Taste: Spirits: Tequila!

Tequila is not just for margaritas anymore. The spirit’s unique spicy flavor lends a distinctive pizzazz to drinks; it piques the appetite, stimulates the senses — and is perking up cocktail recipes traditionally made with other liquors.

Premium tequila, usually made with 100 percent blue agave, is the beverage world’s fastest-­rising star. Gone are the days when salt was needed to dull the senses for shots of cheap rotgut. Tequila quality has improved dramatically as worldwide interest has encouraged Mexican producers to raise the bar and regulate production.
Cocktail innovations are often variations on a classic. Even the mighty margarita is just a tequila riff on the rum daiquiri. Mexican spins on traditional drinks substitute tequila as the liquor base in classics like the Collins and the sour. Particularly delicious is the Bloody Maria, where tequila replaces vodka to capitalize on the synergy of horseradish and tequila.

Campy El Vez on 13th Street offers a rainbow of inventive tequila cocktails; its Mexipoliton is an inevitable silver tequila spin on the wildly popular cosmopolitan. Margarita addicts can find delicious variations, many with fresh fruit pure ses like the yummy peach and strawberry margaritas at Red Sky in Old City. But few restaurants take tequila as seriously as the stylish new Paloma in the Northeast, where tequila martinis are the ultimate tribute. Only a world-class spirit can shine clad with just a whisper of vermouth and an olive.