Category: Tequila Tours

People often ask us which tequilas they should pickup in Mexico that they can’t get here in the states. Of course, there are scores of tequilas that never make it across the border but we have a few Mexico-only favorites that we often recommend. And the good news is that at least two of our three favorites are due to come out in the states very soon.

We recently discovered a gem of a tequila called El Tequileño, which is reposado aged for close to one year (11 months and 2 weeks to be exact), giving it a rich, full-bodied flavor. It is extremely affordable considering it is of añejo quality. Given that it’s priced around $25, we crammed our luggage with several bottles the last time we went to Mexico.

Our next pick is Siete Leguas D’Antaño extra añejo. Many consider the Siete Leguas line as the cream of the crop of traditional Mexican tequilas. If you appreciate the clean agave kick of their blanco, you’ve got to taste how the line progresses all the way to the extra añejo.

Both El Tequileno and the D’Antaño are due out in the states soon. We will let you know as soon as they hit the shelves.

Finally, our last pick is Maestro Tequilero tequila añejo classico, a smooth and rich tequila that carries all the oaky flavors that you expect from an aged spirit.

So far, we’ve only seen this in duty free, although we suspect you might be able to get it in other retail outlets in Mexico. But even if you can’t, duty free is a quick and easy way to get your hands on it. (That’s where we got the bottle we’re showing in the video.)

So, if you’re going to Mexico or have a friend who’s going, you may want to send them this list. Otherwise, wait a little while and they just may come to you.

-Taste Tequila

We’re back at the SFT Tequila Bar in Sayulita, Mexico with another question. What type of tequila goes good with food? Mark Alberto Holt and Gabbi Villarrubia talk about this from behind Mark’s extensive tequila bar.

(Ever notice how a person standing behind a bar seems to be taken more seriously than just about anyone else? Why is that?)

Both Mark and Gabbi agree that a reposado tequila, like El Tequileño, would be a great match with most food. Unfortunately, you can’t get your hands on El Tequileño in the USA (yet), but a similar substitute would be the reposados from Gran Centennario, Cazadores or Casa Noble.

One reason why El Tequileño reposado is so good – and the reason we make sure to pack our suitcases full of it each time we visit Mexico – is that it is aged just a few weeks shy of an añejo. By law, a reposado cannot be aged in barrels longer than a year (otherwise it becomes an añejo).

The smart folks at El Tequileño age their tequila for about 11 months and 2 weeks, which is what makes it such a smooth and delightful reposado.

Scarlet and Grover Sanschagrin with a nearly empty bottle of Dos Lunas añejo, the tequila of choice served to guests at their wedding reception in Tlaquepaque, Mexico.

Scarlet and Grover Sanschagrin with a nearly empty bottle of Dos Lunas añejo, the tequila of choice served to guests at their tequila-themed wedding reception in Tlaquepaque, Mexico.

It was late at night, and the hotel bar was closed. Luckily, the cleaning crew was on call to keep the tequila flowing, so we sat and talked for hours about Mexico, about tequila, and about life. We were only one day away from the end of our “tequila vacation,” and there was much to talk about.

At the bottom of our shot glasses were little glass-blown figures that were almost always covered by tequila (thanks to the attentive cleaning crew.) My shot glass contained a Mexican flag, and Grover’s glass had a tiny blue agave plant. Every once in a while we’d be treated to one of our favorite mariachi songs playing quietly in the background through the hotel sound system.

I met Grover through my friend, Alexis. One evening I watched him slam a perfectly good shot of 100% agave tequila as if it were the same nasty stuff he drank in college, and encouraged him to slow down and taste it. He did, and he was hooked.

Soon after we found ourselves meeting up in tequila bars all across San Francisco, trying all of the tequilas we could get our hands on. Bar after bar, we talked about traveling to the Tequila region of Mexico, to visit the motherland of our bonding beverage. This would be our “tequila vacation.”

Two years later, we made that trip – as friends.

In January 2008, we stayed at the Quinta Don Jose Boutique Hotel, in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. This is located right in the center of Jalisco, the region of Mexico where tequila is made.

We were wrapping up our late night conversation in the hotel when we were suddenly interrupted, not by the cleaning crew, but by Grover himself.

“You just got to the flag,” he said, pointing to my shot glass. With my last sip, the level of tequila was now below the little glass-blown flag.

“Oh, I think this will have to be the last shot for me,” I responded, thinking he meant I was due for yet another refill.

“No, that’s not what I meant,” he said. “I promised myself that I would tell you something as soon as you got to the flag. And well, now you’re at the flag, so I have to tell you.”

“Oh, uh, OK,” I said nervously.

“I think you and I get along really well, and our friendship is really nice and easy and comfortable, and I think we should be more than friends,” he said. “We would make a really great couple and I am hoping that you’ll consider it.”

I was certainly not expecting that – but I was ready with five really good reasons why I was not a good match for anyone, and did my best to discourage him.

He didn’t buy into any of my reasons, and I really wasn’t sure if he was serious, or if it was the tequila talking.

“We’d make such a great couple, and we’d have the best relationship ever,” he said. “Trust me.”

When the plane touched down in San Francisco one day later, it marked the official end of our tequila vacation, but marked the beginning of our adventure as “boyfriend and girlfriend.”

Our first joint project was starting TasteTequila.com, a blog where we could share tequila musings and recommendations with the world. We knew that in doing so we would need to go back to Mexico and learn more about the history and culture of tequila and gather more content for the website.

We planned another trip to Guadalajara in April of 2009 and setup two days of tours with a local tequila consultant. Once again, we stayed at the Quinta Don Jose Boutique Hotel and on the last night of that trip, sitting just a few feet away from where he made his first confession in the hotel bar, Grover pulled out a ring and proposed.

Tequila expert David Ruiz conducts a full tequila tasting lesson for guests at the wedding.

Full tequila tasting lessons were conducted for guests at the wedding.

Grover is known for not being able to keep things to himself. If he’s excited about something, everyone knows it. So I was completely taken by surprise. He had somehow managed to keep a straight face for several days.

I said,“Yes.”

By morning we had booked the entire hotel for a November wedding with a tequila theme. We would be married in the same spot where our relationship began and where he proposed.

Our Tequila Wedding

Now when most people think of a wedding they think of champagne—all bubbles and sweetness and pretty glasses perfect for toasts. We had something else in mind. We wanted to welcome our guests upon arrival in Tlaquepaque with the warm relaxation that comes after just a few sips of fine agave. We wanted them to share in the culture of Mexico, its fine food and drink, and to sit back and enjoy a lively mariachi band with a cabellito in hand, full of the sweet and potent spirit that soothes away aches and worries and restores one to life.

In short, we wanted tequila.

So we planned a welcome cocktail hour of margaritas and a reception dinner that would feature the finest tequila. We envisioned each table with its own bottle of the spirit – our favorite tequilas.

While we were preparing for the big event we wondered which brands of tequila we should have on hand. We made a list of all our favorites, and at the top of the list was a fantastic tequila called Dos Lunas, which is only sold for export outside of Mexico.

The añejo, which we keep stocked in our home bar, is rich and balanced but still retains a bright agave flavor. Dos Lunas would be a natural choice for the wedding since even non-regular tequila drinkers tend to like it, we thought, but we weren’t sure if we could get enough bottles down to Mexico.

Then we discovered that Dos Lunas is actually produced in Tlaquepaque by the Tequilas del Señor distillery, which Grover visited over the summer. He had made a few connections at the distillery and they were gracious enough to facilitate us getting 12 bottles of Dos Lunas for the reception – Dos Lunas Blanco, reposado and añejo – all tequilas you couldn’t normally get in Mexico. We were thrilled. We knew our guests would go crazy for it.

To carry the tequila theme even further, we wanted to show our guests where Dos Lunas was made, so we setup a tour of the Tequilas del Señor distillery the day after the wedding. We wanted our guests to learn about the history of tequila and how it was produced as well as sample the fine tequilas available in the tasting room. (Tequilas del Señor also makes Herencia de Plata and Herencia Historico, a special extra añejo they began bottling in 1997 to celebrate the year tequila received its denomination of origin., meaning that only 100% agave spirit produced in 5 states of Mexico can legally be called tequila.)

The Tequila Soaked Reception

Barrels of Dos Lunas tequila sitting in the tasting room at the Tequilas del Señor distillery. Yumm.

Barrels of Dos Lunas tequila sitting in the tasting room at the Tequilas del Señor distillery. Yumm.

We’re not sure how many bottles of blancos went into the margaritas at our welcome reception, but we were keeping track on the day of the wedding. We started the morning with 27 bottles of beautiful, pristine, delicious 100% agave tequila, thinking of course, that we’d leave any unconsumed bottles as a gift to the hotel bar, but by the end of the evening, after the dinner and the dancing, after the 1 a.m. taco cart run, there was not one bottle left.

That’s right—55 guests and 27 bottles of tequila in one evening! Now, keep in mind that not everyone was drinking tequila. Some people preferred wine or vodka and there was one pregnant guest who wasn’t drinking at all. But something quite amazing happened: many non-regular tequila drinkers found that they enjoyed sipping on tequila. They discovered the warm, happy high of a tequila buzz and not one person got sick from drinking tequila (you can attribute those sick-on–tequila college days to mixed tequilas like José Cuervo. In general, you do not get sick by drinking 100% agave tequila unless you mix it with a lot of sugar – blended margaritas – or go completely overboard.)

Our guests’ “tequila conversion” had to do with the fact that they were drinking very smooth and pleasing tequila such as Dos Lunas and that they had learned how to drink it properly.

At the welcome reception, our tequila consultant had kindly shown the guests how to taste tequila, what aromas and tastes to look for, and how to appreciate the flavor of agave. We also asked the hotel to whip up a batch of our favorite sangrita recipe as a tequila companion.

The Distillery tour

Wedding guests took a tour of the distillery where Dos Lunas is made, Tequilas del Señor, in Tlaquepaque, Mexico.

Wedding guests took a tour of the distillery where Dos Lunas is made -- Tequilas del Señor, in Tlaquepaque, Mexico.

The next day, at the tequila friendly hour of 11:30 a.m., most of our guests were up and ready to take the distillery tour. Juan Bernardo Torres Mora, from the distillery’s public relations department, took them on a detailed and in-depth tour covering the history of tequila, the distillation process, and a primer on tasting tequilas. At the Tequilas del Señor tasting room our guests tried six different tequilas– the Herencia de Plata blanco, reposado and anejo, plus two flavored after dinner tequilas (almond and coffee) and the Herencia Historico 12 year extra añejo.
At the end of the tour, we were pleased to see that many of our guests purchased tequilas from the distillery to take home with them. (We helpfully reminded them that they could legally take home two bottles each and that tequila makes a great Christmas present!)

Maybe a tequila themed wedding isn’t right for everyone, but considering how many happy guests we had and how many new tequila admirers we created, we couldn’t imagine a better ending (and beginning!) to our tequila romance.

-Scarlet

In September I attended The World International Tequila Conference and Distillery Tour. It was packed with amazing experiences, starting with the very first day when we were greeted by mariachis at the Tequilas del Señor distillery in Tlaquepaque. This is where Herencia de Plata, Herencia Historico, and Dos Lunas are made.

The Tequilas del Señor staff is friendly, and they welcomed us with extremely tasty margaritas. We toured their distillery and ended up in their tasting room, with more mariachi and traditional Mexican dancers.

The incredible Herencia Historico tequila being poured for our group during a tour of Tequilas del Señor in Tlaquepaque, Mexico.

The incredible Herencia Historico tequila being poured for our group during a tour of Tequilas del Señor in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. This is the same distillery that produced the Dos Lunas line of high-quality tequilas.

But they really went above-and-beyond when they let us taste all of their tequilas – including the Herencia Historico, which was absolutely incredible. The staff told me that this 12-year old bottle of tequila (aged for 5 years in sherry barrels) sells for about $250/bottle in the United States. (They began aging it May 27th, 1997, when the European Union officially recognized Tequila as a “Denomination of Origin”.)

The nose on this tequila is extremely strong, and the taste is like a wonderfully smooth, rich ride through tequila heaven with its vanilla and caramel flavors. Its dark color hints at how it actually tastes: complex, full bodied, warm, and instantly relaxing – as you would expect any tequila aged this long would be, yet surprisingly it was not too sweet.

It’s not easy to find, but it seems you can buy Herencia Historico for about $190/bottle in the USA at TheCellarOnline.com.

After the tasting was done, we were treated to some incredible Mexican food, and more margaritas.

All tequilas produced here are run through the lab at Tequilas del Señor, including this bottle of Dos Lunas Silver.

All tequilas produced here are run through the lab at Tequilas del Señor, including this bottle of Dos Lunas Silver.

Tequilas del Señor is located in Tlaquepaque, a charming pueblo just outside of Guadalajara – a 15-minute taxi ride from the center of the city. They recently opened their distillery for tours, and the experience is pleasantly in-depth without being confusing.

It begins with a video presentation about the growing and harvesting of the blue agave, the plant used to make tequila. A short question and answer session follows, and then they take you through the various parts of the distillery, including where the agave are “cooked” or steamed, where they extract the sugary liquid from the plants, where they ferment and distill and bottle the tequila, and even the laboratory where they are constantly testing their products for purity and standards.

The tequilas made here are of extremely high quality. Dos Lunas Añejo, in fact, sits at the top of our favorite tequila list.

If you are looking to do a bit of tequila tourism yourself, you should definitely consider staying in Tlaquepaque (the Quinta Don Jose Boutique Hotel is our favorite place to stay). The Tequilas del Señor distillery is a leisurely walk from the hotel (or a 2 minute taxi ride), and you can visit without a tour guide and still have a great experience.

To schedule a time for a tour, you should contact them – and tell them we sent you!

Miles talks to attendees during the 2009 World International Tequila Conference and Distillery Tour in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Miles Karakasevic talks to attendees during the 2009 World International Tequila Conference and Distillery Tour in Guadalajara, Mexico.

When I was preparing to leave for the World International Tequila Conference and Distillery Tour, I wasn’t really sure if I was getting in over my head. This was a conference designed for hardcore tequila enthusiasts and experts, and although I felt like I knew a lot about tequila, I wasn’t sure where I would fall in the spectrum of tequila knowledge.

Upon arrival at the hotel I immediately started meeting my fellow attendees and I realized that the group was very diverse. Here’s a rundown of some of the kinds of people in attendance:

Tommy Jensen and Reece Henderson from Denver, Colorado were there to learn more about the tequila business so they could make, and market, their own tequila. They were tequila enthusiasts with a dream of producing their own label, and this was their first real step toward making that dream come true.

Mark Alberto Holt runs the SFT Tequila Bar in the beach town of Sayulita, Mexico. He wanted to meet and greet as many tequila industry people possible so he can educate his customers about the different tequilas, and offer as many back-stories as possible about each.

He too is interested in producing his own tequila, and was much further along than Tommy and Reece in turning it into a reality.

Miles Karakasevic is a 12th generation master distiller who runs Charbay Distillery in Napa Valley, California. He just recently completed the process of creating his own tequila, Charbay Blanco, and was able to speak from personal knowledge about the process itself. This man is a walking encyclopedia of distillation, willing and able to simultaneously talk about the process as both science and art.

Others in attendance were consultants, distillery representatives, industry veterans, and advanced enthusiasts.

Being thrown in the middle of this crowd taught me more about tequila than I ever expected. Topics being tossed around included the theories of specific distillation practices; environmental impact of tequila production on the region; the steps needed to export tequila out of Mexico; the trends in local agave production and how to survive even when the agave prices are low; and the differences between tequilas produced in the lowlands and the highlands. (Stay tuned for a slew of posts based on what I learned at the conference!)

Yet, my initial fear – that I wouldn’t be as advanced as the others – didn’t really matter in the end. Everyone in attendance loved and appreciated tequila, and everyone was respectful of each other’s tequila preferences.

It was common to hear debates about blanco vs. aged tequila, and how blanco is the only “real” tequila, but in the end everyone would always agree that tequila in any form was enjoyable, and it was all based on personal taste.

I felt a bond with everyone because I am a fan of “100% tequila de agave” – in whatever form it may take. We loved it all. In that sense, we were all the same.

During our last trip to Mexico, I was busy shooting many pictures of everything that looked interesting, and everything looks interesting in Jalisco. I was armed with two cameras that represented the widest possible spectrum in terms of camera quality and price.

On my shoulder was a Canon EOS 5D Mark II – a 21 megapixel monster that produces stunning digital images (and even high-def video.) It’s a professional-level SLR camera, big and heavy compared with any normal consumer-type camera. The quality is worth dealing with the size and weight.

In my pocket was my other camera. Or I should probably say, “camera.” My iPhone.

It isn’t even possible to compare the two cameras. But they each produce some very different-looking images and I found myself going to the iPhone camera frequently because I knew it would produce a very interesting effect.

I put together a collection of some of the images I shot with the iPhone during our time at the various distilleries. The images are definitely meant to be “artistic” and “fun.”

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing with the iPhone camera, and I’ll certainly continue. It’s a nice break from the ultra high quality of the Canon 5D, and its limitations can actually add to the creative process.

View the entire gallery of iPhone images.

Our trip to Jalisco last month included some time visiting with Rafael, a real life jimador who works for the Tres Mujeres distillery. We were able to watch as he made a very difficult process look extremely easy. He was able to get an entire plant out of the ground in less than 5 minutes.

At one point, Rafael handed the coa (his cutting tool) to Scarlet and I so we could experience the process firsthand. The tool had some weight to it, and it was razor sharp – slicing through the tough agave plant with ease.

He shaves away all of the leaves so that all that remains is the “piña,” the pulpy center which is later steamed, crushed and turned into tequila.

– Grover

We got back from our whirlwind Tequila trip last night and, happily, there is a lot to report. We visited distilleries in both the highlands and lowlands, sampled artisan tequila made using traditional methods (a mule pulling a giant stone to crush the cooked agave) and met some truly lovely people along the way.

Scarlet takes notes with the help of a digital voice recorder during a personal tour of the Siete Leguas tequila distillery.

Scarlet inside the Siete Leguas distillery.

As soon as we get all our notes and photos together, we’ll be sharing everything with you, but here is just a short list of the posts you can expect in the coming days:

- Lowland tequila vs. highland tequila.

- The “natural” method of making tequila vs. the “unnatural”.

- Reviews of Siete Leguas blanco, repo, añejos and their brand new extra añejo (which isn’t available in the USA yet!) We brougt a bottle of this back with us for “research.”

- Reviews of tequilas you haven’t heard of yet, but may become your future favorites.

We’re bursting with stories, so stay tuned… and keep sipping.

-Scarlet

Scarlet reading a map of Mexico just prior to landing in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Scarlet reading a map of Mexico just prior to landing in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Grover and I currently on our way back to Mexico, headed for Guadalajara/Tequila, laden with cameras, video cameras, voice recorders, laptops and spare livers. Stay tuned for a flurry of updates on the latest and greatest in tequila. We’re spending one full day touring distilleries in the Tequila Valley and one day in the Arandas Highlands.

Then we’re renting a car and going “rouge” to all the little distilleries that the tour guides won’t take you to. Have any suggestions, requests, recommendations? Let us know!

If you want to go hardcore right along with us, and be kept up-to-date on all the action, be sure to tune in to our Twitter feed.

Hasta pronto,
Scarlet

The first time I visited Tequila, Mexico was years ago when I was working as a reporter at a newspaper in Mexico City. Every once in a while our editor, Dan Dial, would hand out a press junket as a reward for work well done, and I was lucky enough to get the all expenses paid trip to the Jose Cuervo distillery.

This bottle of 1800 Añejo was produced in the Cuervo distillery.

This bottle of 1800 Añejo was produced in the Cuervo distillery.

I was a finance reporter at the time and there was no expectation that I write about the trip; I was just supposed to make some contacts and enjoy. The Jose Cuervo people flew a group of writers to Guadalajara, where we were picked up from the airport and ferried back to a hotel. I realized pretty quickly that none of my traveling companions were “serious” reporters – most were freelance travel or food and beverage writers who may or may not write anything for magazines that may or may not accept their work. I knew this for one reason: the entire group was dead set on doing nothing but getting drunk on this trip. They didn’t even bother with the old notebook and pen props. They carried shot glasses, and nothing else.

The morning after we arrived, Jose Cuervo put us all on a bus to Tequila, where the first and only stop was the Jose Cuervo distillery, called La Rojena. If you’ve never been, the Cuervo distillery is a big, beautiful hacienda, with patios draped in bougainvillea, facing a huge and immaculately landscaped courtyard. As soon as we pulled up to the property, we were swarmed by press agents who were standing in front of a table lined with full shot glasses of tequila. Within seconds we were engaged in a full-blown tasting of Cuervo’s complete product line, from low to high, including reserve tequilas that could only be tasted there. (I wish I had taken notes, but alas, I didn’t.) Five shots later, I was feeling pretty tipsy, and it was only 11 a.m.!

After the tasting, we were taken on a tour of the facility. I don’t remember much but the enormous tanks where the tequila was being distilled and the cavernous room, full of thousands of barrels, where it was aged. Then we were led to the hacienda’s grand patio, where we were offered a choice of margaritas. The patio was set with half a dozen large, round tables, which were teeming with food and tequila bottles.

I think they served us three or four courses that day, and with each course came a new tequila. In addition to the food and drink, Cuervo had also arranged for entertainment. There were mariachi and dancers from various regions of Mexico, as well as vaqueros on horses, doing tricks. As the afternoon lingered on, my companions became increasingly boisterous and unsteady. They were whooping and hollering, filling the soft Tequila air with their booming American voices.

At sundown, they finally escorted us back to the bus, and as a final gift they handed us full bottles of tequila as we boarded, along with plastic cups, so we could drink along the way. It was a long ride back to Guadalajara. I remember slinking into a seat at the back of the bus, curling up and trying to sleep, but it was impossible. Tequila was flowing as the group debated which bar they should stop at on the way back to the hotel. How they could possibly drink more was beyond me, but these were veteran food and drink writers, so they must have built up some sort of endurance.

When Grover and I return to Tequila next month it will actually be my third trip there, but I expect this one to the best so far. After all, we’ve got an exciting itinerary planned, and the only drunken journalists on our bus will be us.

-Scarlet

Our plane touched down at the Guadalajara airport in January, 2008. After a few days of fun in a hectic Mexico City, we were ready to wind down and, hopefully, tour some tequila distilleries and listen to a whole lot of mariachi music. Happily, we did both.

I was in non-stop picture-taking mode, and went especially crazy while we toured the tequila distilleries.

[flv:/videos/tequila-mexico-tour.flv 396 264]

When we got home I had a ton of images, and I wanted to do something with them. (My mother always complains that I shoot all these pictures, but nobody ever gets to see them. She’s right.)

Scarlet and I decided to create a little video of our trip. The video (above) is a special Tequila edit, with images and video from Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, and Tequila.

The song, “Volver, Volver” has become our theme song. (“Volver” is Spanish for “to return.”)

The farmland of Jalisco, Mexico, taken as we were approaching the Guadalajara Airport in January, 2008.

The farmland of Jalisco, Mexico, taken as we were approaching the Guadalajara Airport in January, 2008.

The tickets are booked and the trip is (partially) planned! That’s right, Grover and I are returning to Tequila, Mexico in April and we’re muy entusiasmado. We’re hooked up with a Tequila Expert & Consultant for two full-day tours, which will take us through the Tequila Valley and the Arandas Highlands. Included are stop at the Los Abuelos/Forteleza distillery, Partida, Herradura and Don Julio.

Then we are renting car and striking out on our own. So, tequila fans, do you have any suggestions or recommendations on places we should see, tequila we should drink and people we should meet? If so, please let us know and we will report back with our findings!

-Scarlet

Maria's extensive tequila list included many we've never tried. Two flights (six glasses) later we were happy.

Maria's extensive tequila list included many we've never tried. Two flights (six glasses) later we were happy.

We found nothing but tourist traps on our first night in Santa Fe, but the second day was a success, thanks to Grover’s friend Andy Biggs. Andy is a wildlife photographer (www.andybiggs.com) who lives in Santa Fe.

“You’ve got to go to Maria’s Cantina,” he said. “They have an amazing tequila selection.”

So, we were off. From the outside Maria’s looks like just another restaurant tucked into a commercial corner, with a simple yellow sign out front. But once inside, we saw the sprawling rooms full of homey tables, topped with chips, salsa, sopapillas and elegant Reidel tequila glasses (just like the ones we have at home). This was more like it! When the waitress sat us down with a page-long list of their tequila selection, in 6-point font, we knew we had hit the motherlode. We quickly scanned the reposados and añejos, looking for brands we had never tried. Maria’s offers a tequila “sampler” of three one-ounce shots, so we quickly ordered a sampler of 30-30 Añejo, El Diamonte del Cielo Añejo, and El Amo Añejo.

The waitress lined them up on our table like little soldiers, awaiting inspection. First up was the 30-30. This tequila has the strong agave flavor of a repo or blanco, with a fragrant agave nose. Not quite what we were looking for so we moved on to the El Diamonte del Cielo. This was more like it – sweet, floral smell, complex flavors of vanilla and caramel with a surprise at the back. We were impressed.

Look for that yellow sign when you are in Santa Fe and you need a positive tequila-sipping experience.

Look for that yellow sign when you are in Santa Fe in need of a positive tequila-sipping experience.

Next up was the El Amo. It had a sweet, clean nose and a very herbal flavor, almost minty. The finish was a double whammy – with flavor exploding at the tongue and the top of the mouth. It was interesting but not as good as the previous one, so we decided to get a second sampler round.

Round two consisted of El Mayor Reserve Añejo, El Diamonte del Cielo Reposado (after the great tasting añejo, we wanted the repo) and Buen Amigo Reposado.

The El Mayor was sweet on the front but had a LONG, spicy finish. And when I say long, I mean I tasted it minutes later, after several drinks of water. The El Diamonte repo had a discrete front, and also a spicy finish, but nothing like the El Mayor.

Maria's Cantina has a nice fire going in the entryway. Makes for a semi-cool picture!

Maria's Cantina has a nice fire going in the entryway. Makes for a semi-cool picture!

Finally, we tried the Buen Amigo repo, which we were dubious of, given its overtly friendly name. It had a subtle, floral nose and the flavor was sweet and smooth, with a spicy finish that doesn’t outstay its welcome. Grover said he tasted a whole new honey flavor emerging in the middle. I didn’t really get that but you can try it and see for yourself. Overall, it was a very pleasing tequila, but only for those who like sweet flavors. The Buen Amigo would make a great finish to a meal and is a friend worth having around.

It was with regret that we left Maria’s that day, with so many undiscovered tequilas still sitting above its bar, but we didn’t think our rental car company would appreciate it if we ordered another round.

A few more images to share…

The bar can be found in the back of the restaurant.

The bar can be found in the back of the restaurant.

Shooting the shooter…

Grover taking a picture of our first tequila "sampler" at Maria's Cantina in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Grover taking a picture of our first tequila "sampler" at Maria's Cantina in Santa Fe.

So, a note to our readers: when in Santa Fe heed Andy’s advice and go straight to Maria’s Cantina – you won’t regret it!

- Scarlet

The "Cage", which was locked up during our visit, contained 13 different brands of tequila. We were not impressed.

The "Cage" at the top of the stairs inside The Ore House. It was locked up during our visit, but we spied 13 different brands of tequila. We were not impressed. This picture was taken through the bars, revealing the tiny tequila selection.

Grover and I went to Santa Fe last week and we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see what New Mexico has on Old Mexico in terms of tequila.

I was dreaming of great New Mexican cuisine, accented with fully stocked tequila bars, but the reality was somewhat different. If the food was good, there was no decent tequila in sight, and if the tequila was good, the food was just mediocre.

Some friends had recommended two places downtown, near the plaza – the Blue Corn Café and the Ore House On The Plaza. We were told that the food at Blue Corn was better, but that Ore House had a “tequila cage” that we must see. I had no clue what a tequila cage was, but it sounded enticing, as though the agave was so fierce it needed to be locked away from lesser tequila drinkers.

We stopped at Blue Corn first, saddled up to the bar and examined the selection. While the choices were not bad, they did not excite us. Listed as their “finest” were Corazon Reposado, Don Eduardo Añejo and Patrón Añejo. I’m not crazy about the Corazon line, and there’s something about all tequilas that start with “Don” (with the very notable exception of Don Julio) that signals that they should be avoided. So, we ordered margaritas with Herradura Reposado and were pleased with the resulting drinks. The food was also commendable, and Graham, the bartender, was friendly and informative. Next up for dinner was Ore House on the main plaza.

The Ore House was decorated in classic Mexican style, including tiled tables, a cantina-like bar and inviting balcony. At first glance we were excited by the rows of tequila and the atmosphere. We grabbed a table on the balcony and began inspecting their tequila list, looking for brands we had never heard of or hadn’t yet tried. There were many, but most of them were blancos and reposados, and many of our old favorites were suspiciously absent.

Can you spot the blanco here? (Hint: It's in the middle.) We asked for a resposado, but we got a blanco instead. The glass on the right is the reposado we asked for, which was brought out after we questioned it.

Can you spot the blanco here? (Hint: It's in the middle.) We asked for a resposado, but we got a blanco instead. The glass on the right is the reposado we asked for, which was brought out after we questioned it.

However, they did offer Herradura Seleccion Suprema for $50 a shot, El Tesoro Paradiso for $25 and Cuervo Reserva de la Familia for $20.

We chose two that we hadn’t tried – Chamucos Reposado and Reformador Reposado, both priced at around $12 a shot. As soon as the Reformador arrived we had our suspicions. It was completely clear, and the consistency of water. The nose was very faint, with a slight floral smell. Grover took the first sip and I saw confusion spread across his face. “It tastes like water!” he said. “Actually, rose water.”

I took the next sip, and to my surprise, he was right. It barely tasted like anything at all, it had no legs, and there was just a slight floral aftertaste. Perplexed, we decided to go for the Chamucos. This one was much closer to the tequila we liked, with a smooth front and an agave burst mid-tongue. It had a faint, sweet aroma – all and all a decent repo.

When the waitress returned we investigated the mysterious Reformador. “Is this really the reposado?” Grover asked. “It’s completely clear and it tastes like water.”

The bar inside The Ore House, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Cool hats!

The bar inside The Ore House, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Cool hats!

Sure enough, after checking with the bartender, our waitress told us that she actually served us the Reformador Blanco. She brought a shot of the reposado and we were curious to see the difference. The Reformador repo couldn’t be any more different than its unaged cousin. It was bright and herbal, with a flavor explosion at the back of the throat. It’s not particularly smooth tequila; there seems to be too much going on.

The food at the Ore House was also disappointing. Although the menu sounded good, everything was overcooked and bland. We left still hungry and thirsty and wondering about the “tequila cage.” It turns out the Ore House has a small tequila shop that was locked up the evening we were there, behind a cage-like encasing. The search for a fine Santa Fe tequila experience continued.

-Scarlet

Blue Agave growing in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico.

Blue Agave growing in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico.

I wasn’t always an obnoxious tequila snob. Nope. In my earlier days, I was a beer-drinking, hot-dog-eating, 8-track-tape-owning “guy behind the camera” photojournalist. I worked as a staff photographer for newspapers in Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, New York, and Minnesota.

Back in those days, the only “refined taste” I had was the ability to talk for hours about some of the hot topics of the day. Nikon versus Canon. Macintosh versus Windows. Prime versus zoom. D-76 versus FG7 and sodium sulfite. Tri-X versus T-MAX. Negatives versus slides.

Pretty exciting stuff, I know. We would actually talk about this stuff for hours, and never get tired of it. I didn’t really have any in-depth knowledge beyond photography. No wonder why all my friends were photographers. (Actually, most still are!)

But today, I rarely touch the camera. I’m usually working with photographers, helping with their marketing, their business “strategies”, and their websites. Sometimes I actually miss shooting pictures for a living, and going to places I wouldn’t normally be able to go, meeting people I wouldn’t normally meet.

Many of my friends are super talented photographers, and I am frequently blown away with what they are able to produce. In comparison, my photographic skills are fair. I’d say that they are a bottle of Herradura Seleccion Surprema, and I’m a dependable bottle of Cazadores Reposado. :-)

Blue agave pinas being steamed inside of the old-style Cascahuin Distillery in Tequila, Mexico.

Blue agave piñas being steamed inside of the old-style Cascahuin Distillery in Tequila, Mexico.

The ever-curious part of me went to sleep when I put down the camera in 1993. I became the “guy behind the guy behind the camera.”

My first trip to Tequila in 2008 was a wake-up for that curious part. I recognized it like an old friend you haven’t seen in 15 years, yet it felt like no time had lapsed at all. I had my camera, and loved using it. It felt good when old shooting habits would come back to me. I shot so many images on that trip that it took days to edit, eventually producing a 5-minute video with mostly still images.

That trip is the start of my tequila image archive, and I’ll be dipping into it regularly here on the blog.

I’ve included two of my favorite images here from that first trip. There are many more to come, as I plan to use my camera to continuously document my ever-deepening tequila snobbery.

– Grover