Forget margaritas, tequila slammers, or the frankly terrible tequila sunrise. There's a much more fun and refreshing way to enjoy Mexico's most loved spirit: out of a clay casserole dish.
Native to the western state of Jalisco, where the majority of tequila is produced, the cazuela is a potent mixed drink that takes up a lot of table space but boasts a wonderfully explosive citrus flavor.
Named after the ornate, locally made stewpot in which it is served, the drink is also sometimes referred to as a cazuela voladora—literally a flying casserole dish—because it either leaves you feeling slightly dizzy or as if you can fly.
The cazuela is made by filling the dish with ice cubes, chunks of orange, lime, grapefruit, and a dash of sea salt to counter the acidity, as well as a generous serving of tequila, and an even bigger dose of Squirt. Having spent six years living in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco and the heart of tequila country, I'm convinced that this is one of the most enjoyable ways to mix the spirit.
A close relative of the classic Paloma cocktail and the Cantaritos de Amatitán, a similar local specialty served in large clay cups, the cazuela was invented more than 30 years ago in La Barca, a small town about 50 miles southeast of Guadalajara.
Today, cazuelas can be found in cantinas and traditional campestre restaurants across much of Jalisco. They are especially common in Guadalajara's charming Tlaquepaque district, a popular tourist area full of markets, art galleries, and eateries. Among these restaurants is El Abajeño, a campestre that serves classic regional dishes such as birria, tortas ahogadas and tacos paseados. The manager, Rolando Aponte Barrera, tells me they have been serving cazuelas since El Abajeño opened in 1979.
At first, the bartenders at El Abajeño spiked their cazuelas with Blanco Madero—a fiery aguardiente made from sugar cane in the northern state of Coahuila—but they soon began using more refined and locally produced tequila in its place.
El Abajeño now offers cazuelas made with a choice of 45 different tequilas. The prices range from 100 pesos ($5) if it's made with a basic tequila reposado to 250 pesos ($12.50) if you prefer crystalline añejos like Herradura Ultra or Don Julio 70.
Using such premium tequilas seems a bit unnecessary given that you're mixing it, but as Aponte says, "It depends on the consumer's taste. We have blanco, reposado and añejo tequilas so people can ask for whatever kind they prefer. There are even some people who like cazuelas with rum, vodka, or whisky."
Aponte says El Abajeño now sells 40 to 50 cazuelas every weekday, and a staggering 500 to 800 per day on weekends.
"There's no real trick to it," he admits. "What people like about our cazuelas is that they can enjoy them in a traditional environment. We have live mariachi music every day and folkloric ballet every Saturday and Sunday."
As he speaks, a middle-aged man croons across the courtyard to the sound of mariachi horns.
"The guy that's singing is just a customer," Aponte adds. "A lot of people like to get up and accompany the mariachis. They can come here and feel like they're an artist for a day."
As for the casserole dishes that give the cazuelas their name, Aponte tells me they're made in nearby Tonalá, a neighborhood famed for its artisan products. He admits the clay isn't tested for lead and may not meet strict health and safety standards, but hey, what's a bit of lead poisoning between friends?
"Many people say the clay gives it a certain flavour, but it's really just served in these dishes for aesthetic reasons," Aponte adds.
The most common way to imbibe a cazuela is through a straw, while periodically squeezing the chunks of citric fruit to release more juice. Yet, Aponte notes that the dish "has handles on either side so you can lift it up and down it in one."
But, he adds, "Once you've drunk two or three like that you won't be able to stand up."
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