Salt, shoot, suck. Then grit your teeth and shake your head to clear out the fire burning in your throat. This tequila ritual is familiar to many college students, but if you haven't sipped the agave-based spirit since you were younger, it's time for a refresher course.

The liquor is experiencing a renaissance, and producers are crafting single-estate and vintage dated tequilas. These artisanal tequilas have little in common with the processed stuff that stung your throat back in the day.

By Mexican law tequila, which is made by distilling the fermented juices of the blue agave plant, must be 51 percent agave. But that means the other 49 percent can be artificial ickiness. "Called mixto, the cheap stuff contains lots of added sugar and even caramel coloring, which mass producers use in an effort to reproduce the complex flavors in aged tequila," says Ted Gibson, a bartender who heads up the new All Agave Project tequila tasting program at Rancho Valencia in California.

Not all tequila is alike

Any bottle worth drinking bears the label 100 percent agave. "Quality tequila is an unprocessed natural spirit with depth of flavor," Gibson says. The best producers focus on terroir, just like with fine wines. A particular tequila's flavor depends on the growing conditions, altitude and sunlight.

"Typically, an agave plant grown in the highlands (above 6,000 feet) is bigger and contains more stored sugar, and its tequila tends to have a floral essence," Gibson says. "Tequila from plants grown in the lowlands are often more vegetal and spicy."

Now, we could just take Gibson's word for it that tequila is a versatile spirit that you should be mixing into more than margaritas. But where's the fun in that? Find out for yourself with these 10 inventive recipes that he created. It's a lineup of cocktails that you can serve at a slew of occasions -- the perfect sip for a barbecue, a bacon-garnished beverage for brunch, a twist on an Old Fashioned that's just right for an after-dinner delicacy and more. Move over, margarita -- the tequila game just got a whole lot more interesting. Get ready for 10 surprising new ways to enjoy this spirit. Salud!