Category: Blog

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.

Condesa DF

The front door to the Condesa DF, located in Colonial Condesa, Mexico City.

If you are a Mexican celebrity, a member of U2, or Paris Hilton, you know that the hip place to stay in Mexico City is the Condesa DF hotel. Nuzzled against Colonia Condesa’s Parque Espana, the Condesa DF features unique design elements, an impressive lobby bar, and a rooftop terrace/sushi restaurant with views of the city.

Condesa DF's house tequila

The Condesa DF's house tequila is a reposado, and it's taste is surprisingly good.

Grover and I stayed there a couple of times and were impressed with its cool tranquility. We also noticed that their bar has only a few tequilas in stock, but they do have a house tequila called – what else – Condesa DF Tequila.

We revisited the bar the other night to put a new critical eye to their house tequila. There was some confusion among the bartenders about how long the tequila had been aged (although it is labeled a reposado, one bartender said it was aged two and a half years.) I tried to explain that this was an impossible combination, and if it were aged that long it would be an añejo, but was met with a blank stare.

So, we cannot tell you how long this repo is aged, but we can say that it was a nice medium amber color implying that it spent a good bit of time in the barrel.

It has a light nose of vanilla, butter, and cooked agave. At first we feared the typical taste of a bland contract brand, but once it hit our mouths we changed or minds.

It is a little sweet with a medium oily mouth feel. The agave and light vanilla follow through on the taste, but then you get a nice bit of heat in the back of your throat followed by a floral finish of lavender. It’s not too floral, but very distinctive and pleasurable.

I’m convinced that female drinkers with a harsh recollection of tequila could be converted by this one. The floral might be a little much for the more macho drinkers, but it is pleasant overall.

Condesa DF Tequila is made at NOM 1477, in El Arenal, where tequila Ambar and 16 other brands are made. You can buy a bottle at the hotel for 395 pesos ($33 US) if you are so inclined. (We wanted to buy a bottle there on the spot, but they didn’t have any full bottles to sell us. We plan to go back soon and pick up a bottle for our home bar.)

The Condesa DF house tequila, con sangrita.

The Condesa DF house tequila, con sangrita.

Otherwise, stop by and sample a shot. The atmosphere can’t be beat, and their sangrita is good too.

-Scarlet

The bar, inside the Condesa DF.

The bar, inside the Condesa DF.

La Botica, Condesa

La Botica, in Colonial Condesa, Mexico City.

Mexico City has a lot on offer–world-class cuisine, culture, a great nightlife and an almost endless variety of things to see and do. But ironically the one thing it doesn’t have is a rich variety of tequila. Sure, there’s tequila in every cantina, restaurant and bar, but it’s limited to just a few brands. The most common are Don Julio, Herradura, El Jimador and Cazadores. As tequila lovers, this is clearly not enough.

Since we arrived in the capital last week, we’ve been trying to figure out why there is such a dearth of tequila and what chilangos (denizens of Mexico City) are drinking instead. The answer, it appears, is mezcal. Mezcalerias dot the city, specializing in a wide variety of mezcals from Oaxaca and other areas. And, most bars and restaurants have mezcal on the shelf, at prices similar to high-end tequilas. Mezcal cocktails are all the rage, and there’s even a mezcal-themed hotel here.

Grover and I went to one of the more popular mezcal chains last night to see what all the buzz is about. La Botica has 8 locations, including one in Spain, and our waiter told us they have plans to expand to the US and Canada.

La Botica, Inside

Inside La Botica, a mezcal bar in Colonial Condesa, Mexico City.

I was expecting a somewhat upscale place, but when we arrived in their Colonia Condesa location I was surprised to see a bunch of young people sitting around small tin tables, on folding chairs with Corona emblazoned on the back. The mood was definitely scrappy and low-key. The menu was handwritten on a piece of flimsy cardboard. The bar was more impressive, done out in a pharmacy style with dozens of glass medicine bottles containing your poison of choice.

La Botica mezcal menu

The mezcal menu at La Botica in Colonial Condesa is hand-written on cardboard.

The house rules are that you have to order food with drinks, which turns out to be a good thing. We ordered tamales verdes and asked the waiter for the best mezcals he had. Out came a blanco called Minero, a reposado, a dry blanco selection from Oaxaca, and one from Tabasco. Also, a sotol with no apparent name. Now, we’ve mentioned before that we aren’t big mezcal fans so if you’re a mezcal lover stop reading here, lest you have to be waste your evening sending us angry missives.

None of the choices were to our liking – the smokiness, the astringency, the plastic aroma just didn’t sit well. It was frustrating because behind all of that we could smell truly good things, like butter and citrus and a beautiful oakiness from the reposado. Were we trying the subpar mezcals? Perhaps, but our waiter assured us that they were of high quality and we just had to “get used to the taste.”

La Botica mezcal bar

Behind the bar at La Botica – many different small-batch mezcals are available.

Despite the drinks, the food and the atmosphere was fun. It had an underground feel that is probably part of what has made mezcal so trendy in Mexico City. It’s not the Don Julio your grandfather drank. There’s also a wide variety of small producers and by acknowledging and enjoying their mezcal, people feel like they’re giving back to their people and culture. I get it, but I still miss my tequila.

This just in – an unconfirmed rumor that is strongly backed via reliable tequila industry sources say that premium tequila brand El Tesoro de Don Felipe was recently bought by Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc., owners of the Sauza tequila brand.

Carlos Camarena, the legendary maker of El Tesoro de Don Felipe, will no longer be involved with the creation of the tequila, and production will be moved to the Sauza distillery in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico.

More information on this as we get it.

David Yan conducting a tequila tasting at our house.

David Yan conducting a tequila tasting at our house.

We decided to celebrate Mexico’s bicentennial here in Guadalajara with good friends who were visiting from the States rather than go to the Spirits of Mexico (SOM) festival in San Diego this year. Although we would’ve loved to attend SOM, we managed to do a special tequila tasting at home, thanks to our friend David Yan, marketing director of Casa Noble in Mexico.

David gave me a rare bottle of five-year Casa Noble Añejo blend for my birthday. It’s a 12-year old ceramic “basketweave” bottle painted with 18 carat gold – a real beauty. We’ve been hoarding it our house since I received it, but we decided it was time to break it out.

For our tasting, David brought two other special tequilas along: a 2009 five-year Casa Noble Añejo (single barrel to compare with the older five-year añejo) and a 2010 bottle of single barrel reposado from the infamous “Barrel 60.” The repo was created for the 2010 Blue Agave tour members; it’s a bold 44% alcohol and there were only 42 bottles made. Lucky us!

Now, when I told our visiting friends that we were having a hardcore tequila tasting, they weren’t sure what to make of it. They are longtime tequila fans, but I don’t think they were prepared for the tequila geekness we unleashed.

In addition to the assortment of glasses, we had a plate of cheese and quince paste cubes (as a palate neutralizer), and of course our new Tequila Aroma Kit.

We dug into my birthday bottle first. It had a rich nose of light herba buena and apple cider spices. Once it hit my mouth it tasted of vanilla, departed by French white oak barrels, as well as earthy flavors. It also had a nice tingly finish that is sometimes missing in a well-aged tequila.

Casa Noble tequila bottles

The three bottles of tequila from Casa Noble that we tasted that night are, from left, a 2010 bottle of Casa Noble single barrel reposado, a 2009 five-year Casa Noble Añejo, and a 12-year old Casa Noble añejo in ceramic “basketweave” bottle.

Then we moved on to the newer five-year añejo. It was quite different than the first— it still had had the herbal aromas but without the mint. It was sweeter, with a bitter chocolate taste added to its base.

Both five-year añejos were excellent but my birthday bottle took the cake. I’m not always a fan of herbal tequilas but this one struck the right balance. It was rich with flavor but not too smoothed out by aging.

Finally, we tackled the single barrel reposado. It was packed with herbal and light wood flavors (thanks to the 50 weeks it spent in the barrel), and at 44% alcohol it left a nice light burn it. For a repo, this little baby really packed punch, but it wasn’t too much, in fact, it was just right.

All in all, it was a delicious and interesting tasting that highlighted the versatility of Casa Noble. We may have missed SOM, but considering that we got to enjoy fine tequilas with good friends during the bicentennial, we definitely kept with the spirit of Mexico.

-Scarlet

About a week ago we got out tequila-soaked hands on this little beauty—the Tequila Aroma Kit developed by my tasting teacher Ana Maria Romero Mena.

Tequila Aroma Kit

The most common aromas found in tequila - 50 vials that will train your brain and calibrate your palate.

It features 50 of some of the most common aromas found in tequila, in an extract form. The idea is that it allows you to train your nose to the aromas, and to help you confirm scents that you discover in particular tequilas.

So, to use it as a training tool you can smell each vial (which is numbered – not labeled; a key code is included) and try to use your senses to determine what it is. You may start in a particular family—spices, for example—and then try to narrow it down from there. With spices, you may detect that it is not a green spice (like fresh Rosemary) and go through your associations until you discover it’s something like pepper. Once you get very good, you could say white pepper or black pepper since they smell differently. This is hard work—believe me—but tons of fun.

The kit also includes common aromas produced during the tequila-making process, such as “thinner” and “smoke,” and wood aromas, such as “oak.”

Furthermore, you can use the kit to confirm what you believe you smell in a certain tequila. Just the other night Grover, Mark and I sat down with a new line of tequilas and went through this process. We agreed on some aromas right away, but then someone would detect something different, like banana. Using the kit, we pulled out the vial for banana and smelled the tequila and then the aroma. Nope, no banana.

What a great tool! It’s one thing to thing to think you have a pretty good nose, and another to test it out. Just for the record, my nose needs a lot of training, but luckily I can work on it.

Happy tasting!
-Scarlet

Tequila Semental

Tequila Semental, blanco, reposado, and añejo.

A couple weeks ago we went back to the States and discovered that the tequila fairies had sent us the full line of Tequila Semental. They came in attractive bottles that feature a picture window of a fierce bull, suggesting that the tequila might be “fuerte,” with strong or astringent characteristics.

Then we read that the tequila is triple distilled so we scrapped the thought—a third distillation typically smooths the tequila significantly.

Apparently, “Semental” refers to bulls that are considered the strongest and bravest of their kind, and so are used for mating. Or, they are bulls considered so brave and skilled in the bullring that they are spared from death.

Would this tequila prove to live up to its bold name? We sat down with our friend Mark Alberto Holt and did some sampling.

We started with the blanco, which has vegetal aromas, as well as olive, lemon, raw agave and a bit of honey. In the mouth it lightly coats the tongue with similar flavors and has a small tingling finish with some white pepper notes.

The reposado increases in spice, dried fruit and sweetness. Aged just two month in white American Oak with a medium toast, it is gently touched by the wood and carries a light golden hue.

But our favorite of the three was the añejo, which brought caramel, chocolate and honey flavors. In fact, Mark said the strong honey characteristics reminded him of Casa Noble reposado.

Tequila Semental

Tequila Semental's full line - from above.

The añejo is aged just over a year in hybrid French and American oak, but is deep in amber color. This made us think they might have added a little additive color and flavor to the mix, but we can’t be sure.

Semental is made in the same Amatitan distillery as El Ultimo Agave, Tazon and La Piñata, among others. Priced at $39 for the blanco, $48 for the repo and $59 for the añejo, this has to be some of the distillery’s top-line product.

However, we jut didn’t think it could hold up to these price points. For $60 you could buy a damn good, distinctive añejo, and while the Semental was pleasant and easy to drink, it lacks unique character.

After all, it has to be a really, really special bull if it manages to win the adulation of the crowd and be spared from the sharp sword of the matador.

-Taste Tequila

Camarena Reposado tequila

Camarena Reposado tequila - retail price only $15.99.

When we heard that winemaking behemoth E. & J. Gallo was getting into the tequila business, our interest was piqued. How would Gallo — best known for its omnipresent, lower-priced tipples approach the over-crowded tequila market? Well, they started on the right foot when they aligned themselves with the Camarena family, which has been making tequila in the highlands of Jalisco for six generations. This gave their brand clout, and they took it one step further by naming their tequila Familia Camarena.

Then they came up with the brilliant idea of sending a Camarena taco truck around to various cities, offering free tacos infused with their tequila. They knew they couldn’t give out free liquor samples, but they could give away liquored up Mexican fare.

Grover and I were in Mexico when the taco truck was launched, so unfortunately we missed it. But, we did drive by two very prominent Camarena billboards on Interstate 80 while driving to and from Lake Tahoe the other weekend.

Grover expressed concern when he saw that the billboards spelled out 100% (as in 100% agave) using a shot of Camarena as a “1” and a salt shaker top and lime as the “0”s.

“Uh-oh, they are advertising this tequila as something you should pound? That’s not a good sign.” he said.

Soon, a BevMo (Beverages & More – Gallo does have a great distribution network) appeared on the horizon and we swerved off the highway to pick up a bottle.

Within minutes we stood in the tequila aisle of BevMo, gaping at the price of the Familia Camarena blanco and reposado – $15.99 for each!

“Wow! They are really aiming to dominate the low end!’ I said. In my mind, I had imagined they’d shoot for the competitive $20-$30 range. After all, their tequila is made in the Highlands (known for sweeter agave and better soil) and has the Camarena name behind it.

We grabbed a bottle of the reposado and took it home to try. It’s a nice, simple bottle and the repo is a light honey color. It’s aged just 60 days in American oak.

The reposado has a pleasing nose of raw apple, butter and vanilla, and does not have the telltale alcohol fumes of some lower-priced tequilas we’ve tried. The taste was an intensification of the nose – slightly sweet, but with a definite burn that ended up in strange places, such as between my upper palate and throat.

Bottom line – it wasn’t something I would sip on, but it wasn’t nearly as unbalanced and astringent as many bargain tequilas. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to make a mixed drink with it, but I imagine that it would be suitable for a margarita or paloma. If you’ve used it as a mixer, let us know how it went. Otherwise, the salt and lime they advertise may be necessary.

-Taste Tequila

Have you ever wished there really was a bar where everyone knew your name and were always glad you came? Few of us have this in real life, but there is a special place where tequila lovers can gather (virtually) once a week, on the Tequila Whisperer show.

The Tequila Whisperer is a live online show hosted by Michael Lipman (aka Lippy), who tastes and critiques tequilas on the air, oozing tequila love while sharing his knowledge of the spirit. Lippy is fun to watch (see the little video promo, below, that we created when he attended our “Drain The Bar” party earlier this year) and he has a tried and true audience of tequila lovers who trade information, opinions, salacious comments and fun-loving barbs in the rolling chat log.

The chat is where industry bigwigs, bartenders, tequila enthusiasts, and bloggers like ourselves settle in to talk shop with people who feel as passionate about tequila as we do. We gather around Lippy’s show with a tequila in hand, and interact with each other about what we’re drinking and why.

“The Tequila Whisperer is the kind of show makes me feel that I’m just hanging out with my tequila geek friends in Lippy’s man cave,” says Mark Alberto Holt, creator of the SFT Tequila Bar in Sayulita, Mexico.

In truth, Lippy—who shoots his show from his Marin, CA basement—does call his studio the “Man Cave,” but girls are more than allowed. (I’ll be making a personal visit this week, as guest host.)

This is no online boy’s club, either. Tequila-loving women, like TW watcher Theresa Webb Gonzalez, also log in during the live show, and as a result, find themselves part of the action.

“I found Lippy’s show searching to find real information about tequila and the industry. I started out by watching all the archives then by tuning into the live show every week to see and hear everything he had to offer, from people in the industry to his passionate side-by-side comparisons of tequila by type, maker and NOMs,” she says.

So, if you’ve ever dreamed of a tequila “Cheers” where everyone will soon know your name, login to the Tequila Whisperer Live at 7pm PT on Thursday nights. If you can’t be part of the live show, you can spend hours (literally) in his archive of past shows.

Tune in while I am riding shotgun in the “Man Cave” this Thursday (on his last show before a 2 week hiatus!)

-Scarlet

Dear Mezcal,

I don’t think we should see each other anymore.

I checked all the stats and did some research with the handy menu, but in the end, Mezcal just wasn't a match for me.

Don’t get me wrong — I had great time with you in Mexico City the other weekend, but I woke up the next morning feeling a little remorseful, and dehydrated. It was kind of like that night I had a fling with Absinthe in Barcelona. I woke up without a drop of water left in my body and the sensation that I had turned into a giant Kafkaesque bug — all stiff limbs and joints. But I digress…

As you know, Mezcal, I’ve been with Tequila for 14 years now, and I really do prefer Tequila. Although we have an open relationship (I’ve been known to runoff with Gin for the weekend), after spending time with others, I always end up finding myself coming back to Tequila, the passion renewed. Luckily, Tequila never judges me, and is always there when I need him the most.

I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. I’ll admit, when I met you in that hip little mezcalaria in Colonia Condesa you seemed exciting and new. They served you in a little one-ounce shot glass because, as we all know, you’re the “bad boy” of Mexican spirits. I remember when Tequila was a “bad boy,” too. But I could always detect his sweeter side when others couldn’t.

You’re stronger and tougher than a the types I usually go for, with a higher alcohol content than most tequilas. So, I probably shouldn’t have had three shots in a row. But you smelled great, like citrus and butter. In truth, it was your taste that killed it for me. That smoky, grab-me-by-the-throat and set-me-on-fire-taste just didn’t do it for me.

Even though they served you with fresh-cut oranges sprinkled with chili, and super salty pumpkin seeds (delicious!), they couldn’t totally mask your harsh personality.

Listen, Mezcal, it’s not you. It’s me. I prefer something a little smoother, and not so smoky—something that goes down easy and has a subtle, complex personality, rather than something that gives me a dull headache and makes me wonder, “What the hell happened last night?” I know you have girls, and boys, lined up around the block for you, but you’re just not my type.

Best of luck,
Scarlet

Have you ever gone tequila tasting with someone who has a great nose? They swirl their glass around, hold it to the light to checkout the “legs” and the “tears”, and then dive in with both nostrils. They smell from the bottom, middle and top of the glass and then maybe they switch to one nostril at a time.

“Butter, dried cherries, geraniums, olives and a little bit of acetone,” they say, putting their glass of tequila down, satisfied.

You sit smelling your tequila with a puzzled look on your face. “Geraniums?!” you think. “I would never have gotten that!”

Six glasses of various types of tequila, each with their own tastes and aromas. Being able to detect them all is what being a real ‘catador’ is all about.

That’s pretty much how I felt every day of my four-day, intensive tequila aromas and tasting class in Guadalajara last month. The class was amazing, taught by a “maestra tequilera” and professional catador (taster) named Ana Maria Romero Mena. (I’ve written about her earlier.)

Even though I accepted that my nose needed serious training, it was still strange to think that so many various aromas could exist in a single tequila. “How do they get there?” I wondered. As it turned out, Ana Maria had an answer.

All of the 600 various aromas that have been detected in tequila can be traced back to distinct parts of the tequila-making process.

Here are the key parts of the process and some of the aromas they produce:

Extraction — Broken agave fibers can produce more methanol

Cooking — Raw and cooked agave aromas

Fermentation — Slow cooking produces aromas such as butter and yeast, while rapid fermentation generates crude agave smells

Distillation — This is where you get metallic, herbal, fruit, spice, floral and solvent aromas, as well as detergents and chemicals. A lot of aromas can come from distillation!

Water — Depending on the water source, water can add fish, chlorine, sulfuric acid and algae aromas. Bad water can ruin a good tequila if it is used for dilution.

Barrels — The aging process can add bourbon and whisky flavors (mostly from used barrels), as well as vanilla, chocolate, coffee and wood scents. Barrels can also add unwanted elements such as mold and leather aromas.

Because each part of the process puts a stamp on the tequila, each distillery, with its own proprietary process and set of ingredients, leaves a distinct fingerprint on the tequila it produces. That’s why expert tasters can tell if a tequila is made at a certain distillery, and they can find incongruities that you or I might not notice.

Of course, there are other factors that can affect the taste, such as when the tequila maker uses “enhancers” like wood chips and flavor extracts to achieve a certain flavor profile. I won’t go into these methods too much here.

During the class, we tasted the source of all that is tequila- both cooked (right) and raw agave. This is the base flavor of all tequila, and an essential flavor to memorize when evaluating any tequila.

If you want to become better at tasting and evaluating tequilas, practice training your nose to pickup on the natural aromas produced in the process. Keep in mind that you will detect different aromas when you smell the bottom of the glass, the center and the top. Personally, I get more alcohol and solvent aromas at the bottom, more fruits and herbs in the middle (especially when it’s a tequila made with a tahona, or stone that crushes the agave) and more barrel flavors, such as vanilla, at the top.

Then, the next time you go tequila tasting with a friend try to see how many different aromas you can both detect, and don’t be surprised if you find many more than you thought possible!

-Scarlet

It’s 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and I’m sitting in La Tequila, the largest tequila bar-restaurant in Guadalajara. The older gentleman sitting next to is holding a small glass vial to his nose and smelling deeply. He looks at me, shrugs, and hands me the vial. I know this one is going to be a tough one.

It’s Day One of a four-day hardcore seminar on tequila tasting and evaluation and almost everyone is having a hard time identifying the unmarked smells in the little glass vials. We have to identify what aroma group the smell comes from—floral, herbal, spice, fruit or other—and name the smell if we can. I take the vial the man has passed to me and take a deep whiff. It’s floral … no, it’s punchier than that. An herb? I write down “herbal” but I have no clue what kind. I move on to the next one.

The Tequila Aroma Wheel

The Tequila Aroma Wheel, with six glasses of tequila behind it – day #1 of the tequila tasting class in Guadalajara.

For this website, I have tasted a lot of tequilas. I always try to be observant and descriptive as possible about the tequilas, but I realize I’m no expert. Tequila is complex. It has over 600 possible aroma and flavor components. Some, like vanilla and caramel, are easy to spot because they come from the barrel and are present in many aged tequilas. Others, like apples, gardenias and solvents, are more challenging. Is it baked apple or fresh apple? Is it thinner or is it gasoline? These are things that expert “catadores” (tequila tasters) can identify immediately.

Luckily, I’m taking this seminar from one of the best catadores around. Her name is Ana Maria Romero Mena and although she doesn’t talk about her work in depth (she’s been focused on teaching us) it is obvious that she has consulted and worked with many of the big name tequila brands and has educated people in all parts of the industry on how to develop aromas and conduct a proper cata (tasting).

In my mind she would be the perfect tequila fixer. Does your tequila taste or look a little funky? Are you having problems capturing the floral aromas you want and eliminating the solvents? Ana Maria can look at your tequila, smell it, take a sip and tell you what part of your process is producing the undesirable elements and what you can do to fix it. If you are designing a new tequila, she can tell you what you have to do technically to achieve a certain flavor and aroma profile.

I am very fortunate to have her as a teacher, and to have been recommended to her by David Yan of Casa Noble. I am the only person in her class to not be a tequila industry exec (except for a tequila historian). I’m also the only native English speaker and my rusty Spanish is getting a serious workout.

After flailing in the aroma test on Day One, we talked about the difference between sense and perception (sense is your body’s immediate reaction, whereas perception is your analysis of the sensation.)

We also learn that when it comes to how you judge a tequila, 15% of your perception is visual, while 60% of your perception is based on smell and 25% is based on taste. Let me say this again—60% is smell! Imagine how important it is to cultivate pleasing aromas in a tequila, and how important it is for tasters to be able to identify and categorize those aromas. Unfortunately, for most people (like me) the olfactory sense is the least developed. This is partly because most of us live in cities and rarely have the chance to smell a variety of fresh flowers, herbs and products of the earth. We also tend not to cook at home as much as people did in years past. Cooking at home gives you the opportunity to smell each individual ingredient. For instance, in the first day of class we smelled five or six different herbs and identified all the separate aromas that made up that herb’s particular smell. When was the last time I truly smelled rosemary and detected the floral qualities, the nuttiness, the black pepper, the anis? Never. But I will now.

At the end of the first day we did a cata of six tequilas: two blancos, two reposados and two añejos. Aromas started to emerge that I had never perceived before: olives, peaches, anis, and yes, rosemary.

So, my advice to you tequila lovers is to sniff and assess every herb, fruit and vegetable in your kitchen. Taste and re-taste all your tequilas. Train your nose. I know that’s what I’ll be doing.

(Stay tuned for part two of my notes on what part of the tequila making process generates certain aromas and flavors.)

-Scarlet

Añejo tequilas — meaning tequilas that have been aged in a barrel for one to three years — are often rich in flavor and aromas. These are the cognacs of tequilas and they deserve special treatment. A shot glass just won’t do because, as we mentioned in the previous post, shot glasses don’t allow for proper aeration of the spirit.

I sat down with local tequila consultant David Ruiz to explore which glasses were best for tasting complex, aged tequilas. We lined up a champagne flute (which mimics an official Riedel tequila tasting glass – which interestingly, was chosen only for white tequilas), a wine glass and a brandy snifter to see which glassware would come out on top.

We were looking for a vessel that would allow us to explore all the subtle flavors and nuances of a very fine añejo. We selected Los Abuelos Añejo (which goes under the brand name Fortaleza in the U.S.) for our test since it has complex and distinctive flavors. It is both earthy and sweet, but the precise flavors and aromas you pick up depend on the quality of your glassware.

Which glass won out? Find out here:

And once you’ve watched our video, try simulating the experiment at home with your favorite añejo. We wouldn’t be surprised if you enjoyed your favorite even more after switching glasses.

-Scarlet

Put down that shot glass! Not because we’re encouraging you not to drink – don’t be silly – but because you are probably cheating whatever tequila is in that glass. See, glassware counts for a lot when it comes to how you taste and experience tequila. The traditional shot glass (referred to in Mexico as a “caballito”) just doesn’t do tequila justice. The caballito leaves little room for aeration of the spirit, which is necessary to release all the rich aromas.

The “official” tequila tasting glass made by Riedel is great, but how many bars do you go to that have Riedels? Not many, because they are delicate and relatively expensive. Given the inadequacy of shot glasses and rarity of Riedel tequila glasses, you need to do some experimenting to find out which glass is right for your sipping.

Tequila consultant David Ruiz shows us the proper way to select glassware for you tequila enjoyment. David is founder and organizer of the World International Tequila Conference and gives private tequila tours and consultations through TequilaTours.com.

So, watch and learn, because the right glassware choice can make a difference when it comes to whether you simply like a tequila or whether you love it.

(Coming up in Part 2: Finding the right glass to taste añejo tequilas.)

-Scarlet

Update-Since we ran this story the President of Casa Partida in Mexico contacted us to let us know that there is no shortage of any of their products. They are currently expanding production capacity to meet growing demand, but have not completely stopped production to do so. They say they are “maintaining the level as necessary while transitioning to (their) expanded production capability,” which will take a couple months. They are also making sure that our local stores here in Tlaquepaque are restocked. Salud!

Partida blanco lovers beware: there seems to be a shortage, at least in our little Mexican village.

Partida Blano tequila

One of the last remaining bottles of Partida Blanco in Tlaquepaque. We got word that they've stopped production of Partida tequila in order to clear out a huge glut of inventory. You should expect the blanco to become a hard-to-find item soon.

Rumors from multiple independent sources say that Partida has been sitting on an enormous amount of tequila and has stopped production entirely until they sell through their stock. Since the blanco is hugely popular, stores are running out of it first, with no idea when the stock will be replenished.

We just went to our favorite tequila stores in Tlaquepaque, Tecolote and El Buho, to buy a bottle of the blanco for some friends, only to discover they had run out. Ditto for the next largest tequila store. Finally, we found a few bottles at jacked up prices at another store. The 400 peso price tag (about US$32) was changed to 430 pesos (we watched as they changed the price), with 3 bottles left. (Of course, after our visit they now have only two, which we may grab shortly).

If you are a Partida blanco fan, let us know what’s going on in your part of the world. You just may want to pick up an extra bottle, just in case.

-Taste Tequila

As you can see from this picture, Grover took his work seriously, climbing up the side of a distillation tank to get just the right angle.

As you can see from this picture, Grover took his work seriously, climbing up the side of a distillation tank to get just the right angle.

El Gran Jubileo recently asked us to shoot some hi-def video for their new website. It was a great opportunity to be out in the agave fields and to get to know their distillery and the kind, thoughtful people who work there.

The distillery, called La Alborada, or “the dawn,” is a family business run by Ing. Juan Antonio Alvarez Rodriguez, who is not just a master distiller, but also a man fascinated with soil, agave plants, and the best way to grow and care for them. We learned an incredible amount from him, and hopefully you will too when you see the video.

Later that day, we rode out to the edge of their fields where the whole crew (us included) were instructed to climb into the back of a truck since it was the only vehicle that could manage the long, bumpy and somewhat treacherous road down to the heart of agave plantation. Four of us stood in the bed of the truck, gripping the rails, as it rambled up and down rocky hills in the Tequila valley. It was evening and a refreshing breeze had just started to form. The sun was slipping behind the Tequila volcano and we were rushing to get some last evening light.

Here you can see Grover as a little white speck out in the field.

Here you can see Grover as a little white speck out in the field.

It’s always rewarding to be so close to the source of our tequila passion, and around the people who carry on the tradition. If you ever come to Tequila you may want to consider visiting the fine folks at La Alborada, and of course El Gran Jubileo’s website will be a must-see.

Agave piñas that were harvested during our photo shoot, on the floor of the distillery, before they were baked in the oven.

Agave piñas that were harvested during our photo shoot, on the floor of the distillery, before they were baked in the oven.

(See our earlier review of the El Gran Jubileo tequilas.)

-Scarlet