With so many new tequila brands making their way to the market, experienced tequila drinkers often look for clues that indicate if a particular brand is worthy of a try. Clues can take the form of a particular process or distillery, as well as the people behind the brand. For us, it means a lot when a new brand has a well-seasoned and reputable master distiller who carefully crafts the flavor profile, and watches over the process.

Fortunately, Gran Dovejo has just such a master distiller in Leopoldo Solis Tinoco. Solis also had a hand in Don Pilar and Siembra Azul, among other well-known tequilas. Based on this alone, we were anxious to give this tequila a try – and recently, we did.

Gran Dovejo is made in the highlands of Jalisco using many of our favorite techniques: the use of very ripe single-estate agave, cooked in clay ovens, distilled in copper pots, and created in small batches. (In other words even more “clues.”)

Its blanco has a strong agave nose with aromas of citrus, olive, and pepper. In the mouth it has a nice oiliness with a gentle, minty finish. The reposado has aromas of butter and vanilla, with an added touch of cinnamon to its flavor profile. The reposado is aged for 6 to 9 months in American oak barrels.

The añejo has intensified vanilla and oak flavors, as well as a lighter finish. It is aged up to 3 years, or whenever Solis says it’s ready. The entire line is balanced and pleasant, and it’s nice to see the continuation of aromas and flavors from blanco to añejo. There is a slight bit of astringency throughout the line, and it is most prominent in the añejo, but is not a deal killer.

One thing we like to do when tasting a tequila is to leave our tasting glasses out overnight so we can see how the aromas have changed or intensified after the alcohol has evaporated. During the tasting Grover said that he was picking up on a cherry aroma in the añejo, and the next day it was confirmed with a very strong cherry and cinnamon aromas in the near-empty glass.

If you are already a fan of Solis’ other products, we’re certain that Gran Dovejo will not disappoint you. If you’re not, we recommend that you give this one a try.

I was in New York City just in time for the crazy heat wave last week. I can’t think of a better way to spend a 100+ degree day than to hover over a smokey BBQ grill, tequila in-hand, surrounded by friends.

Luckily, I got my wish. My friend and co-worker Andrew Fingerman hosted a festive BBQ in his backyard, and busted out a recipe using Fortaleza reposado and jumbo tiger prawns from Vietnam.

Andrew is an expert grillmaster – he is my go-to guy for all grilling-related questions and strategies.

“The key, when you put the shrimp on the grill, is not to let it sit there for too long,” he said.

He only leaves it on the grill for 2-3 minutes for each side.

The result was a deliciously fresh and snappy shrimp with a hint of aged tequila flavor – mostly on the finish.

Highly recommended!

The recipe:

Tequila Glazed BBQ Shrimp

Tequila Glazed BBQ Shrimp, on the grill!

Tequila Glazed BBQ Shrimp

  1. Clean and devein shrimp (uncooked)
  2. Place 5 or 6 of the shrimp on each skewer (preferably metal)
  3. Pre-heat the grill
  4. Baste both sides with a light coating of olive oil
  5. Lightly salt and pepper the shrimp just before you put it on the grill
  6. Place the skewers on the grill, close the lid and cook for about 2 minutes
  7. Flip the shrimp over, and brush on the tequila (reposado) with a basting brush. Cook for 2 minutes with the grill open.
  8. Brush on another coat of tequila, and then immediately flip the shrimp over again.
  9. Brush another coat of tequila on the first side and immediately turn again.
  10. Squeeze lime on each side, and remove from the grill.
  11. Serve immediately!

Thanks, Andrew! (And thanks to Chris for the camera work!)

So you’ve scored some awesome tequila during your vacation or trip, and you want to get it home without breaking. I’ve been in this situation countless times – and have developed a few basic rules that, when followed, will increase the chance that your tequila will arrive safely at your destination.

If you’re like me, packing is a last-minute sport, and you need to do it quickly, and on the cheap. My rules are designed for people like me – with poor planning skills, no special packing materials, and a whole lot of precious tequila cargo.

Thankfully, by following my own rules, I’ve never had a bottle break, and I’ve never had an issue with security or customs.

11 Rules of Safe and Hassle-free Tequila Packing

1.) Only pack sealed bottles.

When you’re leaving Mexico, before you can check your luggage, they will hand inspect the contents of every bag. They’re mainly looking for a few things – like perishable food and plants – and if you’re carrying any liquor bottles, they want to make sure that they haven’t ever been opened, and that each bottle is sealed from the factory. If a bottle isn’t sealed, they won’t let you check it. So try to make it easy for them to see that the bottle is still sealed.

2.) Make it easy for airline & security personnel to access.

During these hand searches, don’t make it too difficult to access your bottles. If they have to dig around inside the bag and move everything that you’ve carefully packed, you’re going to have to re-pack everything all over again in a hurry as other people are waiting in line behind you. This includes wrapping your bottles all tight and secure in bubble wrap – which might seem like the best way to protect the bottles, but you’ll have to unwrap them all during the security process.

3.) Keep things right side up.

I always like to make sure that my bottles aren’t upside down. If your bag has wheels, make sure that the bottom of each bottle points to the wheels. This will prevent any major problems in the event that a cap comes loose. Be aware of how you will naturally be carrying the bag, and place the bottles accordingly in the bag.

4.) Don’t place bottles too close to any side of the bag.

You never know what’s going to happen in transit, and how your bag is going to be treated. I always assume that the bag will be thrown, dropped, and come into contact with other bags. So I always make sure that there is some cushion space around all sides of the bag.

5.) Don’t pack bottles directly in contact with other bottles.

I never pack bottles so there is glass-to-glass contact. If the bag is dropped or thrown, bottles crashing together could easily break. Also, keep in mind that during the entire flight, there will be constant vibration coming from the plane, it could end up breaking your bottles over time as they grind together.

6.) Jeans make great packing material.

I like to pack my bottles in jeans because they’re easy to get at (and quickly repack) during inspections, and the pant legs can completely surround the bottles. Also, some bottle designs contain corks that could come loose during the trip. By folding the pant legs over the cork, and tucking the pant under the bottle, you’re adding another layer of protection so the cork doesn’t come loose.

7.) Don’t overload the bag with tequila!

Remember, bags have a weight limit, and bottles of tequila can be heavy. Most airlines will charge you extra if your bags weigh more than 50 pounds. If you have access to a scale (at home, or in your hotel room), check the weight before you get to the airport.

8.) Avoid using bags that don’t have any support.

Duffel bags, backpacks, and other soft-sided bags aren’t ideal for transporting bottles. The lack of support will mean a greater chance of bottle damage. If you don’t have any other choice, and you pack carefully, you can still use one of these bags – but you won’t be able to fit as many bottles into it as you can with a bag that has more support.

9.) Plastic bags can help in case of breakage.

In the event that a bottle breaks during transit, the use of plastic bags can help you clean up the damage. It’s not going to be able to fully contain the spill, but it will make it easier to clean up the broken glass. Some people think that they should seal the bottle in a series of plastic bags to prevent the tequila from coming in contact with the clothing inside. This isn’t a good idea because it makes the bottles difficult to access during security screenings. If you have any clothing that is really important or delicate, and you want to be sure that no tequila comes in contact with them, place those items inside of a sealed large clear plastic bag instead.

10.) Don’t use newspaper as packing material.

Newspaper and magazines don’t make good packing material for heavy tequila bottles. They can compress during transit and end up leaving large gaps inside the bag where items can shift and bump into each other.

11.) Spread the weight evenly throughout the bag.

Remember that other people are going to need to pick up the bag throughout the journey, and if the bag is heavy on one side, it will be an unexpected surprise to these people. This could result in your bag being dropped and/or falling over and creating additional points of impact. An unbalanced bag can be very easily damaged.

 

Do you have any of your own rules to add to this list? If so, please contribute them below!
 
– Grover

 

Sometimes the difference between just having a drink and really enjoying what you taste is the influence of a great bartender. A great bartender can help you discover new brands, learn a little history, and figure out your own tasting profile so you don’t end up ordering and paying for something you don’t like. After all, there’s nothing worse than ordering a $15 shot and not liking what you get!

And given the complexity of flavors in tequila and the sheer number of new brands on the market these days, educated tequila bartenders are essential. That’s why we appreciate knowledgeable and passionate tequila bartenders, the ones you’ll find at Tres in San Francisco, Cantina Mayahuel in San Diego, Agave in New York City, and Masa Azul in Chicago.

Although the best tequila bartenders study the spirit for years, and often make pilgrimages to Jalisco, Mexico, where tequila is made, we wanted to know what the most basic elements that every bartender should know about tequila.

To get to the bottom of this, we went to a passionate tequila bar expert, our energetic friend Mark Alberto Holt, creator of the SFT Tequila Bar in Sayulita, Mexico, and host of the “Tequila Traveler” video series. We asked him to give us a list of:

The 10 Things Every Bartender Should Know About Tequila


1.) What is tequila?

Sounds elementary, right? You might be surprised to know how many people confuse mezcal with tequila (“Where’s the worm?”), or ask questions like “Is this made in Mexico?” It’s important for every tequila bartender to have a succinct explanation of what makes tequila “tequila” and why it’s not just an agave spirit.

 

 

2.) Where is Tequila?

This relates to the “Was this made in Mexico?” question. Tequila has an important history in the town of Tequila, Mexico. Knowing where Tequila is located and how it fits into the history of tequila is important. Visiting Tequila is even more eye-opening!

 

 

3.) Tequila’s denomination of origin

Knowing which regions in Mexico can legally call their tequila “tequila” is also essential knowledge. Why? Because you want to let your customers know that if they buy something labeled tequila but it is made in Texas or China they do not have the guarantee that it is true tequila made under the guidelines stated by the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT).

 

 

4.) Understanding tequila’s different flavor profiles

All tequilas do not taste the same. Many people say that they can tell the difference between tequila made in the different regions of Mexico, which is another location detail that relates to the flavor of tequilas. The Highlands of Jalisco have a distinct soil and agave growing landscape that generally produces sweeter agaves with less fiber and more floral and herbal aromas. The Tequila Valley (or lowlands) tends to produce less sweet agaves with more mineral characteristics. The Tequila Valley also has a water source favored by some distillers.

So, why is this important for a bartender to understand? Because, Mark says, if you notice a client tending toward highlands or lowlands tequilas you’ll be better at selecting other tequilas for them to try.

 

 

5.) Which tequila brands don’t share a distillery?

Some labels change, have checkered pasts, or take interesting turns, so it’s helpful to know the evolution of different labels. For instance, a customer could say that they tried a brand several years ago and really liked it, but if the bartender knows that that label has completely changed—gone to a different distillery or has a new master distiller—you can warn them to expect something different now.

Brands like Fortaleza and Siete Leguas own and operate their own distilleries, and don’t currently produce any other brands.

 

 

6.) The history of various tequila brands

Some tequila brands have very interesting stories behind them. One such example is the story of Patron and Siete Leguas. Few people realize that the original Patron was actually made by Siete Leguas. This is no longer the case, because Patron eventually built their own distillery. Patron established their reputation as a quality brand on the skill and experience of Siete Leguas, and today’s product tastes nothing like it once did.

 

 

7.) How to figure out a customer’s taste preferences

There are many different tequila profiles – different tastes for the differing preferences of the consumer. When a person is new to tequila, Mark likes to ask a series of questions that may provide the clues needed to solve the puzzle.

“What kind of foods do you like? Do you like spicy food? Do you like sweets? Do you like cake?”

Obviously, it’s important for the bartender to know what each tequila tastes like – and a good bartender should be able to describe the differences between the products on their shelf.

 

 

8.) How to prepare a customer’s palette

Having a good first experience with tequila requires a little preparation, especially if that person is new to tequila, or distilled spirits in general. The concept and process of “warming up your mouth” is something we’ve covered on the blog before, and Mark feels it’s important for each bartender to know and use.

By preparing a customer’s mouth before they begin to fully taste the tequila, the bartender is both educating the customer and improving their overall experience. Thus increasing the chance that they will turn into a repeat customer.

 

 

9.) Breathing techniques

This is especially important for people who are new to tequila. Since tequila has a lot of alcohol content in it, if the customer doesn’t breath properly as the drink it, they could end up gagging because of the alcohol.

Mark says he teaches people to breath properly, and says the proper way to breath is this: when the tequila is in the mouth, take a breath in through the nose, swallow and then exhale.

 

 

10.) Teaching a customer to slow down and sip

To many people, tequila is still that crazy stuff they would only drink at the end of a night of college partying. It tastes bad, requires salt and lime, and you’re supposed to get it over with as quickly as possible. A good bartender encourages a customer to slow down and taste the tequila in the way they would with a fine wine.

By striking up a dialog about the tequila, and making a point of finding the right tequila for them, you’re already setting the tone. By not serving the tequila in a shot glass, and not rushing them away from the bar, you should be able to get them to slow down and reintroduce them to tequila.

It’s also a good idea to explain that there are 2 types of tequila – 100% agave tequila, and “mixtos” – that contain other non-agave sugars. That unpleasant taste and nasty hangover they experienced in their college days was because they were probably drinking a cheap mixto.

Does tequila taste different after it has been in a flask? We were asked that question recently, and decided to find out.

After doing some online research, we learned that there was no clear obvious answer – other than “it depends on the flask.” If the flask is cheap, and made of inferior metals, there’s a chance that it could affect the taste of the tequila inside it.

Right after we moved to Mexico City, we bought a cool-looking flask we found in a store near our apartment. Having never owned a flask before, I guess we just thought all were created equal, and didn’t worry about the details.

We reasoned that since tequila is stored at a distillery, often for long periods of time, in large stainless steel containers – that there shouldn’t be any effect on the taste as long as the flask is made from the same quality metal.

To get ready for our experiment, we loaded up the flask with a tequila that we know and love – one we are very familiar with – Fortaleza blanco. We let it sit in the flask for over a month.

As you can see by watching the video, the results were mixed. Scarlet and I weren’t able to detect any difference in aroma between tequila straight from the bottle and the same tequila from the flask.

When we tasted it, Scarlet didn’t notice much of a difference – but I felt there was some change to the finish. It became a little rougher late in the finish – something that’s not normally present in the super-smooth Fortaleza blanco.

I can only assume that our flask isn’t constructed with the best of metals. But even so, storing tequila in it for a fun night out will probably not show any difference in taste – even after a month in the flask, the change was barely detectable. (Especially by Scarlet, and everyone knows she has the tasting skills in the family.)

I just won’t be using it for long-term storage, that’s for sure.

— Grover

When we lived in foodie San Francisco, my friend Max turned me on to a great blog called “Mexico Cooks!”. The blog is run by Cristina Potters, who moved to Mexico some 30 years ago and has spent considerable time studying local and regional cuisines, as well as Mexican culture and traditions. Her blog is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in Mexico, and her knowledge of Mexico cooking rivals that of the great Diana Kennedy.

Scarlet (right) guides Judy (left) and Cristina through a tequila tasting at our home bar in Mexico City.

We recently read that Cristina had moved from her home in Morelia to our neighborhood in Mexico City, and we couldn’t wait to meet her. We invited her and her partner Judy over for an informal tequila tasting to talk about the food and drink of Mexico.

Cristina generally prefers mezcal, while Judy prefers tequila, so we knew it would be an interesting evening. Cristina says she prefers mezcal because it doesn’t have the burn that she feels when drinking tequila. However, when we gave her all-natural tequilas with no additives (reposados from Los Abuelos and Casa Noble) she didn’t feel the burn. (Maybe we could convert her after all!)

In the end, it didn’t matter who preferred tequila or who preferred mezcal, because the important part is that we all love Mexico. It reminded me that being a tequila lover is more than just having appreciation for a spirit – it’s about culture, tradition and way of life. You cannot separate tequila from the country that makes it, just as you cannot separate Mexico’s amazing cuisine from its wonderful people.

Cristina Potters, of Mexico Cooks!

Cristina Potters, of Mexico Cooks!, sits at our home bar during a tequila tasting in Mexico City.

So, if you’re just starting to enjoy tequila, read Cristina’s blog and other resources on Mexico because it will no doubt deepen your appreciation for this great drink and the people, history and culture that go along with it.

Viva Mexico!

Because we’re living in Mexico City during a huge mezcal revival, we’ve tried very hard to like this traditional Mexican spirit. Not only are there three mezcalerias within a stone’s throw of our house, but there’s also something very interesting going on culturally with mezcal. Simply put – it is everywhere, while tequila is not.

Unfortunately, our trail of tears with mezcal (and mezcal lovers’ anger and disbelief) has been amply recorded on the site. What can we say? It’s just too smoky for us.

I was talking about this conundrum with my friend John Hecht, a veteran Mexico City reporter and mezcal lover himself who has watched the spirit gain steam in the city over the last five years.

“Maybe you should try a mezcal that’s just not that smoky,” he said. And then he said he might have the perfect one.

So, Grover and I went over to John’s house the other night to sample this special not-so-smoky mezcal. John got it from a well-known producer in Oaxaca.

The bottle had no label or name on it, because apparently you can go to most small mezcal producers in Oaxaca with an empty bottle and ask them to fill it with their special juice. Ahh, Mexico!

The mezcal in question was un-aged of a type called “tobaciche”, which means it is made from wild agaves. Some think that wild agaves produce a stronger agave flavor compared to cultured agaves.

(Still, we were concerned that even this highly recommended mezcal might be too smoky for us, so we brought a flask filled with Fortaleza blanco in case we found ourselves in a drinking emergency.)

John poured us each a shot (you can see the first taste, and my honest reaction on the video, above) and I had to admit that the smell was not as smoky as usual. Underneath I could detect some minerals and faint mint.

On the first sip I discovered it had a nice mouth feel with a tingly finish of mint.

Grover, who was busy behind the camera during the initial tasting, tried the mezcal when we finished filming. His opinion was similar to mine in that it was better than any other mezcal we’ve tried thus far, and did have something more to offer than just a high octane proof point and smoke. There were some agave flavors still detectable in this one.

“Tequila is like a nice clear and pleasant conversation where you can hear every word being said by the other person,” Grover said. “On the other hand, mezcal is like a trying to have a conversation in a loud and crowded party where there is a ton of activity going on, and it’s hard to hear any single voice.”

“Some say that mezcal is ‘more complex’, but I find it to be more confusing,” he said.

Would we rather sip on a nice tequila? The truthful answer is yes, but while out with friends drinking mezcal at least we found something we could appreciate, and that’s progress.

(And for the record: We’ve tried dozens of different mezcals since we’ve been living in Mexico. We’ve sought out the opinions of mezcal experts and have tasted what many mezcal fans considered “the best,” and in the end, we prefer tequila. It’s a personal choice, so mezcal lovers, don’t be offended. We just don’t like the smoke, and that’s why we don’t drink smoky whiskey either. Our experiment with mezcal has now reached its end, and (hopefully) you won’t see any more stories about mezcal on this blog. Viva tequila!)

- Scarlet

We get a lot of tequila questions sent to us via our website –anything from “What tequila is a must-try?” to “Where is a good place to get married in tequila country?”

Up until now, we’ve just been hitting reply, but then we thought, why not answer them publicly so everyone can get the answers! So, we’re happy to introduce a new segment called “Viewer Mail” where we answer readers’ questions on video. If we don’t have the answers, we’ll dig into our network of tequila experts to find the answers for you.

Our first question is about something many tequila lovers want to know: “How can I safely store my tequila treasure bottles?”

To find the answer, we asked our friend and tequila expert David Yan, marketing director of Casa Noble tequila in Mexico.

Do you have a tequila question you’d like to be answered on air? Send your questions using the form on the Contact Us page on our website and we’ll do our best to get to the bottom of it!

-Taste Tequila

All around Mexico City, tucked among the usual tequila fare, we’ve seen a new contender – Alacrán tequila. The brand is based here, which explains its ubiquity, but it has been making its way far and wide, and we were curious to find out what was in its mysterious matte black bottle.

The brand only offers a blanco, so we picked up a bottle and eagerly opened its screw top. It has a mild alcohol aroma when you first pour it, but it opens up nicely over time. That’s when you start to smell its faint coconut, raw agave and butter aromas.

In the glass, its legs are thin and that plays out as a somewhat watery mouth feel. There isn’t a lot of oils in this tequila presumably because of the fast cooking process the makers chose by using a column still (also called a continuous still). Slow cooking retains more oils from the agave, and the oils carry aromas and flavors.

But the proof is in the mouth, and once we tried it we had a draw: I didn’t like it and Grover thought it was “okay.”

Alacrán, which means “scorpion” in Spanish, is made at the Tierra de Agaves distillery in Tequila, Jalisco, where they also make Luna Azul and La Certeza. They promote the brand as an “authentic” tequila for independent people.

Whether it is considered authentic or not, my real problem with the scorpion was its sting. It left me with a strange bitterness at the top of my palette/back of my throat that lingers unpleasantly. As it turns out, the sting was the one element that Grover didn’t mind, especially compared to the typical tequila found here in Mexico City. Go figure.

So, what you think?

-Scarlet

Working in the tequila industry, or having tequila as a hobby as we do, can be a real honor and privilege. It’s a fantastic community of people and who could complain about enjoying fine and even rare tequilas on a regular basis?

The first “Tequila for a Cause” event will benefit the Emilio Nares Foundation, which provides support to parents of children with cancer.

So, when I heard that our friend Marco Ramos, the Southern California rep for Tequila Fortaleza, started a project to give back to the community through charity tequila events I was thrilled.

“I attend to so many tastings and I have noticed the potential of community awareness,” Ramos says. “This has been marginalized to the wine community, but I think the tequila community is very passionate about our spirit, our roots and lending a hand when needed.”

With this in mind, Ramos began “Tequila for a Cause,” a series of tequila events with portions of the proceeds directed at charity.

The first event takes place tomorrow night (April 6th) at El Callejon restaurant in Encinitas. It features a special tasting of Tequila Fortaleza, along with tapas prepared with tequila. (See the description here – it sounds delicious—and sign up if you are in the area.)

Tickets are $25 and $7 from each ticket will be donated to the Emilio Nares Foundation, which provides information and support for the parents of children who have cancer.

Ramos is working with friends in the tequila community to put on one “Tequila For A Cause” event in Southern California each month. He says the first six events will feature Fortaleza, but he hopes to expand the project to include other brands. Each event will dedicate money to a different charity.

Fine tequila, good food, and giving back sounds like a great evening to me. If you’re in the Southern California area, don’t miss this series of special events. Follow Tequila Fortaleza on Facebook to find out about future events.

-Scarlet

Bartender at the St. Regis King Cole Bar in Mexico City.

The bartender at the St. Regis King Cole Bar in Mexico City, pouring a shot of Reserva de los Gonzalez reposado.

Some drinks, like beer and pulque, seem of the people, while others, like champagne and scotch, jut seem more elegant. One of the things I love about tequila is that it can be both a casual and formal drink.

That means I can enjoy a tequila in a rough and dirty cantina in a not-so-nice area of town, or I can enjoy a fine tequila at a posh bar.

We had the opportunity to sample some tequila in very elegant setting when we recently went to meet up with some friends at the St. Regis hotel’s King Cole Bar here in Mexico City. If you’re local and you haven’t been, go. The bar is well-appointed and comfortable, with an ample balcony that overlooks the Diana fountain, boasting impressive city views.

St. Regis hotel - King Cole Bar

A trolley full of tequilas at the King Cole Bar, inside the St. Regis Hotel in Mexico City.

While the St. Regis does not have a large tequila selection, they have more bottles than most. The first thing that caught our eye was a trolley full of tequilas, including Siete Leguas’ D’Antaño extra añejo, which is excellent. We nearly fell over each other reaching for the bottle since we have never seen D’Antaño in the DF before. Unfortunately, on closer inspection we realized the bottle was old and had been open for some time so most if the alcohol had evaporated. (To our amusement, we also noticed that the lower-end tequilas, like Jose Cuervo Traditional, were thoughtfully placed in an ice bucket at the top of the trolley, to cut the flavor.)

King Cole Bar menu

The tequila menu at the King Cole Bar, in Mexico City. (Prices are in pesos.)

We looked around to see what other treasures the St. Regis might be hiding. While they did have some higher-end tequilas, such as Don Julio 1942 and Herradura Selección Suprema, much of the selection was the usual suspects from the big brands. However, they did have the Reserva de los Gonzalez line, and we both ordered a reposado. Our drinks came in Reidel glasses with tasty little shots of sangrita. As we waited for our friends, we perused the rest of the tequila menu. I noticed there were a couple of mezcals inserted in the tequila list, like little trapdoors into smokiness.

Once our friends arrived, we moved to the impressive balcony, where our Reidels of Tequlia Gonzalez seemed like the perfect drink to enjoy dusk fading over Mexico City.

We we knew we might be drinking shots in a rowdy cantina much later in the evening, but we also knew that tequila’s versatility would allow us to stick with the same tasty drink all evening—formal or not.

– Scarlet

Bay Area tequila fans, you’ve got something new to toast to. The San Francisco Mexican restaurant and tequila bar formally know as Tres Agaves has undergone a renovation and reopening, putting more emphasis on its place as a tequila destination.

Tres logoThe newly-dubbed Tres Tequila Lounge and Mexican Kitchen has added 10 new brands as part of a bar expansion program, bringing its broad selection to around 180 bottles, from around 125 last year. Additionally, it has expanded its bar area by around 50%, meaning that patrons will have more space and time to sip tequila and pore over the bar’s new “Tequila Book,” listing not only their selection, but information on the “terroir,” soil, altitude and oak qualities of different brands.

The change was prompted by two factors, according to Tres Executive Beverage Director and Director of Marketing Ashley Miller. The first was an organizational change that saw two of the restaurant’s original partners, Eric Rubin and Barry Augus, leave to concentrate on the Tres Agaves-branded tequila. Original co-founder Dave Stanton remains to oversee Tres.

The second factor was the organization’s long-held desire to expand its bar area and selection, according to Miller.

New brands behind the bar include Peligroso, Corrido, Excellia, Calle 23, Arta, Alma de Agave and PaQui. Miller says she likes to bring on the full line of each brand, rather than select bottles, so customers can experience the full expression of the brand. Under the expansion, Tres now has 45 complete lines.

Introduction of the Tequila Book, rather than a traditional menu, will also highlight the bar staff’s extensive training. Miller takes employees down to Jalisco, Mexico several times a year to visit distilleries and grow their tequila knowledge. The Tequila Book features pictures from some of the trips and highlights the tequila making process. (These educational trips are no joke. As San Franciscans, Grover and I always thought that Tres was the best place to sit down at the bar and chat with the staff about tequila—they really know their stuff.)

And while Miller said that there are plans to offer a few mezcals and sotols, to round out their Mexican spirit offerings, tequila will remain the focus.

“Tequila is our first and foremost love,” she said.

Salud to that!

Kah tequila (reposado and blanco)

Kah tequila (reposado, left, and blanco).

Kah tequila has gotten a lot of attention for its seriously cool skull-shaped Day of the Dead bottles, but what about the juice?

While in LA, Grover picked up the Kah blanco and reposado and we sat down to look, literally, into the calaveras of this fairly new brand. If our suspicious minds thought this tequila was all about marketing, the blanco quickly erased the notion.

Kah tequila (reposado)

Kah tequila’s reposado is a powerful 110-proof mixture that is still surprisingly drinkable.

With a heavy herbal nose, and whiffs of white pepper and cooked agave, the blanco certainly doesn’t smell like a generic brand. Instead, it falls into the category of pungent herbal contenders. Now, I admit that grassy tequilas are not my personal preference, but some people really enjoy them so I proceeded with an open mind.

In the mouth it is surprisingly balanced, with a medium finish that hits you in the back of the throat. It has a lightweight mouth feel that’s pleasing, but in the glass it looks a bit watery.

Moving on to the heavy hitter – the 110-proof (!) reposado, which is aged 10 months in French oak. Now, the nose on this one is predictably strong, so we switched from a brandy snifter to a champagne flute to try to minimize the alcohol aromas and pick up on the more subtle flavors. When we did, we got nice butter, vanilla and cinnamon aromas, and the herbal elements were reduced.

Bracing ourselves for the burn, we took a sip. Surprisingly, this 110-proof juice is just as balanced as the blanco, and has good flavor, unlike many other high-proof tequilas. And the burn, while there is some, spikes and then fades rather quickly. This is a high-proof tequila that you could actually sip for a while, and enjoy. Not a wussy drink, for sure, but why would you want that?

Kah also makes an añejo, aged 2 years, and a limited-edition extra añejo, aged 4.5 years.

It is made at the Fabrica de Tequilas Finos distillery, in Tequila, where they also make El Diamante de Cielo, Agave 99, and Costco’s Kirkland brand tequila, among others.

The bottom line is that you may be attracted by the pretty bottles, but there is also a reason to crack those skulls open and give this tequila a try.

Kah tequila (blanco)

Kah tequila’s blanco bottle is white, with black hand-painted details.

Buying a tequila you’ve never tried before is always risky. Grover and I have come up short many times (remember Chaya? Ouch.) But while in San Francisco last week I couldn’t help but search for some new tequilas at one of my favorite local liquor stores, Cask.

Calle 23 tequila

Calle 23 reposado tequila.

Cask has a nice, well-edited selection and I came home with a brand I’d never seen before called Calle 23. The sales lady said that the tequila was created by a French scientist and the reposado was the most carefully crafted. Needless to say, I was intrigued! And, at $27 a bottle, the price was right.

Calle 23 tequila (reposado)

Calle 23 tequila (reposado) - to get the full flavor and aroma, we drank it from a brandy snifter.

I smuggled the bottle home to Mexico, hoping that after the first try it wouldn’t sit ignored on our bar like a redheaded stepchild. Grover and I finally cracked it the other night, and to my relief it was a pleasure.

It smells of cooked agave, light oak and hazelnuts. Its one flaw is that it carries an acetone note, but it is not overwhelming. It tastes better than it smells. In the mouth, it is light, but not watery and delivers a buttery mouth coating and a tingly finish that serves as a welcome reminder.

Aged eight months in old bourbon barrels, it is flavorful but not overly saturated with wood—just as a repo should be. The agaves are sourced from the Highlands of Jalisco, although the distillery is located in Guadalajara.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any other information as to the scientific crafting of this tequila, other than the fact that the brand owner is a biochemist. Calle 23’s tagline is “Tequila makes you smarter” and well, we couldn’t agree more, so If you work for Calle 23 please contact us and make us smarter about your tequila!

Now, I wish I had grabbed the blanco and añejo as well. For the price, this really is a good buy and an agreeable sipping companion.

You can buy it online at ForTequilaLovers.com.

-Scarlet

While the protests in Egypt remind us what a true revolution is—new, energizing, passion-driven— Tequila Revolucion seems the opposite. It doesn’t ignite our senses, nor does it hark back to the image of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, throwing back a bold, traditional tequila before riding out to seize hacienda land.

Tequila Revolucion: Blanco, Reposado, Anejo

Tequila Revolucion: Blanco, Reposado, Añejo

Instead, it’s just unremarkable, which is a shame considering the price point.

We recently sat down and sampled the blanco, reposado and anejo, which retail at about $40, $42, $50, respectively. They also offer a 100-proof blanco, and will soon have an extra añejo.

The blanco has a mild nose of citrus, herbs and raw agave that remind me of Siete Leguas blanco, but dialed down. Once in the mouth, it’s a bit watery. The taste is relatively unoffensive, but what you remember is a strange astringency at the back of your throat and top palate that lingers unpleasantly. Unfortunately, this is carried through the line, and is particularly strong in the reposado.

The repo is aged 10 months in white oak and carries light vanilla, honey and butterscotch aromas. It has a soft front, and then that annoying astringency that hangs around for minutes.

The añejo is an intensified version of the repo, but with less bite at the back. Still, it feels uneven in the mouth, as though it does not have enough oils for a pleasant mouth feel, even though it’s aged 18 months in white oak.

Cascahuin-tequila-distillery

A worker tends to the brick ovens inside of the Tequila Cascahuin distillery — where Tequila Revolucion is made.

Tequila Revolucion is made at NOM 1123, in distillery Tequila Cascahuin. This is a tiny, ancient place on the road to Tequila. Grover and I visited it on our first tequila tour and were surprised to find it was producing any modern juice. That said, Revolucion is modern. After all, it is going after the “smooth, premium” market. The problem is that it’s just too rough around the edges to win any devotees, let alone spark a revolution.

– Scarlet

I love a good cantina. The doors swing open and you walk into another place and time—a friendly environment where drinking, friendship and conversation get respect, a place where you can go whether you are alone or with a crowd.

Montejo Cantina, Mexico City

The bar at the Montejo Restaurante Bar has more tequila than most cantinas in Mexico City.

Here, there are no pretentious people, fancy $15 cocktails, or throbbing music you have to scream over to be heard. Instead, you get a straight-faced cantinero who has been there forever, serving straight, honest drinks, like tequila.

This was just the place we were in the mood for the other night when we slipped into a cantina named Montejo Restaurante Bar, in Colonia Condesa. It’s not as old and classic as many of the cantinas in Mexico City, but the service, atmosphere and bar did the trick. In fact, Montejo has a wider tequila selection than many bars here, and by that I mean 24 bottles, rather than six or eight.

Montejo's tequila selection.

The lineup of tequilas behind the bar at Montejo Restaurante Bar in Mexico City.

We settled in with a Siete Leguas reposado and a Centinela reposado, and proceeded to enjoy the sangrita (just spicy enough) and delicious salted, oily peanuts which are a cantina must-have, in my opinion.

It was a Monday night but the place was hopping—after work crowds eating dinner, couples enjoying straight tequilas and snacks, and a live band.

Siete Leguas and Centinella

Siete Leguas reposado (left) and Centinela reposado were the first drinks we ordered.

Two tables over a young man was making a show of ordering up some mezcal, inspecting the bottle and sampling it as though it were a fine wine. This caught our eye, not only because it was unusual, but also because the mezcal bottle had a Patron-like lime-colored tag on its neck. We would have seen what all the fuss was about, but the table emptied the bottle and there was none left to sample. Instead, the waiter brought over another mezcal, Zignum reposado.

Zignum reposado, a mezcal

Our final drink of the night was a shot of Zignum reposado, a mezcal that tastes just like tequila.

After our last mezcal experience, we had our doubts, but we gave it a smell and were shocked to detect no smoky mezcal nose. The smoke is always what kills it for us, so we couldn’t resist ordering a shot. My first impression was that it was sweet, like honey, vanilla and mint, and smoke-free

“What is this?” Grover asked. “It tastes like an añejo tequila.”

Soon, we were inspecting the bottle—it was stamped with “100% agave” and carried an organic label—hell, it even had a NOM, just like tequila.

Uh-oh, I thought. If someone can make a mezcal that tastes like tequila, is labeled similarly (enough that the consumer can’t tell the difference), priced cheaper and unburdened with stringent regulations, what does this mean for tequila?

We pondered this on our walk home. When we arrived, we immediately looked up the brand online, only to find that Zignum mezcal is made by Coca-Cola.

Is Coca-Cola also in the tequila business and we don’t know about it? Obviously, it saw an opportunity in the burgeoning mezcal market and pounced.

Something about this just doesn’t sit right. Mezcal dressed up to look like tequila is an insult to both mezcal purists and tequila purists. But maybe not—maybe the purists don’t matter and this is just a way of presenting a spirit in a new way.

Whichever it is, I can’t help wonder, if cantineros only serve straight, honest drinks, what’s this?

(We know you have some thoughts so please share!)

-Scarlet

We moved to Mexico City two months ago, and each time we move, we purge our tequila collection (we invite friends over, throw parties, and even give bottles away.) Moving open bottles of tequila is something we prefer not to do. So when we arrived in Mexico City, we had to start buying tequila all over again.

Buying tequila in Guadalajara was easy – hundreds of brands were for sale within easy walking distance of our apartment. Buying tequila in California was even better, with a massive selection at our fingertips. However, Mexico City is a different beast – and beyond the typical 5 big brands, it’s a challenge to find tequilas that we really love.

Our Tequila Selection 1/17/2011

Our Tequila Selection 1/17/2011 (Mexico City)

But, we don’t shy away from a challenge. We’re scouring the neighborhoods, peeking into little convenience stores, and even getting some help from our friends back in Guadalajara and Tequila – and the bar is slowly coming along. Next month, we will make a trip down to Tlaquepaque with a car and load it up with precious tequila cargo, where it will find a loving home here in Mexico City.

I decided to take a picture of our current tequila selection just to mark this point in time. By next month, all of the shelves will be full, and some will be 2 rows deep – and we will have a 10-foot long bar (enough to seat 5 people comfortably) installed directly in front of the shelves.

Then we can finally start rolling the video camera again — cranking out the tequila reviews — with a proper background.

So, take a close look at the picture above (click on it for a close-up view) and take a look at the current collection. What are we missing? :-) (A lot – we know!)

— Grover

Pulque Bar

Pulque, a milky white fermented drink, is served up behind the bar at Los Insurgentes, Mexico City.

Pulque, once considered a sacred drink reserved for the Aztec upper classes, is a bold, new player on the Mexico City drinks scene, but this time it’s definitely for the masses.

Made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant, it is tequila’s drunken uncle—a bit sloppy and unrefined, and plagued with spontaneous fits of numbness and hallucination.

We went to a neighborhood pulque bar, Los Insurgentes, with a few friends last weekend, so Grover could sample this ancient drink for the first time.

Los Insurgentes, Roma Norte, Mexico City

The sign on the front of the building illuminates the way to Los Insurgentes, a pulque bar in Mexico City.

“I should really eat something before we go – I do not want a pulque hangover in the morning,” he said as we were leaving.

“Oh, don’t worry. You will not get drunk on pulque,” I said. “You’ll take two sips and switch to beer.”

He looked at me doubtfully, grabbed a handful of chips, and we were on our way.

Los Insurgentes doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s an old building on a busy thoroughfare in the Roma Norte neighborhood. But once we entered, we realized the place was a cavernous old home, with multiple rooms shooting off the central bar, all of them packed with people.

Inside Los Insurgentes

The second floor of Los Insurgentes was full and busy.

Searching for our friends, we climbed to the second floor, scoured through four crammed rooms, and finally landed on the third floor, where there was another bar and a DJ spinning music in front of a flickering wall of video. There were our friends, all of them bravely holding clay mugs of pulque, unlike the majority of patrons, who were drinking beer.

Most people drink flavored pulque because natural pulque can be a bit too much to take—it has a rather foul odor and taste. If you’ve ever had fermented soybeans in a Japanese restaurant, you know what I’m talking about.

The flavors on tap for the night were tamarind, oat, and strawberry. I suggested the sweet tamarind flavor to Grover, and we got a mug to share. (Later I tried a friend’s oat pulque, and it was even better.)

Grover stood looking at the viscous, brown drink with hesitation and then took a sip.

Pulque

Grover snapped this picture of the tamarindo-flavored pulque we were served at Los Insurgentes.

“Hey, it’s not too bad!” he said, with surprise.

“Here – try my natural,” our friend John said.

“Figures John is drinking natural – he’s such a hardcore,” Grover said. Then he took a sip and his face showed it all.
“Man, that is nasty!”

I tried it and agreed.

Suddenly, even our tamarind was undrinkable. We switched to beer.

While the idea of pulque may have brought people to Los Insurgentes, it was the beer, music and crowd that kept them there. Sure, it’s fun to try pulque, to like or not like it, and perhaps have you legs turn to noodles after a few mugs, but for most it’s a novelty drink.

Beer at the pulque bar

At Los Insurgentes, a pulque bar in Mexico City’s Roma Norte neighborhood, most people drink beer.

Of course, I was in an old pulqueria long ago where I saw the other type of pulque drinkers—the true hardcores. They drank cup after cup, then belligerent and desperate they begged for a liter to take home at closing time. Two men didn’t make it home, but instead passed out under their tables in a slick of slimy white pulque.

Tequila may have the “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor” reputation, but I think we know which drink that rightfully belongs to.

-Scarlet

Pulque: el viagra Mexicana.

Written above the bathroom door inside of Los Insurgentes is “Pulque: el viagra Mexicano” which means “Pulque, the Mexican Viagra.”

We stayed at home for the holidays this year, so we thought it would be a perfect time to do some experimenting with the traditional Christmas dinner. Since turkey is the local Christmas dish of choice, why not combine it with another Mexican favorite of ours—tequila! In fact, why not inject the turkey with tequila so it oozed agave from its juicy meat? Why not.

Tequila-injected Turkey, after several hours in the oven – ready to burst open with agave-enhanced juicy flavor.

We came across a great recipe for this very special Christmas bird: “Apricot and Tequila Glazed Turkey,” which you can see here at the Food Network site.

What makes this recipe so special is that not only are you infusing the bird with a tequila-butter-chicken-broth cocktail so it is literally bursting with juicy goodness, it also features a delectable chile-apricot glaze—the perfect marriage of savory and sweet.

When we carved into this baby Grover was blown away at how tender it was, and the aroma of tequila in the kitchen further escalated our appetites. The verdict: an amazing Christmas bird that’s good enough to share at your next family gathering.

Grover wasted no time in making a number of sandwiches from the leftover tequila-injected turkey meat.

Here are a few modifications we made to the recipe:

- More tequila in the infusion (3 Tbsp is clearly not enough). We used a reposado, but an añejo would serve as well.

- About a ¼ cup more apricot jam for the glaze – the chiles are powerful and the glaze turned out much more savory than sweet, so if you have a sweet tooth add even more jam than we did.

- More butter! Also, before we got fancy with the recipe we massaged the bird with butter, leaving generous pats underneath the skin. Don’t be shy with the butter—this isn’t a diet meal.

- Make a trip to the drug store. We didn’t have a professional “flavor injector” so we used a syringe we bought at the local pharmacy.

Overall, this was an easy recipe to make, with delicious results. Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Since we arrived in Mexico City we’ve been searching for the best tequila selection in town, so when we heard about La Casa de las Sirenas’ 146 bottles we had to give it a try. This restaurant/bar in the Centro Historico is a classic old-school establishment, situated right behind the city’s famous Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María, with views of the bell tower.

La Casa De Las Sirenas

Don’t be fooled by the wonderful tequila menu painted on the wall of La Casa De Las Sirenas, in Mexico City.

As you approach from the street, you see a charming cantina atmosphere in the bottom floor with an extensive tequila menu painted on the wall. Many of the brands listed there are hard to find here so we began to get excited about their collection. A 100-year-old waiter in a white shirt and black bowtie handed us the menu, which was somewhat paired down from the wall menu, but still much longer than the four brands normally offered in these parts.

Grover asked for a Chinaco but the waiter replied that they didn’t have it on hand. Maybe in the restaurant upstairs, he said, but we’d have to buy a meal to drink there.

La Casa De Las Sirenas

Our bartender was nice, but a bit slow in his delivery of our order. Too bad he wasn’t able to serve us any of the nice tequilas that are painted on the wall.

We’d already eaten dinner so we asked them what they did have in the downstairs bar. Turns out it was a paltry selection of six or seven common brands. Although the bar shelves were filled with tequila bottles we soon realized that most of them were empty or contained only dredges.

“Where are the 146 bottles of tequila you advertise?” we asked the waiter.

“Most of the good tequilas are upstairs in the restaurant,” he replied.

We resigned ourselves to a shot of Correlejo and Tres Generaciones with only a cheesy ’70s Mexican movie on the TV to accompany us.

The waiter, although very kind and attentive, moved at the speed of a fat drop of agave syrup on a cold day and it seemed unlikely that we would get a second drink anytime soon.

We decided to go upstairs and use our charm and business cards to try to persuade them to let us sample their more expensive tequila collection without eating.

La Casa De Las Sirenas

To get the “good stuff”, we were told we needed to walk up a few steep flights of stairs to the restaurant. The same stairs that waiters must navigate with loads of dishes.

After we climbed three sets of stairs to the upper balcony where the other bar resided disappointment started to set in again. There was a small bar with a variety of empty bottles and a few high-priced brands, but nothing to boast about. We estimated that although La Casa de las Sirenas might have 146 bottles only 20 of them (at the most!) contained tequila you could order.

However the atmosphere of the place and the view were quite charming, so if you fancy a Correlejo, a Cazadores or a Tres Generaciones, you might want to give it a try.

As for us, the search continues.

La Casa De Las Sirenas

La Casa De Las Sirenas in Mexico City.