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

Leopoldo Solis is the mastermind behind many well-respected tequilas. After our review of his most recent creation, Tequila Gran Dovejo, we were invited to meet Mr. Solis in person while he was traveling through Mexico City.

Solis is a “Master Tequilero,” and Casa Real, Campanario, Don Pilar, Real de Mexico, and Siembra Azul are some of his other creations.

We took the opportunity to interview Mr. Solis, and asked him what it’s like to be a Master Tequilero (a dream job for any tequila fan.) We also asked him to explain the difference between a tequila that is 38% alcohol (which is commonly found in Mexico) and that same tequila at 40% (found in the United States.)

When we asked Mr. Solis what someone needed to be a “Master Tequilero,” he didn’t hesitate with his reply – passion. This passion was evident off camera as well. While we were setting up the lights and camera, Mr. Solis was enthusiastically sharing his knowledge about how to properly taste tequila, from sipping and breathing techniques to experimenting with your own senses.

For example, he told us that since we are both right-handed, we should try looking to the right and down at the floor when smelling tequila aromas. Sure enough, we both detected stronger aromas on our right-hand sides than our left. (Apparently, if you’re left-handed the opposite is true.)

He also said that your senses will change if you’re looking up rather than down, even with your eyes closed. “Everything matters,” he said.

His attention to detail and sensorial elements can’t help but affect the quality of his tequilas.

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

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

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

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

The 10 Things Every Bartender Should Know About Tequila


1.) What is tequila?

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

 

 

2.) Where is Tequila?

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

 

 

3.) Tequila’s denomination of origin

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

 

 

4.) Understanding tequila’s different flavor profiles

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

6.) The history of various tequila brands

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

8.) How to prepare a customer’s palette

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

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

 

 

9.) Breathing techniques

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

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

 

 

10.) Teaching a customer to slow down and sip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Grover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Scarlet

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

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

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

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

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

-Taste Tequila

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

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

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