A Primer With Mixologist Dila Lee

Savoring Tequila’s Depth & Versatility

We sat down with mixologist Dila Lee, the creator of our delicious bandido cocktails, to get her take on how to savor a premium tequila like El Bandido Yankee. Dila, born and raised in Turkey, has a master’s degree in Japanese and has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the United States. Her beverage expertise includes tequila, sake, wine and other spirits, and she holds an Award T certification for tequila from the CRT (Consejo Regulador del Tequila). 

She’s quick to emphasize that today’s beverage consumers want authentic spirits and they care about what goes into their mixed drinks as well. 

What’s your personal take on what makes a great tequila?

Most importantly, don’t judge a tequila by superficial things like its color or cost. You could choose a tequila that’s priced at $50 or over but was still made by cutting corners, which will be reflected in the taste. A tequila’s color does not indicate quality either. A tequila maker might add coloring additives to make the tequila appear more aged. So a richly colored tequila doesn’t necessarily equate to a better tequila.

Pay attention to how it’s made and what’s in it. Focus on sourcing a tequila that’s 100% blue weber agave and additive-free. A true premium tequila like El Bandido Yankee will result in a superior tasting experience.


If drinking your tequila neat, what are your preferences for savoring the taste?

A tequila snifter, which resembles a champagne flute,  is the most preferred glassware. However, I really prefer using a whisky nosing glass. This glass gives you a smoother tasting experience with its tapering mouth and also has an easy grip with a solid base.

Whichever glass you use, I recommend drinking the tequila at room temperature and neat. Do not bury your nose into a glass quickly, because the alcohol content is much higher than a wine, for example. 

I suggest swirling your tequila, as you might with a wine, to test the “legs.” The longer it takes your tequila to slide down the glass, the fuller bodied and robust your taste will be. Tilt the glass to get the full range of expressions, as the heavier notes generally settle at the bottom and the lighter ones move to the top. 

But if in doubt, it’s more important that you have a high-quality, handcrafted tequila than the right glass or technique to drink it!


If someone is new to drinking premium tequila and doesn’t want to try it neat, what would you recommend?

I suggest starting with a blanco as your base.

A Classic Margarita is a safe way to go if you prefer to have more sweet notes. The lime citrus notes pair well with tequila and pave the way to a brighter style cocktail. 

If you prefer something lighter, a Paloma is a great choice and is hugely popular in Mexico. Combined with grapefruit juice and club soda, it’s a very refreshing way to enjoy your tequila.


What are the best accompaniments if you’re using tequila in cocktails?

I love incorporating sour fruits to balance and enhance the agave flavors, so lime, lemon and grapefruit are always great companions. Ginger is also another great accompaniment to utilize in tequila cocktails like we did in our Stolen Night creation. Seasonal fruits like watermelon are another tasty way to mix up a tequila and it makes for a fantastic thirst quencher, like in our Fiery Bandido


For the more adventurous tequila drinkers, what are some fun trends you’re seeing on how to savor your tequila?

With tequila, I’m seeing a demand for ways to enjoy tequila without coating it with heavy ingredients. When you’re working with a premium tequila, you don’t want to cover it up. You want all those beautiful agave notes to come through to enjoy.

Tequila cocktails with spicy and savory notes continue to have strong appeal. Additionally, I’m seeing a growing interest in Tequila Old Fashioneds, which is another tasty way to enjoy a tequila, especially during the upcoming cold weather months.


Now we’re not only thirsty, but also hungry. What are examples of good food pairings for tequila?

Tequila is so fun to enjoy with food and it’s well beyond just pairing your margarita with some chips and guac. People are enjoying their tequila with everything from fish tacos to complex dishes and desserts.  

Let’s look at pairing ideas for the three main categories of tequila:

Blanco: Being the lightest of tequilas, you can think of a blanco similar to a white wine. A blanco will not overpower and would pair well with raw or cooked seafood, as well as poultry. A nice mixed seafood ceviche is one of my favorite foods to enjoy with a tequila blanco. 

Reposado: Aged in oak barrels, a reposado brings forth hints of oaky notes. Richer and more complex than a blanco tequila, a reposado pairs well with pork, smoked meats and spicy dishes. I recommend sipping this along with your meal, in the much the same way you would a glass of Merlot.  

Añejo: Due to its longer aging process, añejos are bolder in flavor than a reposado with even more oaky notes. These rich tequilas will further enhance foods like steak, buttery mushrooms, grilled asparagus or chocolate-based desserts. You can put that bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon down and have a more adventurous culinary experience with an añejo in the mix. 

Speaking of añejos, El Bandido Yankee is in no rush to bring the very best aged tequila to the market. Our añejo is currently being carefully aged at El Viejito Distillery in Jalisco. Sign up for our bandido news and be the first to know the date it’s hitting the market in 2022.

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