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At the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, the experience includes an intimate tasting with tequila sommelier Audrey Formisano.Edgardo Contreras/Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa

My throat burns and I choke back a cough. I’m trying to keep my composure as I swallow my first sip of tequila. This is a distinguished tasting after all, not a shot-swigging attempt at total inebriation. Instead, I’m sitting around an elegantly set table in the private herb garden of the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, participating in a tasting with their on-site tequila sommelier, Audrey Formisano.

Formisano begins by explaining that there are many types of tequila – a flavour to suit every palate. She asks each guest what their preferred drink is, and from there, she makes her recommendations. She explains, “People are not afraid to drink tequila anymore. With so much variety – we have over 120 brands here in our tequila bar alone – there’s something for everyone, from the coffee and cream of tequila to the kosher and organic.”

I listen on as Formisano shares how to master the art of sipping. A trio of tequilas is served – small pours presented in champagne flutes; a blanco by Herradura, and a reposado and an añejo by CasaMagna – a proprietary brand offered exclusively at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa.

“The resort is located in Jalisco, the cradle of tequila, so we wanted to find a way for guests to connect with the region,” Formisano explains of the resort’s custom tequila brand – and this is the only Marriott in the world to have one. Once the tequila education program was launched – an informative tasting series offered exclusively to resort guests – Formisano helped to produce the tequila brand using the blue agave plants grown and plucked on the property.

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Recently, tequila has become a thriving upmarket offering, and everyone wants to tap into the spirit’s success.Edgardo Contreras/Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa

Tequila can only be made in the state of Jalisco, and with a passionate in-house tequilier and the resources needed to produce the spirit, a custom brand of tequila was a natural next step.

I sniff, swirl and sip the hotel’s reposado, my second sipper, and I smile as the gold-coloured liquid goes down smoothly. Riddled with a bad rep for inducing hangovers, tequila is a spirit that’s not often taken seriously, and Formisano strives to change that. Through her tastings, she educates guests on the heritage of tequila – its birthplace, a town by the same name, is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site for its agave culture, which is seen as an integral part of Mexico’s national identity.

Around me, a lush green landscape offers a peek at Mexico’s horticultural heritage, with small wooden signs identifying each plant. Hierbabuena (peppermint), romero (rosemary) and, of course, wisps of blue agave plants, all grown here and used in the dishes and drinks served. I can taste the subtle sweetness of the agave plant as I take another sip, and as Formisano explains the production process – the baking, shredding, fermenting and distilling – I gain a new appreciation for the balancing act required to make tequila.

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Recently, tequila has become a thriving upmarket offering, and everyone wants to tap into the spirit’s success. Celebrities like Dwayne Johnson (who launched Teremana Tequila in 2020) and Adam Levine and his wife, Behati Prinsloo (who became part owners of Calirosa Tequila, a brand that has been in production since 1940), are investing in the second-fastest growing spirit category of the past few years. In 2021, tequila saw sales climb more than 30 per cent compared to the prior year, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Canada has seen a spike in tequila sales, too. Jeff Savage, Diageo World Class Canada Bartender of the Year winner and the lead bartender at Vancouver’s Botanist restaurant says, “It’s certainly become a necessary requirement for the larger distributors to have a high-quality tequila.” He points to giants like Diageo, which distributes Don Julio and Casamigos in Canada, but says, “even smaller importers are focusing on the importance of tequila to round out their portfolio offerings.”

At Botanist, Savage mixes up the ¡Que Padre! cocktail – a tequila-based tipple that combines cranberry-infused blanco tequila, Aperol, Spanish vermouth, orange blossom water and grapefruit oils. “It seems like every other chit we get has at least one on order,” he shares of the top-seller.

Like Formisano, Savage appreciates the cultural importance of the spirit and says, “Tequila is a special product made by the hands and hearts of Mexican people, who have folded the spirit into the extremely complex and beautiful Mexican cultural tapestry … I am much more interested in hearing the stories of these people and elevating their voices in the beverage world than I am in seeing a famous name on a bottle.”

For Cinco de Mayo celebrations, Formisano suggests a nice Reposado. Its subtle oaky notes and sweet hints of agave are perfectly suited for an outdoor barbecue.

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