Many people think of tequila as a drink that needs to be downed quickly and chased with lime. This is unfortunate and not entirely accurate. Master tequila distiller German Gonzalez, of the premium brand Tears of Llorona, explains why many Americans have this negative association.

In order for a spirit to be called tequila, it must contain a minimum of 51 percent agave, the desert plant that is the base of the spirit. However, there is no requirement for the remaining 49 percent. For many years, lower-end tequila makers filled the difference with sugar cane juice.

That amount of sucrose can cause a terrible hangover. “It’s the tequila you remember from high school,” German Gonzalez joked.

He suggests consumers seek premium tequilas, made from 100 percent agave, and look for that qualification on the front of the bottle. Once you have found this designation, then you can start enjoying aged tequilas. Just as aging can help smooth out some of the harsher flavors of whiskey or rum, it can have the same effect on tequila and turn a fiery product into a drink ripe for sipping.

Demand for premium tequilas has been steadily rising. According to German Gonzalez, in 1983, America received 2 percent of the premium tequilas made in Mexico. Now we consume over 65 percent. In fact, more tequila is consumed in the United States than in Mexico.

The trend is catching on in New Orleans, with several drinking spots now offering premium tequilas and special promotions.

Starting Monday, Araña, 3242 Magazine St., will launch the new Araña Tequila Society and, throughout the week of Cinco de Mayo, will offer special tastings and promotions.

Joining is free, and each member will receive a “tequila passport” containing Araña’s tequila selections.

Tasting new brands leads to rewards of prizes and bar tabs. Quarterly ATS events educating guests about tequila also are planned throughout the year.

With more than 100 types of tequila on offer, general manager Armand Gonzalzles believes there is a tequila for everyone.

He notes that events like Tales of the Cocktail have encouraged New Orleanians to step out of their comfort zone and expand their palates, and he is excited about all of the new tequila cocktails he has created for the menu.

When I visited Araña, Armand Gonzalzles poured two very different tequila drinks. The first, unnamed, cocktail featured a spicy, caramel-cinnamon syrup, while the second, the Romera Fresca, sported a juniper-infused tequila topped with rosemary and tonic.

Each was refreshing and a reminder of the variety of ways tequila can be presented beyond the tangy margarita. I’d order both again.

But for those who wish to appreciate tequilas on their own, Araña offers many flights on its menu, and bartenders are willing to share favorites with customers. Armand Gonzalzles also pointed out that with a happy hour featuring half-price tequila, there’s no reason to not sample them all.

German Gonzalez is delighted to see the rise in tequila appreciation here in the United States. It is only appropriate, as tequila has been a part of our country’s history since the 19th century.

“Back when the miners were going to California to look for gold,” he said, “Mexico was selling tequila to them.”