Tasty tequila cocktails to try

Salt, shoot, suck. Then grit your teeth and shake your head to clear out the fire burning in your throat. This tequila ritual is familiar to many college students, but if you haven't sipped the agave-based spirit since you were younger, it's time for a refresher course.

The liquor is experiencing a renaissance, and producers are crafting single-estate and vintage dated tequilas. These artisanal tequilas have little in common with the processed stuff that stung your throat back in the day.

By Mexican law tequila, which is made by distilling the fermented juices of the blue agave plant, must be 51 percent agave. But that means the other 49 percent can be artificial ickiness. “Called mixto, the cheap stuff contains lots of added sugar and even caramel coloring, which mass producers use in an effort to reproduce the complex flavors in aged tequila,” says Ted Gibson, a bartender who heads up the new All Agave Project tequila tasting program at Rancho Valencia in California.

Not all tequila is alike

Any bottle worth drinking bears the label 100 percent agave. “Quality tequila is an unprocessed natural spirit with depth of flavor,” Gibson says. The best producers focus on terroir, just like with fine wines. A particular tequila's flavor depends on the growing conditions, altitude and sunlight.

“Typically, an agave plant grown in the highlands (above 6,000 feet) is bigger and contains more stored sugar, and its tequila tends to have a floral essence,” Gibson says. “Tequila from plants grown in the lowlands are often more vegetal and spicy.”

Now, we could just take Gibson's word for it that tequila is a versatile spirit that you should be mixing into more than margaritas. But where's the fun in that? Find out for yourself with these inventive recipes that he created. It's a lineup of cocktails that you can serve at a slew of occasions — the perfect sip for a barbecue, brunch, a twist on an Old Fashioned that's just right for an after-dinner delicacy and more. Move over, margarita — the tequila game just got a whole lot more interesting. Get ready for 10 surprising new ways to enjoy this spirit. Salud!

Gallagher's Smash

When we think of fruit and tequila, lemons and limes come to mind. But there are many other varieties that pair perfectly with the spirit.

Yield: one drink


  • 2 ounces blanco tequila
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 5 cubes watermelon
  • 3 sage leaves



Combine ingredients in mixing glass; muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with a watermelon cube and a sage leaf.

Raspberry Beret

Gibson's Raspberry Beret is a cinch for a party. The recipe below serves one, but it's easy to turn it into a big batch. Just make the raspberry-mint lemonade in advance (purée lemonade, raspberries and mint leaves, then strain), and add the booze once it's party time.

Yield: 1 drink


  • 2 ounces blanco tequila
  • 3 ounces lemonade
  • 4 raspberries
  • 5 to 6 mint leaves



Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a raspberry and a sprig of fresh mint.

Juan-y Appleseed

“Herbs go well with blanco tequila, due to the spirit's vegetal and floral flavors,” Gibson says. This recipe calls for licorice-scented tarragon, but mint, thyme, sage and cilantro all complement tequila.

Yield: 1 drink


  • 1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain
  • 1 ounce granny smith apple juice
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce agave syrup
  • 1 sprig tarragon



Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with an apple slice and a sprig of tarragon.

El Jardin

The Pimm's Cup, a classic gin-based English cocktail, is Pimm's No. 1, cucumber and lemonade, lemon-lime soda or ginger ale. Mix things up by swapping the gin for tequila for a clean, refreshing beverage.

Yield: 1 drink


  • 1 1/2 ounces blanco tequila
  • 3/4 ounce Pimm's No. 1
  • 2 ounces lemonade
  • 3 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
  • 3 slices cucumber
  • 3 basil leaves



Combine ingredients in mixing glass; gently muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with a cucumber ribbon and a basil leaf.

La Piñata

“It's simple to make your own pepper-infused tequila,” says Gibson, who admits that La Piñata is his favorite of the tequila creations he makes, because the cilantro and the heat are a match made in mixology heaven. Just slice one serrano in half lengthwise and drop it into a bottle of tequila. Let it sit for 24 hours, then taste.

Yield: 1 drink


  • 2 ounces serrano-infused blanco tequila
  • 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce agave syrup
  • 2 pineapple leaves
  • 1 lime wheel
  • 3 sprigs cilantro, leaves torn



Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with pineapple leaves, a lime wheel and cilantro.

La Siesta

A Paloma is a beloved cocktail made with tequila and grapefruit juice. Give it a modern twist by charring the grapefruit before you juice it so it caramelizes slightly (simply halve the grapefruit and toss it onto a hot grill until you see grill marks). For a garnish, a charred grapefruit slice adds visual interest and even more smoky flavor.

Yield: 1 drink


  • 2 ounces reposado tequila
  • 2 ounces charred grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce cinnamon simple syrup
  • 1 charred grapefruit segment
  • 2 cinnamon sticks



Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Double strain over fresh ice and garnish with charred grapefruit segment and cinnamon sticks.

The Palomino

Vanilla plays well with reposado tequila, bringing out its rich barrel-aged flavor.

For this recipe, it's simple to make your own vanilla bean syrup. Simply combine 1 cup each of sugar and water in a small saucepan, along with a vanilla bean (slice it down the middle and scrape the black seeds into the liquid mixture, along with the pod). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. If you don't feel like making your own syrup, substitute Licor 43, a Spanish liquor with hints of vanilla and citrus, for the syrup and lime juice called for in the recipe.

Yield: 1 drink


  • 2 ounces reposado tequila
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce vanilla bean syrup
  • 1/2 ounce ginger juice
  • 1 lime wheel
  • 1 candied ginger



Shake ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Strain over fresh ice and garnish with a lime wheel and candied ginger.

Loosen the Reins

This cocktail, deep and complex, is basically an Old Fashioned made with tequila instead of bourbon. It's perfect for after dinner — like dessert in a glass, thanks to the addition of the chocolate bitters.

Yield: 1 drink


  • 2 1/2 ounces añejo tequila
  • 1/2 ounce agave syrup
  • 3 to 4 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters
  • 1 orange peel



Combine ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, then stir. Strain over fresh ice. Express orange peel over drink and around rim.

Tiny Bubbles

Who knew tequila and prosecco, champagne or cava would work so well together? Balanced, light and perfect for brunch, this cocktail shows that the spirit isn't all muscle and fire.

Yield: 1 drink


  • 1 ounce blanco tequila
  • 1/2 ounce grapefruit-infused St. Germain
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 lemon peel
  • 4 to 5 seedless red grapes
  • Sparkling wine



Combine ingredients (except for sparkling wine) in mixing glass; muddle. Add ice, then shake. Double strain over fresh ice, then top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon peel and grapes.

Mixing cocktails and conversation

Jews and Muslims in Los Angeles don’t often get together for drinks. After all, religious Muslims don’t drink, and the two groups have had their differences. 

But a new project aims to get individuals from both backgrounds talking to each other, while crafting simple yet delicious non-alcoholic beverages, or “mocktails.”

On a recent Monday evening, about a dozen people gathered around a table at the Silverlake Independent JCC as Howard Seth Cohen demonstrated how to make a drink called a mule — featuring ginger beer, blackberries and more, but no liquor.

“What we’re doing is getting all the juice from the berries out, and we’re expressing out the oils from the mint,” Cohen, an actor, told the group, as he slapped a handful of mint leaves together.

Cohen squeezed lemons and limes using a heavy-duty stainless steel bar press, poured the juice through a strainer into a mixing glass, placed that glass into a tin cup filled with ice, and shook vigorously. He then strained that liquid into another ice-filled glass, poured in ginger beer and added a bit of grapefruit peel, twisted into a garnish. He finished it off with an edible orchid flower on top.

The workshop participants scribbled away in notebooks, but they were clearly eager to get started on their own drinks. They paired up and started mixing fruit and liquids, tasting the results, and adding sweet or sour elements to get the taste just right.

This workshop comes with a somewhat inflammatory name: “72 Virgins.” It’s Cohen’s playful take on the idea — based on a mistranslation of a quote by the prophet Muhammad — that every Muslim martyr will be rewarded in heaven with 72 beautiful and pure sex slaves.

“I thought it was absolutely kind of hilarious in my head, like, what if a martyr finds themselves in heaven and are presented with 72 virgin cocktails?” Cohen said.

The name also confronts the negative stereotypes that people have of Muslims.

“As a Muslim, and as a woman and a feminist, it was always something that annoyed me and frustrated me because it was people taking the language away from what it actually meant,” said Saba Mirza, who organized the workshop with Cohen. 

When Cohen first made Mirza a non-alcoholic cocktail — a tamarind sour — she said it was a revelation.

“It looked like the sunset and sunrise all at once, and it tasted like the best tamarind candy that you’d want to sip on and then chug down at the same time, but then you wouldn’t because you want to sip it,” Mirza said. “It was lovely.”

Cohen and Mirza created the “72 Virgins” workshop with a micro-grant from the nonprofit NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

“My husband and I were traveling to the Middle East, maybe five years ago, and we had all these fancy amazing drinks at one of the coffee shops. And we were like, this doesn’t exist in the U.S., it just doesn’t,” said Aziza Hasan, NewGround’s executive director. “And so that’s also kind of the appeal tonight, is to be able to experience really great drinks that have nothing to do with alcohol.”

At the recent workshop, Paula Dromi, who is Jewish and lives in Koreatown, paired up with Maryam Saleemi, who lives downtown. They made an orange-ginger mule with egg foam.

“I’m Muslim, so I don’t drink alcohol,” Saleemi said. “So I love this, because whenever I go to the bar with my friends, I’m like, ‘I don’t really want another Coke. Is there something else?’ And there usually isn’t. So I love this.” 

Before long, the participants relaxed and started sharing recommendations for their favorite qawwali singers (a type of Sufi devotional music), how to make the best hummus and, of course, the best cocktails. 

Dromi and Saleemi asked Cohen if they could start drinking their concoctions.

“You should be drinking the whole time! What fun is the class if you can’t enjoy yourself, right?” Cohen said. “So you should be drinking, you should be sharing, getting other people’s opinions of the drink, think, ‘How can I make this drink even a little bit better?’ ”

Danielle West, who came with her friend and co-worker Annie Cavanaugh, muddled cucumber, mint and ginger in a glass, but couldn’t taste the ginger. She kept adding more ginger, but it didn’t help. So, with Cohen’s advice, she added ginger shrub (made of ginger, sugar and apple cider vinegar), agave and lime juice.

“Now it’s lovely. … It’s spicy and it’s sweet and it tastes like cucumber and ginger,” West said. 

“I actually don’t drink alcohol at all. I’m a Mormon and we choose not to drink alcohol, and so when [West] found this, I got so excited, because I love fancy glassware, I love fancy drinks but without the alcohol, and so this was everything I love,” Cavanaugh said.

Heavy topics such as politics and religion didn’t come up the entire evening. The group was more focused on making delicious drinks. 

“I happen to love to cook, so this is just fun,” Dromi said.

“But I’ve never cooked with someone I don’t know, and I like this,” Saleemi told Dromi, laughing. “I feel like I know you more already!”

At the end of the workshop, everyone sat in a circle and described the last drink they’d made: ginger beer with hibiscus juice, a ginger cucumber mint soda, and sparkling tangerine juice with egg foam and an orange twist on top. 

Cohen said his next project will be to get Muslims and Jews to square dance together. And, he said, you can bet there’ll be nonalcoholic cocktails there as well.

Say L’Chayim to 5768!

The smells and tastes of Rosh Hashanah are like no other. The sweet honey, crisp apples and refreshing pomegranate make for quite a feast for the senses. While tradition dictates that we enjoy sliced apples and honey and have a new fruit on our table — most families use pomegranate, with its 613 seeds (mitzvot) — there’s nothing that says we can’t drink them.

The recipes below, which can be made with and without alcohol, are just some of the hundreds of drink creations that use apples (tapuach), honey (devash) and/or pomegranate/grenadine (rimon). All make for a delicious, sweet and colorful way to welcome 5768 — after all, it is New Year’s!

613 L’Chayims
2 ounces pomegranate juice
2 ounces vodka
1/4 ounce simple syrup (two parts sugar, one part water; boil, simmered until sugar is dissolved, cool)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake with ice, strain and serve. Garnish with a lemon twist.

So, Nu?
Can be made without vodka.
1 quart pomegranate juice
2 quarts of carbonated or sparkling water
1 pint vodka (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
orange slices for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl and stir. Add an ice ring to keep cool, or may be served warm. Garnish with orange rounds.
Makes 20 servings

Rah-Rah Rimon
1 1/2 ounces pomegranate juice
4 ounces lemon-lime soda

Combine all ingredients in a highball glass filled with ice and stir.

Cran Sameach
4 ounces cranberry juice
1/2 ounce orange juice
2 tablespoons grenadine
1 1/2 ounces cola
1 teaspoon honey

Pour over ice and fill with cola. Stir and add honey. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

A Bissel Berry
2/3 cup blueberries
1/3 cup blackberries
1 cup soda water
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a blender. Cover and mix on medium speed until well blended.

Liquid Etrog
2 cups carbonated water (or plain water)
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey

Place all ingredients in a blender. Cover and mix on medium speed until well blended.

Sweet and Sour 5768
1 shot vodka
1/2 shot lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey

Keep the vodka and juice at room temperature. Mix them in the glass, and then add the honey, which will sink to the bottom. Swirl the drink to vary the amount of honey dissolved.

A Taste of Devash
2 ounces gin
1 cup crushed ice
2 dashes lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey

Add crushed ice first, followed by the honey. Stir the mixture as you pour the gin on top, which should be chilled. Add lemon juice to taste, and place a wedge over the rim.

Shevarim Teruah
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) apple juice
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups cracked ice

Blend all together in a blender to the consistency of snow. Serve immediately.

L’Shana Tapuach
1 quart (4 cups) apple cider
2 cups cranberry juice cocktail
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4 cups ginger ale
Crushed ice

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Add chilled ginger ale just before serving. Add crushed ice. Serve immediately.
Makes 15 servings.

Sinless Martini
2 ounces sparkling cider
1/2 ounce Granny Smith apple (chopped)
2 ounces lemon-lime soda
2 dashes cinnamon
1/2 cups crushed ice

Put ingredients in blender, add ice and blend. Pour into martini glass. Garnish with an apple wedge and serve.

Sinful Martini
1 part vodka
1 part Sour Apple Pucker
1 part apple juice

Pour all ingredients into a shaker. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.