An Oaxacan old fashioned.

Da duh duh duh duh da duh duh … tequila!

I love tequila. I used to drink it by the bottle. A shot of reposado (or seven) and a couple of cold beers was the way I ended my night for the better part of a decade.

But I have to be honest with you: I hate making tequila cocktails.

After asking myself for a while why this is so, I discovered the reason: There are only, like, four good ones. Most bartenders only know the margarita; fewer can make a paloma; fewer still the Mexican firing squad and El Diablo. With all due respect to my Texas people, a ranch water is hardly a proper cocktail and more of a delivery system. Feel free to order a tequila sunrise at a different bar, please.

Don’t get me started on tequila mules, margarita variations, random drinks with watermelon juice or muddled fruit, or the ever-present “ancho and tequila” drinks that are still on many menus. That’s not what we do in this column. I’m talking about real classics … and there have to be more, right? So I decided to scour the internet and the recesses of my mind for some “modern classics” that feature our friend from South of the Border.

I have to start with the one that made me go, “Duh.” The reason I didn’t immediately think of it is that everyone thinks of it as a mezcal cocktail: It’s the infamous Oaxacan old fashioned, invented by Phil Ward at the legendary Death and Co. in New York. What most older bartenders forget, and young ones never knew, is that it is a tequila cocktail with a little mezcal in it. Good luck finding it that way these days, however; now it’s usually just made with mezcal, for the worse. Mezcal is perhaps the most versatile spirit and lacks the body for an old fashioned on its own. This drink was so ubiquitous (and wrongly made) that it’s now sort of considered played out. It really did a lot to make mezcal the hottest thing in spirits these days, so give it a go. Here’s the recipe from Mayahuel, Ward’s bar after Death and Co., taken from

  • 1 1/2 ounces of reposado tequila
  • 1/2 ounce of mezcal
  • 1 barspoon of agave nectar
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Stir over a large ice cube in a double old fashioned glass; garnish with flamed orange peel.

Here’s one I knew but forgot about, and I haven’t really made it often due to rarely having the ingredients. It’s the La Perla, from Tres Agaves in San Francisco, and bartender Jacques Bezuidenhout. It’s unique enough to be its own thing, which is what I am looking for here—and it’s pretty tasty, too. Good luck finding a bar with the manzanilla sherry and Poire Williams around here, though. Make it at home.

  • 1 1/2 ounces of reposado tequila
  • 1 1/2 ounces of manzanilla sherry
  • 3/4 ounce of Poire Williams

Stir; strain into a chilled coupe; lemon twist.

Here’s another one from the heyday of the bartending renaissance—the Yellowjacket, from the book Speakeasy, by the guys from New York’s legendary Employees Only. I am loath to make any cocktail with elderflower (we call it “ketchup” in the industry these days), but this book is, like, 20 years old and gets a pass for being “OG.”

  • 2 ounces of reposado tequila
  • 1 ounce of elderflower liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce of yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 dash of Regan’s orange bitters

Stir; coupe, lemon twist.

I haven’t made one in about 10 years—since the elderflower backlash—so maybe it’s time for a comeback.

I’m going to (sort of) finish with a cocktail that I hadn’t previously tried: the Flutter, by bartender Tony Coligniaro. This one is from 2003, and I somehow hadn’t heard of it. Here’s the recipe, adapted by me from Difford’s Guide. It’s so weird, it just has to be good, right? It is. It’s also easy to make and requires no crazy ingredients.

  • 1 1/2 ounces of reposado tequila
  • 3/4 ounce of coffee liqueur
  • 1 ounce of pineapple juice

Shake; strain into a coupe; garnish with grated espresso beans.

I’ll be honest: Most of the popular tequila drinks out there are still variations or substitutions, despite my research. I’m sure I’m missing a few; feel free to let me know, but variations on classics are pretty much the norm for all spirits these days. Here’s one fun way to tweak an espresso martini.

  • 1 ounce of añejo tequila
  • 1 ounce of coffee liquor
  • 1 ounce of cold brew concentrate (or espresso, even better)

Shake; strain into a coupe; garnish with a grated espresso bean.

Believe it or not, it really works. Substituting any age of tequila for gin into a negroni (or white negroni) also works really well. You can also substitute an añejo for rye in your Manhattan for a change of pace, but it’s not probably going to be your regular tipple.

Apologies to Freddy Fudpucker, Mexican candy shooters and all of the rest. Maybe tequila doesn’t need to have a ton of bougie cocktails; the ones it has are pretty damn fun!

I still kinda hate making them, though …

Kevin Carlow has been a bartender and writer for most of his adult life. Having worked in nearly every position in the service industry at some point, he is currently a cocktail consultant and the co-owner...