Category: Tasting Tequila

Everyone has a bad college experience that somehow involved tequila. (Go ahead, admit it, you have one too.) As a result, people can be hesitant about tequila later on in life. We run into this situation all the time, and have developed a process for re-introducing people to tequila.

Feel free to use the same process:

Step 1: Set the stage with an informal tasting

Don’t just hand them a shot glass with tequila – this will surely bring nasty college flashbacks. This is exactly what you want to avoid. Skip the salt and the lime, this isn’t a race.

Instead, create a unique experience. Slow down, get nice glassware, and encourage them to sip it. If possible, have a few different types of tequila available so they can see that all tequilas are definitely not the same. Treat the tequila as you would wine, and you’re taking a good first step toward a happy re-introduction.

Step 2: Educate them about tequila and how it is made

The more you know about something, the more you can really get into it. Study up on the tequila basics so you can explain what makes it different from vodka, gin, or whiskey.

Also be ready to dispel some of the tequila myths out there – like tequila being made from a cactus (it isn’t), or that each bottle of tequila contains a worm (it doesn’t), or that you are required to eat the non-existent worm (you aren’t).

Step 3: Choose the right tequila

Give them something of high quality, because chances are that it will taste like something they’ve never had before. We’ve been down this road countless times, and our tequila conversion success rate is remarkably high mostly because we carefully select what they will be tasting.

It’s probably a safe bet to start with some aged tequilas, like the Casa Noble Reposado, Excellia Reposado, or Fortaleza Añejo. (Our favorite conversion tools!) As soon as your friends smell these tequilas, they will already know that they’re in for a much different experience.

Which are your favorite “conversion tequilas?” Please share with us by leaving a comment below.

Salud!

- Grover

tequila-whisperer-show

The Tequila Whisperer Show is always fun to watch, but it’s even more fun when you get to be an actual guest on the show, as we were last week. Not only does Lippy have a talent for tasting tequila, but he’s gracious, and highly entertaining – both on and off the air. We remain big fans, and it was an honor to be invited.

The show went for 1 hour and 40 minutes, but it seemed like 20 minutes to us (and to the viewers, we hope!). In that period of time, we compared Olmeca Altos using 100% stone-crushed agave with Olmeca Altos that used 100% shredded (“molino”) agave and the commercially available version of Olmeca Altos (80% shredder, 20% stone crushed.)

We also tasted Yeyo blanco, El Tesoro “white label” blanco, El Reformador blanco, a special version of Casa Noble gold single barrel that is 108-proof (!), and Fortaleza añejo (lot 12.) What a wonderful lineup!

Or, you can watch this video (and many more episodes) on the Tequila Whisperer site.

We also got to spend a chunk of time talking about Tequila Matchmaker, our new (free) mobile app.

Thanks, Lippy!

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.

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

The other day we visited David Yan, Marketing Director for Casa Noble tequila in Mexico, at his house in Guadalajara. Part of David’s job is to bring guests to the Casa Noble distillery, conduct tastings and delve into the fine points of how to really taste and enjoy tequila. When it comes to tequila tastings, David really knows his stuff.

During our visit, David showed us how to warm up our mouths for tastings. Yes! You need to warm up so don’t sprain anything. Okay, it’s actually to activate your taste sensors. (See the video on how to warm up your mouth.)

Once we were done with the warm up, he tapped into his collection of treasure bottles and let us sample a 11-12 year old Casa Noble Crystal, second release. This is Casa Noble blanco from another era entirely, and given how much I enjoy their current blanco I couldn’t wait to try it.

The beautiful, iridescent bottle of Crystal did not disappoint. Upon smell, it had fresh agave, herbal and citrus aromas and not a lot of alcohol. Once we dove in, the taste was a bit sweeter than I expected, but balanced and completely pleasant, with a slight tingle at the back.

During our tasting, David pointed out what to look for as you smell the aromas of a tequila, and where you can find certain aromas in the glass. For example, when you smell with your nose at the bottom of the glass, you usually find agave and alcohol aromas. In the middle of the glass is where you’ll get more herbals and citrus. At the top of the glass you’ll be able to detect secondary aromas produced during the distillation process, such as florals and chemicals.

Of course, you don’t need a treasure bottle to start practicing your tasting skills, so grab a bottle of tequila, warm up your mouth and conduct a formal at-home tequila tasting. You might discover something entirely new!

-Scarlet

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

Even if you are a regular tequila drinker, the first sip can sometimes be a shock to your mouth. It might bite and tingle a bit, and there’s no way you’re going to be able to detect the subtle flavors. It might take several sips before you start to really taste the tequila.

This is because you haven’t warmed up your mouth. That’s right — to do a proper tasting of tequilas you need to first activate your taste buds, palate and other taste sensors to get them accustomed to the unique flavors and sensations that tequila brings.

Sound crazy? I might have thought so a while back, but since I started working on being a better taster I’ve discovered that exercises like warming up your mouth really do matter. Fortunately, our friend David Yan, Marketing Director for Casa Noble Tequila in Mexico, knows how to conduct a tequila tasting the right way, and took me step-by-step through the process of warming up my mouth.

If you are doing this at home, grab some tequila and pour a small shot, preferably of a blanco, because you want to familiarize your mouth with the flavor of agave as much as possible so you can better detect it during your tastings. (By the way, this is a great way to utilize the dredges of an almost empty bottle because you don’t need a full shot – just enough for a 4-5 very small sips.) Now you’re ready for the warm up!

5 Steps For Warming Up Your Mouth:

1) Close your mouth, lift your glass and let some tequila coat your lips. This will activate your lips and help connect your mouth with your brain. You should feel a slight tingling.

2) Take a little sip of tequila and run your tongue over your top and bottle gums to stimulate them and clean your mouth.

3) Take another little sip and let the tequila just sit on your tongue, for 5-6 seconds. Then tilt your head back and let it roll down your throat without swallowing. Feel your throat come alive.

4) Next, take a little sip and let the tequila sit under your tongue for a few seconds, activating your sublingual region. Open your mouth a bit and inhale air directly onto that puddle of tequila under your tongue (this is the trickiest part!). You should taste a cloud of flavor beneath and on the sides of your tongue.

5) Finally, take a sip and rub the tequila gently against your upper palate and swallow.

Congratulations! Your mouth is now completely coated with the sweet elixir of tequila and you are warmed up and ready to taste!

Of course, being a tequila hardcore, David also brought out some great tasting tools during our visit. He had cooked agave (the most delicious thing in the world, in my opinion) and agave syrup from the Casa Noble ovens to really fire up our taste buds with that true agave flavor. He also had a great palate neutralizer to eat between tequila tastings—mild Wisconsin cheddar cheese cubes paired with high-quality quince paste, which you can usually find in upscale specialty food stores in the U.S. (Other traditional palate cleansers like lime, salt and crackers tend to hang around in your mouth, affecting the flavors of your next drink.)

I know cooked agave and true agave syrup is a luxury, unless you are in the tequila region of Mexico, but even if you have normal U.S. agave nectar you might be able to get a little closer to that agave taste.

Give the warm up and palate neutralizers a try during your next tasting and let us know what you think. I have a feeling you might be pleasantly surprised.

Also see Hardcore Tequila Tasting, Part 2: The Casa Noble Treasure Bottle

-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

We moved from San Francisco to Mexico a little over a month ago and I’d say we’re pretty settled in. Getting here was easier than we thought—we notified our landlord that we were leaving, hired movers to pack all of our stuff and put it in storage, and rented an apartment in Tlaquepaque. There was just one major hurdle—getting rid of our 85 bottles of mostly opened, premium tequilas.

Almost as soon as we made the decision to move, we realized that our extensive tequila collection would be an issue. Obviously, we couldn’t take the bottles with us (imagine us hiring a coyote to smuggle dozens of open bottles of tequila into Mexico) but we certainly didn’t want them to go to waste. They were our children, our prized possessions, and we had been hoarding them. Yes, hoarding. Why did a two-person household require 85 bottles of tequila? Why did we do the responsible thing and finish one bottle before purchasing a new one? Why did we spend so many nights going for a drink at our local bar, The Lone Palm, instead of staying home and drinking from our massive tequila cache? I’m afraid there’s not enough space to dive into these issues here, so I’ll just tell you about our little solution: A “Drain The Bar” party!

We decided to invite all of our friends, and some tequila industry folks, over to our home to wipe out as many bottles as possible. It would be an educational, fun-filled affair that would last all night. In preparation for the event, we made a video invite, printed up tasting charts, and cooked massive amounts of food to soak up the alcohol. Then we divided our collection up into stations—the blancos, repos, añejos and extra añejos all had their own tables, and we had a table just for flights. (There was also a margarita and paloma-making station for the wussies.)

As our guests began to arrive it became clear that the situation was overwhelming. Everywhere they looked there were bottles of tequila, many of which they had never heard of before, let alone tried.

After some initial hesitation, the guests started to get their sea legs. Armed with their tasting charts, they wandered from table to table, taking notes on their likes and dislikes. As the night wore on, everyone became much more relaxed. We decided to take advantage of the situation by putting a camera in one of the back bedrooms to shoot “Tequila Confessions.” (See the video above.)

Only a portion of the crowd was willing to go on camera, but the brave souls who did revealed some interesting tequila impressions, and kept us in stitches.

In the video you see one of the beauties of tequila—even though our guests had been drinking all night, they were not drunk or stumbling, just relaxed and fun.

The party turned out to be a huge success because it turned many non-tequila drinkers into fans, but it was also a failure. At 4 a.m., after the last straggler left (and two remained snoozing on the couch) we surveyed our collection. Despite the heroic efforts of our friends’ livers, many bottles still remained. We ended up throwing another party before we left where each person was required to take two bottles home with them. Now, that’s friendship.

-Scarlet

We were invited to participate in a real "cata", or tequila tasting event, in Guadalajara recently. As soon as we arrived we realized these people were serious, and we were in over our head. (And we loved every minute of it.)

The legend of the sommelier, sitting in the cellar to taste and rate wines by candlelight, is alive and well in Mexico. Except here the cherished spirit is tequila and the expert tasters are known as “catadores.”

We recently had the opportunity to sit in with a group of catadores in downtown Guadalajara for an official “cata,” or tasting. We visited the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila, Vino Mezcal A. C. during one of their monthly tastings, and they were kind enough to let us taste along with them.

As soon as we entered the conference room where the tasting was being held—at 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning—we knew we were over our heads. Setup in front of each chair was 10 glasses of tequila labeled only by number, and a small glass of vodka, a bottle of water and a plate of crackers, all to cleanse the palate. There were also spittoons (11 a.m. is awfully early to drink all 10 glasses of tequila) and candles placed around the room, presumably to represent the tradition of the sommelier.

In front of the glasses were tasting sheets that asked you to rate each tequila according to a variety of qualities such as color, body, nose, flavor and finish. The tastings are blind and the brands are not revealed until all of the scores are tabulated.

This particular group of catadores has three different chapters — in México City, Aguascaliente & Guadalajara — and they all to go through this same process. The scores for each tequila are then combined and averaged. Each year, the academy gives out awards for the highest scoring tequila in each category (blanco, repo, añejo, extra añejo.)

At this cata we were trying a variety of extra añejos, with one or two añejos thrown into the mix.

The group was social and friendly and spent time chatting as the meeting began. Francisco Hajnal, the group’s leader, claimed the tasting officially underway and everyone immediately went to work, examining and sipping from the first glass.

I stared at my tasting chart, trying to grasp the complicated rating system (we ranked some qualities from 1-7, and others from 1-5 or 1-3) and make sure I was familiar with all the Spanish terms.

Tequila tasting can be daunting. I’m always surprised and impressed when people identify flavors such as wet cement, pineapple, and clove. But I found over time that the more tequilas you try and the more you think about the flavors, the better you get at detecting the different elements in a tequila.

Scarlet checking one of the 10 un-named tequilas for its color.

Although I’ve gotten a little better at tasting, my palate was really put to the test during the cata.

Extra añejos have some of the most complicated flavor profiles because they age in the barrel at least 3 years, in which time they soak up a wide variety of tastes and aromas.

Luckily, Grover and I had a pretty extensive collection of extra añejos when we lived in San Francisco so I was familiar with the flavor profiles, even if I could not say for sure which brand made the tequila.

It took about two hours for us to taste, rate, and re-taste each sample, and then tabulate our individual results. Finally, a group representative collected the tasting charts and entered the scores into a computer. (Our results were collected but not added with the others since we are not official members of the group.)

Next up was the truly exciting part—the reveal. Bottles of tequila were placed on a table in the order that the group rated them. There were audible awes and moans; some wondered how they managed not to recognize a favorite, while others were surprised they gave a high rating to something they had previously disliked.

We felt the same. All but two of the brands on display had been in our private collection at some point, but we did not recognize them in the blind tasting. For instance, Don Julio 1942 had long been one of Grover’s favorites, but he rated it in the middle of the pack, while Gran Centenario Leyenda was one of my top-shelf favorites and I placed it third, after what I previously thought was a good, but not as good añejo (Maestro).

We took our tasting responsibilties very seriously, yet somehow wondered if we were had any idea what we were doing.

What an enlightening experience! It just goes to show how your tastes and palate can change when you are comparing brands that you normally enjoy individually.

We also learned a lot about how the Mexican palate and expectations for tequila differ from our own. In general, the Mexicans gave qualities such as strong agave flavor, burn, and finish higher ratings than we did as Americans since we usually prefer smoothness and somewhat more subtle aromas and flavors.

Of course, all ratings are subjective and what makes a tequila good is whether you like it or not. The incredible thing about a cata is that all preconceived notions are stripped away and you are only left with your senses, enabling you define what you truly like.

-Scarlet

(Unfortunately, we cannot reveal how the catadores ranked the extra añejos. You’ll have to wait until the awards ceremony this summer to find out what brands won!)

Our latest video featuring Mark Alberto Holt and Gabbi Villarrubia, our tequila experts from Sayulita, Mexico, is all about tequila and hangovers. I asked them to address the hangover issue because people ask me about it all the time – and I always tell them that if you drink GOOD tequila that’s made from 100% pure agave, you won’t get a hangover.

Mark and Gabbi explain why this is true.

You should remember that there is a difference between a “hangover” and just straight out alcohol poisoning. If you drink an entire bottle of high quality tequila by yourself, you might not feel so great the next day, but that’s because you’ve pushed it too far and not because tequila is a sure-fire hangover inducer, as some people wrongly believe.

Personally, I find that if I drink even a little bit of these “mixto” tequilas (tequila that isn’t “100% de agave”) I’ll end up getting a headache and feeling crappy the next day.

So, stick with the pure stuff, and your body will thank you.

– Grover

Armado behind the bar at Cava 22 in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Amado behind the bar at Cava 22 in the Mission District of San Francisco.

We live in the Mission district of San Francisco, and if you’ve never been it’s the part of town known for its Mexican culture, taquerias, bars and Latin markets. How could we live anywhere else?

Not too long ago a “tequila lounge” opened a few blocks away. We walked by with peaked curiosity as they were preparing to open, our faces plastered against the windows, trying to spy their tequila collection. Finally, Cava 22 opened its doors and we rushed to check it out. First, Cava 22 isn’t really a lounge. It’s more of a large Mexican-themed restaurant with a tequila bar. We saddled up to the bar and assessed the collection. They had maybe 25 different brands, but none we hadn’t tried before. Bummer. But still we ordered a couple shots and asked for their sangrita. We love sangrita, especially if it’s spicy and a bit chunky, like they make it at the San Angel Inn in Mexico City (more on this to come.) But as soon as the bartender poured our shots of sangrita, I knew it wouldn’t be quite what we wanted. It was orange and watery.

Considering this was the only “tequila lounge” in town, we left disappointed. If we had a tequila bar, we’d really pull out all the stops, we said. Hundreds of bottles! Three different kinds of sangrita! A comfortable, warm atmosphere with a tequila expert on hand for recommendations! But I digress …

Well, a few nights ago we decide to go back to Cava 22 and give it another shot. We had seen the place try to make some changes over the last few months. They added a live mariachi band on the weekends (We LOVE mariachi! More later …) and we had heard that they picked up Amado, a bartender from a notorious Mexican restaurant in the Mission that shutdown.

Armado pours up a healthy shot of Clase Azul Añejo, which Grover consumed, along with a shot of Sangrita.

Amado pours up a healthy shot of Clase Azul Reposado, which Grover consumed, along with a shot of Sangrita.

The restaurant and bar looked the same, and we didn’t see any new bottles, but still we ordered a couple drinks from Amado. He was friendly and knowledgeable and still pours a mean margarita, with only homemade sweet and sour mix. Grover got a shot of Clase Azul Añejo and asked for the sangrita. This time when the jug came up over the counter, it looked like a winner. It wasn’t “chunky” sangrita but it was a great balance of orange versus tomato juice, with just enough spice. Quickly, we plied Amado for the recipe. “Oh, tomato juice, Clamato, lime juice, orange juice, Tabasco, sugar, salt, pepper and horseradish,” he said.

In the end, we determined that Cava 22 had made some improvements. The sangrita was strong, and the shot prices weren’t bad, compared to other places. The Clase Azul was $13 a shot – a smooth, rich tequila with mad legs.

And as for Amado’s sangrita, we have a batch resting in the fridge. (We’ll let you know how it goes!)

So, if you haven’t tried Cava 22 a while ago, give it another shot. The drinks and food are good, the bartender is great, and who can be down when faced with a 10-piece mariachi band!?

-Scarlet

Partida Anjeo

As my credit card company can tell you, I am no stranger to buying high-priced shots in restaurants, but sometimes the bill creeps up and surprises me.

The first time this happened was in a Mexican food restaurant in Pleasanton, California. My friend Brad (another photographer) and I used to frequent a place called “Alberto’s Cantina.” It’s a restaurant with typical Mexican food – not necessarily authentic, but in the U.S., what is?

The bar in the restaurant has some above average tequila, so I would usually get a shot of something nice to make my food go down a lot easier. They also have a nice area outside to sit, eat, drink, and gossip about all the photographers we know.

One day during my Partida Añejo phase, I spotted the bottle of it on the bar, so I planned to order it with dinner. I’ve always considered this a great tequila for the money. In most places I could get it for $12 – $14 per shot. A bottle of it costs about $60, which will give you 12.5 two-ounce shots, which means a bar selling out the entire bottle as shots to people like me will make $115 profit on a single bottle. Makes me want to get into the bar business.

At that time I had several bottles at home for fear that I would someday run out. (I have a weird phobia about running out of stuff. Any stuff, really. I usually over-buy just so I won’t ever experience the horror of “running out.” However, Scarlet has a phobia of “having extra” of anything. So, our trips to the supermarket can be fun.)

The waitress came to the table looking like she had a really bad day, or she hated her job, or both.

She took our order, and didn’t look happy about it.

I asked her for a shot of Partida Añjeo.

“What? Patron and what?” she said.

“No, not Patron. Partida Añejo. PAR-TEE-DAH AN-YAY-HO,” I replied.

“What? We don’t have that. We don’t have anything with that name,” she said.

“Yes you do,” I said. “I saw it on the bar.”

“We don’t have that here. I’ve never served it before, and nobody has ever asked for it,” she said.

“You do have it. Trust me. I saw it. Go ask the bartender. If he can’t find it, I’ll come over and point it out for him,” I said.

She was really annoyed now, and left the table in a huff, determined to show me that I was wrong. I was considering going up to the bar and ordering it myself, but decided to wait and see what she came up with.

When she came back to the table, she was a whole new person.

“Yes! We definitely DO have that tequila,” she said with a new eager-to-please attitude.

She was polite and attentive and kept coming back to the table to make sure everything was to our liking. I ended up ordering three shots during dinner, and she brought each one to the table with amazing speed.

We had a great evening, sitting at the table for a long time, and we weren’t being rushed one bit. Fantastic service!

When it came time to leave, we asked for the check. When it arrived, everything suddenly made sense. I never asked anything about the price of those Partida Añjeo shots, but I learned when the check hit the table.

$36 each.

The math on that bottle works out to a healthy $390 profit for the bar. Now I REALLY want to get into the bar business.

I showed the bill to Brad, laughing. I just spent $108 for beverages, and $12 for the food – as outrageous as this is, and how bipolar the waitress was, I still left her a 20% tip. The story alone was worth it.

– Grover

Don Julio Anejo, my first tequila crush.

Don Julio Añejo, my first tequila crush.

When I was 31 years-old, I had my first-ever taste of an avocado. It was on the same day I first ate sushi. Today, these are some of my favorite things in life. It took a while, but I finally caught on.

Somewhere in my 39th year, sitting in the back of Tommy’s Mexican Restuarant in San Francisco, I had my first real tequila experience. Scarlet just moved into town, and a group of friends walked to the famed San Francisco tequila destination, just around the corner from her apartment.

She ordered tequila, and I was all for it.

Ahh, tequila. We used to drink it (Jose Cuervo) in college, and it always seemed to turn out bad in the end. It was sort of like a badge of honor among my male friends. We’d be in a bar packed with other college kids, drinking beer at break-neck speed, as if we were competing in a consumption contest.

Then one of my louder, drunker, abnoxious friends would declare every male at the table a “wimp” to turn down his challenge – a shot of tequila. (The word “wimp” was not used, but since this is a blog that my mother will read someday, I won’t use the real word because it is offensive. To cats, specifically.)

Well, I am not one to be called names, and I could hold my liquor, so I never turned it down. And I always paid the price for it the next day with a why-the-hell-was-I-so-stupid hangover, and sometimes with some strange name and phone number, written in pen, in someone else’s handwriting, on the palm of my hand.

With enough of these experiences, naturally, tequila was eventually avoided. I left college and never looked back. Tequila was a drink for college kids, lumped in there with Jagermeister and Goldschläger, and I was an adult now.

So it should be no surprise that when I sat down with Scarlet and friends, old memories flooded my thoughts, and when it came time to drink, I did what I was programmed to do… I slammed it.

Then came the dirty look from Scarlet. I noticed she was sipping. Relaxing. Enjoying it. She was drinking some red tomato juice substance. She also looked offended. She looked classy. Refined. Downright sexy.

“You did not just drink that entire shot, did you?” she asked.

“What!” I replied, very defensively.

“That was Casadores Añejo, not Cuervo. It is meant to be sipped,” she said.

Really? Tequila meant to be SIPPED?! That goes against everything I’ve ever known, so of course I wanted to give it a try.

The “red tomato juice substance” was sangrita. So when the waitress came back to the table, I ordered a another shot, and sangrita too.

The box of tequila, containing 2 bottles each of Don Julio Anejo and Herradura Anjeo, plus Patron Anjeo and Reposado.

The box of tequila, containing 2 bottles each of Don Julio Añejo and Herradura Añejo, plus Patron Añejo and Reposado.

When the next shot arrived, I took things slow. Very slow. I sipped. I tasted. I enjoyed. In all the shots of tequila I’ve had in my life, I never actually stopped to taste any of them. It took a while, but I finally caught on.

Soon after that, I went on a tequila tasting frenzy. I bought every single type and brand of tequila I could find at Costco, tossed it all into a big cardboard box, and brought it over to Scarlet’s house. (Don Julio Añejo turned became my first ‘favorite tequila.’) A monster was born.

– Grover

This is not just a blog about tequila – the delicious, potent elixir that soothes whatever ails you – it is also a blog about the tequila lifestyle, or more accurately, the Mexican lifestyle. Some of us in the U.S. may have a limited view of Mexico from what we’ve see in border towns or at Disneyfied beach resorts, but in the heart of the country, in the real Mexico, there’s a real passion for life, for music, for family and for laughter. This is the tequila lifestyle – taking time at the end of the day to appreciate what really matters.And what better way to do it then with a caballito of fine tequila?

Tequila (right), in Mexico, is often sipped along with Sangrita (left).

Tequila (right), in Mexico, is often sipped along with sangrita (left).

Of course, it took me a while, and some unique circumstances, to learn this. I studied English literature in college and the job market after graduating was less-than exciting. About a year out of school I decided I was going to take a job at an English- language newspaper in Mexico City called The News. Even though I had never been to Mexico before and didn’t speak a word of Spanish, I bought a one-way ticket to the Mexican capital, packed up a suitcase and left.

Upon arriving at my new job, the first thing my coworkers did was take me out for a tequila. I had had tequila in college, mixed in margaritas or tequila sunrises, but never straight. After all, the U.S. version of drinking straight tequila isn’t all that appealing – some college kid drunk in a bar, slamming shots of Cuervo at the prompting of friends, inevitably making a sour grimace while putting the empty glass down. Or, worse, some poor American at a border town Senor Frog’s having tequila poured down their throats by a scantily-clad, bottle-wielding waitress who encourages them to lick salt off her arm, or stomach, or … elsewhere. If that’s drinking tequila, I’m not interested.

But as soon as I walked into my first Mexican cantina, I knew this experience was going to be different. After all, everyone in the bar appeared calm and civil (no hooting or peer pressure) as they slowly sipped on shots of tequila while nibbling on bar snacks. Some patrons had more than one shot glass in front of them containing a bloody Mary looking drink and they would take turns sipping between that and the tequila. What was this?, I asked. My new colleagues informed me that Mexicans actually sip tequila, not slam it, and that it frequently comes accompanied by a chaser of “sangrita,” a concoctiontypically made with tomato juice, orange juice, lime juice and Worcestershire sauce, among other ingredients. (More on this later. ) Tequila and sangrita can be also served with a shot glass of lime juice, making the trio a “bandera” since it resembles the red, white and green of the Mexican flag.

So, at my coworkers’ suggestion I tried a shot of Casadores reposado with sangrita. I took a tiny sip of the golden Casadores (still a favorite) and then a tiny sip of the tart sangrita. Then I sat back and felt the tequila warm my throat and stomach. My limbs began to relax and my shoulders dropped. Over the next few hours, we continued to sip shots. I felt a relaxed warmth toward my companions, conversation flowed easily, as did laughter, and when the music was right, when it was bold and filled with emotion, happy tears came easily too. And the most amazing part was, there was no price to pay the next morning. Because when you are sipping good tequila, made of 100% agave, and not mixing drinks, hangovers are unheard of. That’s when I knew I was in love.

-Scarlet