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Have Americans Been Drinking Tequila Shots the Wrong Way All These Years?

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It's a rite of passage for the college crowd, for girl's night out, and for gabachos who want to play Mexican for a night: the tequila shot. Salt your hand, lick it off, down the shot, then suck a lime slice. One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!

Mexicans do it, too, although not as much as we'd like to admit given we must always proclaim our authenticity above Americans. But the tradition of combining salt with lime when drinking tequila is very much a Mexican invention--and it turns out we've been doing it backwards for nearly 85 years.


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Flickr user fczuardi
One of my chapters in my coming book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (out April 2012!) will address tequila's conquest of American livers. In my research, I found what I think is the oldest how-to guide for Americans on how to drink tequila, in a 1924 Los Angeles Times article.

It was the height of Prohibition, but that didn't stop the Times from helping its readers navigate the cantinas of Tijuana, so a nameless writer penned "Tequila Drinking: And the Mexican Way, with Salt and Lemon Recommended." They advised the use of the latter two, as the reporter said most people who tried tequila wished "that the bartender had substituted hydrochloric acid or hair tonic in its place."

But instead of advising people to drink shots the way we do it today, the Times' advice seems backwards to us:

One picks up a slice of lemon, salts it generously, pops it into his mouth and chews it vigorously. While the mouth and eyes are still puckered from the effects of the lemon, one picks up his glass and hastily empties his tequila into himself, after which he gasps a little, blinks his eyes three or four times, and indulges in a convulsive shiver."

The Times went onto note that "this is the Mexican method of drinking tequila, and although Americans have experimented industriously with other methods, they have never discovered one that would cloak the slightly sour taste of the tequila so effectively."

The dispatch does call into question why people would use salt and lime in the first place. The salt ritual remains before the tequila, to cut its richness--but what's the point of sucking on a lime afterward? If the point is to mask the flavor, why not chew or suck on the lime beforehand (have no idea where the Times got "lemon" from). And at what point did this tradition change? Is there an older how-to guide out there? Inquiring minds want to know!

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47 comments
Charise Nolasco
Charise Nolasco

My guide is to just take the shot with no 'accouterments' if you get that "compulsive shiver" take the salt, eat the lime and never drink that brand again. This is the Charise way :-))

Jennifer Mundy
Jennifer Mundy

I am not sure. Charise Nolasco what do you think?

Dathan Nrysdale
Dathan Nrysdale

Why would anyone want to cloak the taste of tequila?

Chad Macy
Chad Macy

Respect the Spirit of the Agave.

Kevin Long
Kevin Long

If it's wrong...I don't want to be right, amigo.

Chip Huertas
Chip Huertas

In mexico we have many tequilas and quality is the difference between salt and lemon and just the tequila, a good tequila goes alone, a so so tequila goes first then the salt and lemon and a bad tequila goes with whatever you like, even Coca Cola (i hate it, i'd drink the worst tequila alone myself) but a traditional way to drink it is called "banderita", that is tequila and sangrita, first tequila, then taste it and last a small sip of sangrita. Really good!

Darren
Darren

Mr. Arellano,      So I was bartending at The Block in Orange a few years ago and enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with a caballero who bartended at the El Torito across the parking lot (El Torito; probably not a locale likely to be high on the list of places to score authentic tequila knowledge.  I know what you're thinking, but stick with me.  My story gets better.).  I taught him how to make a proper martini (There's vermouth in it or it's  *not* a martini!) and he taught me how to make a wonderful little tequila chaser called "sangrita."  I've never encountered it anywhere else, although I still make it from time to time for tequila hounds at my current bar, and often wondered why.  It's sweet up front, the tomato juice gives it body, a pleasantly spicy finish leaves a lingering burn that invites, nay, *dares* one to quench it with. . . what else?  Another shot of tequila!  And possibly a lengthy swig from a (well made) Mexican beer.  My point is this: in my opinion sangrita does not mask the flavor of the tequila.  It compliments it beautifully.  It's delicious.  Is it authentic?  I've seen a reddish liquid served in a hollowed- out "pepino" appear in magazine pictures next to what looks suspiciously like tequila, but none of my bus boys or line cooks are familiar with it (It already occurred to me to- apologies-  ask a Mexican).  Seen it around?

taylor c
taylor c

Am I the only one that thinks its just fun; that's a good enough reason for me.  I don't think the lime and salt disguise flavors, maybe from cheap stuff, but rather I think it can enhance and round out the flavors of a good tequila.  Why are people so interesting in proving people wrong and telling them something they enjoy is stupid? If they enjoy it who cares

Pepe
Pepe

If you need to chug down tequila in a single gulp, you're drinking shit. Next time try Herradura and sip the damn thing.

Mixnsip.com
Mixnsip.com

I can see the sense of salt and citrus first - citrus tones down the flavor of bad booze and salt helps mollify a fiery flavor but agree that, these days, there are really good tequilas that need no disguise. BTW, lemon is used as often as lime. 

Fred
Fred

If you are doing shots, you are drinking crappy tequila.

Dominik MJ Schachtsiek
Dominik MJ Schachtsiek

Yeah, some answers in the comments were pretty accomplished - some not so much...

In those times tequila was a very harsh product - not even comparable with rather cheap mixtos today. It was a rather regional than international spirit and it was consumed as it was - without improving it to please anyones taste buds. Lime and salt is just taking the burn [or bite] as much as the quite nasty/spicy original sangrita which contained chili and sour oranges [the regional stuff is usually not as good as when a spirit becomes international - in the beginning of respective spirit, Grappa, vodka, even Scotch were hard to swallow.

The lime and the salt later became just a ritual [which of course separates tequila from other spirit - a great marketing tool], as it is much easier to understand than sangrita [or even the original sour orange pieces with chili powder].

It is nowadays almost a sacrilege to drink good tequila [inclusive blancos] with lime and salt - why are you spending so much, if you are covering then aromas with the ritual???

The reserves from the traditional tequila houses though are also a marketing myth. Not that they didn't had aged tequila for themselves - but usually a regional spirit is not put away to be only accessible by the family itself and their guests. This is a rather romantic picture fueled by the brands, which want to market their super premiums.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Pity you don't apply the same amount of rigor in your Kluckers of Old OC series.

BTW, is SAFII ever going to do a "tequila" series?  Top 100?  etc. 

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Every right-thinking person knows that great tequila is sipped, not shot... and tequila of lesser pedigree is chased with sangrita!

Marial
Marial

wow..this is so stupid....slow news day?

Daniel Ruelasm
Daniel Ruelasm

he simply said lemon, cause he must be mexican. and we call lemons and limes pretty much the same. unless you call it by color. haha "del verde" or "del amarillo". hence the times reporter being mexican, called the lime a lemon as in mexico he would have called it a lemon (lee-moan) <---- pronounceation for lemon. lol

Jack Hamnyer
Jack Hamnyer

dude whats up with that pic of those two dudes? I'm sure he used the other dudes penis as a salty alternative

Rig
Rig

Sucking on the lime rinses out the worst of the burn, for cheap tequila. The other way (the old way, I guess), seems too complicated, and less sexy.

Val
Val

I've always done without the lime and salt figuring that a good tequila doesn't require anything to kill the taste - in fact, I prefer tequila that tastes good enough to sip rather than shoot. I can see having to do this with rot gut like Jose Cuervo, which I try to avoid like the plague. Not sure if sipping a tequila straight is a Mexican thing or not, but that's my preference.

Tony Danza
Tony Danza

 make sure you stay away from the gold shit when taking shots.

vegandawg23
vegandawg23 topcommenter

@Randy Heard that's a girl/homo drink in Mexico. Dunno how men drink tequila besides straight up though. They mix it with coke or something?

Hank Mardoukus
Hank Mardoukus

Fred, Thanks for the dumbest comment of the week!

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Of course I do, but the Klan is fab in your book--pretty sad! As for you legitimate comment--stay tuned...

SalvadorL
SalvadorL

Gustavo likes history for many reasons and so do I. In the late 50's in Guadalajara and in Tequila, Jalisco itself, what we now know, thanks to marketing segmentation, as upscale tequilas (varieties of special anejos, reposados and extra anejos) were only available to a selected few, even in the tasting rooms of the traditional tequila houses such as Herradura, Orendain, Sauza, Cuervo, etc. White tequilas you could drink with sangrita or limon y sal. All others not so much, they were to be sipped. Those were the rules in my family y amigos y conocidos. Obviously rules are made to be broken.

tnrc75
tnrc75

C'mon, relax.  This is an interesting story.  Didn't your mother tell you "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"?

big fella
big fella

Marial!! Long time bro! Sorry I never called you back dude. It's just that you were my first gay experience and I was ashamed by the whole thing. It was the first time I've had a guy give me a blumpkin... sorry.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Maybe, but the Times really didn't have Mexican reporters back then...

Shaft
Shaft

what a peter puffer.. no one wants to know sucking take away the burn

Nancy
Nancy

Completely agree, I have never seen the point of drinking  a tequila  whose flavor I have to "mask". No thanks! I think this article is backwards and completely uninformative.

Mary Cohne
Mary Cohne

its best to sip it without masking the flavor. Have you ever been to a tequila festi?

Fred
Fred

OK dookie!  Keep drinking cuervo, you brainless fucktard.

big fella
big fella

Hey tnrc75!! How the hell are you young lady? Haven't seen you around for some time now.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

tnrc75: just one of our trolls, so don't bother reasoning with her...

graceigrace
graceigrace

Eyes watering and blinking and shivers...it was a white man who couldn't take a shot that wrote this. Instead of looking for a white (American) instructional guide...maybe some qualitative research would be appropriate? Interview old school drunkards and lushes that spent much of their drinking IN Mexico; or if possible, and admittedly less likely, research Mexican newspaper archives for this type of information. Until solid Mexican history can say how to take a tequila shot, it's still White America's recount of "traditional" ways to do Mexican activities.

In the end...who really cares? Take your liquor any way you prefer it!! hahahaha

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

So you don't care about history? What a sad, list soul...

Hank Mardoukus
Hank Mardoukus

I dont take shots of cuervo. your mom does than I go to town on that.

tnrc75
tnrc75

k...understood....always enjoy your presence on Pocho Hour of Power

fnarf
fnarf

Even an unusually well-preserved drunkard with the finest medical care would be unlikely to clearly recall 1924 or earlier. He'd be well over 100 years old.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

And gabachos can't report on the drinking habits of Mexicans? That's rather silly...

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