in stainless steel barrels; they're literally baby tequilas. Personally, I really like Corzo - it's very clean tasting because it's three times distilled whereas normal tequila is distilled twice - and Milagro, which is also very good. It really depends on who you're with.
Sipping? I'd do it neat. Herradura and also Milagro's Single Barrel Reserve. It's fabulous for an event like [the Arizona Taco Festival]: Outside, day drinking. I'm partial to Heradora, because I got to visit and see their whole process. Also Don Julio 1942, it's an Extra Anejo, which means it's aged more than 3 years.
Mixing? We have a tequila at our bar called El Caudillo. In a margarita, it is phenomenal. Another would be Tequila Ocho. It's a single vintage estate, kind of like wine; once they're done with the agaves they harvest in one year, they're done. It has such a distinct taste to it. You would be able to tell a difference. Even in a margarita.
Dining? I love our Atun, our tuna entrée with Clase Azul Reposado. The atun is pistachio chile ancho crusted tuna and comes with sweet potatoes, and the tequila really complements that. It's not a sweeter tequila, but it has more caramel and vanilla flavor. I'd serve it with brown sugar and the orange that you suck on between your dinner and your drink to bring out more flavors of the tequila.
Penny-pinching? El Jimador and Herradura . They're both by the same company, but they're different products. The Herradura might be a little more expensive, but it's fabulous. Don Julio is great, too, and the Jose Cuervo Traditional. Any to totally avoid, the ones in the plastic bottles, perhaps? That brings me back college. I think people get mixed up sometimes. I made the mistake of shooting Jose Cuervo Gold in college and wound up really sick the next day. What people don't realize is that Jose Cuervo Gold was designed to be put in margaritas. It's 50 percent agave, and 50 percent sugar, and that's where you get the bad hangovers and you get sick. You want to look for tequilas that are 100 percent agave, and they will be marked as such. It's required by Mexican law, in order to have the 100 percent agave label, it needs to be certified.
Breakfast? I'm thinking like a beer and tequila breakfast. And I'd drink Herradura . It's not super expensive. It's such a great tequila for what you're paying. I'd have the Reposado at breakfast. How would you drink tequila at breakfast?! With eggs and salsa, and maybe a little chorizo. It all depends on how the night before was.
And finally... what's the secret to the best margarita ever? I'm partial, because we make our sour mix fresh. It's lemon juice, lime juice, and simple syrup or agave nectar. We also have skinny and organic margaritas, so it really depends what your're going for. Of course, have a good tequila that's 100 percent agave. It really makes a difference in the drink. My favorite is our Cadillac Margarita, it's all top-shelf liquor: El Caudillo, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, and sour mix.
Griffin's tequila knowledge stems from years of tequila tasting, including a research trip to Mexico's Guadalajara to see the tequila-making process. "It was the experience of a lifetime," Griffin says.
Get schooled by Griffin at La Hacienda on Tequila Tuesdays, part of the restaurants new happy hour schedule, 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. On Tuesdays, tequila's half off and Griffin hosts a master class at 7 p.m., focusing on a new tequila each week. Sounds like school we could handle...