Cocktail, November is Tequila Month


Great upload from the team at Eau de Vie today. Seeing as I’ve been writing about tequila this month it seemed only apt that I look the gift horse full in the mouth and drink it down. This fantastic cocktail is garnished with a Murray River salt rim, which helps the drought stricken farmers a little too.

A cocktail you can drink and feel good about at the same time, brilliant.


Pour a decent measure of Don Julio Blanco over ice and top with freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lime and the aforementioned Murray River salt rim, which you’ll probably want to sort out first, as rimming is tough with a full vessel.

This is a great example of an Eau de Vie drink. You could order it anywhere, and some people might even know how to make one off the bat, but it will be brilliantly finished and perfectly made down the back corridor of the Kirketon Hotel, and refreshing like you wouldn’t believe.

November is Tequila Month, Spirit


As a brand in Australia, Tapatio is pretty much unknown outside of the bartending community. Eau de Vie, with their comprehensive collection of spirituous liquors does not have one of these amongst their shelves. There are however two (or, at least, their were four months ago) clustered in the hanging luscious fruits at Der Raum in Melbourne.

Tapatio is not sold outside of Mexico, possibly because of a trademark dispute with El Tapatio Hot Sauce. Bottles to be found  in Australia are generally wrapped in layers of clothes and smuggled across the border, the result of big brand junkets or the occasional self-funded pilgrimage to tequila’s promised land, the mountain state of Jalisco.

Tapatio is the word for a local from Guadalajara in Jalisco. It can be used to associate pretty much any person or object with that location. For any of you pertaining to be semantic etymologists, the word has its origins in pre-Colombian times, from tapatiotl, a monetary unit of the Nahuatl language, spoken by the Aztec peoples.

The tequila itself, for me at least, defines the category. Well distilled, sweet & smooth with a wonderful body of earthy agave flavour. It is worth the effort of seeking out and finding a bottle, and certainly the one to ask for if you have friends in Mexico stupid enough to offer to be your tequila mule.

You might expect that a product as good as this must have made the leap out of the market and into the rest of the world. You’d be absolutely correct. Tapatio distills another brand at its home, El Tersoro de Don Felipe and I’ll be writing about that, next week.

NOM 1139

November is Tequila Month

I was drinking the tequila with the lemon and salt.

Some people call it training wheels, some call it a waste of good tequila, I’m going out on a limb to say most people experience tequila for the first time with a couple of aids; lemon, salt and perhaps a little bit of a death wish.

It remains the fastest way to strip your taste buds and render taste as much absent as useless altogether. I have heard many tales of its non-Mexican origins, and it certainly seems to fit amongst such tastebud slamming 80’s creations as the kamikaze.

It was with more than a little surprise I read David Embury’s couple of paragraphs talking of a Mexican friend heading up across the border during Prohibition with a bottle, concealed presumably. He performs the Mexican Itch, a lick of salt, a squeeze of lemon on the tongue and a wash of tequila to follow it down.

Is this much derided ritual a hangover from the cheaply distilled and foul smelling mixtos? While I sit here sipping on an extra anejo, a ritual to eliminate the flavour seems very out of place. Embury obviously felt differently, and outlined his views in a very clear manner.

I’d like to think if he was here and now, in this renaissance of the distilled spirit we are entering, he’d be willing to at least hit a few bottles and maybe reconsider.

I’ll let you know if I find out something else.

photo credit to marmak on flickr

November is Tequila Month, Spirit

Cazadores Blanco

The one with the deer on it.

Cazadores does not have the best stories as a tequila brand, production does not predate the settlement of Australia. There are no special releases mixed with the ancient family stock, no signature release in an adorned custom flask.

The bones however, are very good. Like all great tequila stories, it starts with a man and his recipe in 1922. Kept as a family secret for three generations, the blend finally made it to the wider market in 1973 when Jose Maria Bañuelos’ grandson founded a distillery, calling the liquid inside the bottle Cazadores – “the hunters” to acknowledge his grandfathers passion in hunting down his dream and placed his grandfathers favourite animal on the bottle as well.

The distillery was acquired by the Bacardi family in 2001. They probably liked the fact it had an animal on the label.

Only 100% agave is distilled here, with the agave harvested from highland plantations. Only one other marque, Corzo, is produced at the distillery. What they lack in history they makeup by using the best techniques and best agave to produce the highest quality end product.

The blanco is a little sweet, really well distilled and soft. There are really nice citrus and pepper notes in it too. It maybe lacks some of the earthy body I’ve become so accustomed too, but I can’t wait to try it out on a Margarita or in a slighty greater than equal parts take on Negroni’s holy trinity.

You can find a bottle here for a smidgen under $60. That makes it probably the best value 100% agave tequila available in Australia.

A great start if you’re looking for a bottle to kick off a collection, or something that you can throw into some cocktails without feeling too guilty.

NOM 1487

Cocktail, Competitions, November is Tequila Month

World Class in Sydney, Tequila Round; I’m a mothercussin’ judge.

Perhaps the most prolific series of competitions both in Australia and around the globe, World Class really seems to set the bar in terms of rigor and creativity for those who have chosen life behind the stick as their primary career destination.

It was with more than a little surprise I agreed to fill in one of the judging sheets at the Sydney leg of the finals for the Sangrita Ritual round. Bottles arriving on my doorstep for review were just the beginning. I’m ready for a new career as a cocktailing judge. I’m already designing the business cards.

Industry heavyweights prepare for their judging duties. I try and look like I fit in.

The ten finalists had been whittled down to three by the time I arrived.  While preparations were being made for the formal part of the evening, I got reacquainted with my good friends Dave Spanton, Phil Bayly, Ambassador Josh and Don Julio 1946.  It seemed as though there was a hole in the bottle, and soon we were looking for a second and then it was time to head upstairs and get underway.

First up was Elle Wormald, from Eau de Vie. She had chosen the Jose Cuervo Platino as the basis of her Sangrita ritual. The tequila’s which make up the Reserve portfolio all exhibit complex flavor profiles outside of the traditional throaty burn the spirit holds in the mind of many consumers. One of the roles of the Sangrita ritual is to educate the consumer and help them appreciate that taste profile.

Eschewing the traditional shot of spiced or herbed liquid as an accompaniment, Elle set her four Sangrita flavours in jelly blocks. The red and green performed the “expected” role of sangrita, opening up the tequila with spicy flavours. The third block accentuated the chocolate tones in the Platino. The last flavour was the standout for me, aloe, which I used to consume to rectify a hangover while I was living up in China. It cools and cleans the palate, and hinted at the earthy agave flavours at the core of the product.

It was delicious. Like grown up jelly shooters.

Next came Reece, from the Victoria Room. Choosing the Don Julio Reposado with a Sangrita two ways.  Reece delivered a spicy counterpoint to the tequila that worked very well. The second serve of Sangrita came in an iceblock. While the technique was great fun and certainly changed the profile of the Sangrita, pulling out some of the body and upping the kick the chillies carried through, sadly the iciness carried away much of the ability to appreciate the tequila itself.

The handsome goblets and the larger than average serve were very much appreciated too.

And finally, Dr Phil, also from Eau de Vie.  Phil chose Don Julio 1942, a beautifully bottled anejo tequila produced in honour of the man and his life’s work making fine tequila.

The four stage Sangrita ritual began with a shot of water, with lime and salt. It acted as a palate cleanser, and as a subtle nod toward the fact that the “Mexican Itch” pretty much removes any ability to taste the tequila at all. Spicy pomegranate, rich kiwifruit and decadent chocolate, each with a small nibbling accompaniment followed. Each was complex and tasty, peeling back the layers of the subtle 1946.

It was, as they say, as if there was a party in my mouth, and everyone was invited.

Phil has promised me his recipes, so hopefully this will jog his memory.

This is harder than it looks. There is no spitting at a tequila contest…

Ok, so maybe it’s not that hard. but damn, it sure was fun.

Winners are grinners. Here’s Phil, the perfect example of both.

November is Tequila Month

So, what makes tequila special?

I have heard more than a few folks mention that tequila is an abomination. They’re probably more right than they know…

Tequila, like champagne, is a location specific product that is actively protected by taking legal action on any and all who try and infringe upon this, Mexico’s national brand.  Originally, certified production was limited to Jalisco state, but through the 1970’s lobbying extended the regions allowed to cover a much larger area. To be labeled tequila, the Agave tequilana, or blue agave must be cultivated in this region and the processes must conform to strict guidelines.

Despite this increased legal spread, the very best product come from the Valles region of Jalisco state, an area now enshrined as a World Heritage site and including the three settlements of Tequila, Arenal and Amatitan. The valley lies in the shadow of the Tequila volcano, which erupted around 200,000 years ago and covered the region with a layer of rich volcanic soils and drainage perfectly suited to the culitivation of the Agave tequilana.

It is not all sweetness and light however. The blue agave is known as the century plant, as it takes a long time to flower, sometimes up to a century but more often around the halfway mark. All agave are monocarpic, meaning they take a long time to grow, flower once and die. Suckers at the base of the flower mast (pictured above) can be used to propagate new planting, but the long growth cycle and the early harvesting of the plant for tequila production has meant the genetic material of the blue agave lacks somewhat in diversity and has become susceptible to a number of fungal and pest threats in recent years.

After planting the Jimadores, the specialist farmers of agave will remove the bud of the flower stalk, causing the piña or heart of the plant to swell.  If the plant does not succumb to these threats and diseases, between its 8th and 12th year the concentration of sugars will reach a level sufficient (around 24 Brix) to support fermentation and the production of the mash that will be distilled into the final product. The agave plant can only be harvested by hand. Jimadores will walk the rows and select the plants ripe enough for harvest. They then remove the spiny fronds of the plant until only the piña remains, it is then transported back to the hacienda to become tequila.

The skill is a lot harder than it looks, and to many unhardened hands, the plant causes contact dermatitis, due to the presence of raphides, essentially microscopic slivers of calcinate that have evolved as a defence against herbivore attacks. After the initial painful redness, they can remain lodged in your skin and causes itching bouts for up to a year after exposure.

These two elements help explain the cost of a bottle of premium tequila. Unilke, say, a single malt, whose grows up thick and strong every year, a 12 year wait to claim the fruits of horticulture means a significant investment in cultivation and the artisanal nature of the harvest must up the rates, even at Mexican wage prices.

The piña are halved and baked at low temperatures for up to three days to further concentrate the sugars and free them from the pulpy prison. The size of the ovens changes depending on the size of the distillery and it’s particular method. The large one above is at the Tapatio distillery, which is probably better known as El Tresoro de Don Felipe to those outside of Mexico.

The syrupy piña are then pressed to release the juices. The rotary stone is considered by many to be the traditional method, and donkey power is still used at some small production products, rather than the Deere power on show above. Cuervo use a device more akin to an olive press and Olmeca swears by a particular type of volcanic wheel. The differences in production are subtle, but I would encourage you to work out what they are, I’m still learning but I’ll get there someday, after a few more bottles.

The juice is fermented, the mash distilled. A couple of times is pretty common. It’s then bottled, or aged and shipped across the world to unleash a potent spirit that bears an element of terrior, that would impress a French wine snob. You can, quite literally, taste the earth in the product. The skill of distillation in preserving that, and the subtle addition of spice and chocolate to the mix makes for a truly indulgent drop.

More on aging statements, 100% Agave vs Mixto and NOM numbers later in the month…



November is Tequila Month

So, I’m drinking Cactus Juice yeah?

Tequila is made by distilling the part of the Agave tequilana plant (pictured above.) Despite it’s prickly green appearance, and desert location, it is actually not a cactus. Agave are native succulents, centered on the land bridge of Mexican Central America, but spreading both North and South onto the larger continents.  Surprisingly they’re more closely related to the Asparagus genetically, but the 202 or so species in their group sit in a pretty isolated spot from anything else in the botanical realms.

Records show that the members of the species have been cultivated for around 1800 years. For at least 1000 of those years there have been people going crazy on some form of alcoholic beverage, the oldest one we know about is puluqe. This white, syrupy, milky substance is made from the fermented sap of any one of six of the agave family. Famously the pulquerias have floors of sawdust, and the liquid served from a bucket. Popularity of puluqe waned as stories of the use of muñeca, essentially a bag of shit, used to kickstart the fermentation process. I’m not sure if the stories are true, but the immigrant beer brewers fanned the flames of a great ‘opportunity.’

The Spanish had been gifted the art of distillation by the Moorish conquerers and had been hard at it by the time their colonisation of the Americas had begun. While it’s possible the series of advanced stone age societies had developed distillation separate from its Middle Eastern roots, the Conquistadors started to experiment with making a ferment mash of agave. The result of this is mescal. The heart of the agave is baked in an earth oven, causing the sugars to concentrate, they are pulped and the resulting juice fermented and distilled. The eau de vie that comes from the still is earthy, smoky and quite wonderful. It has become more popular again lately, and some of the single village products mirror the range and complexities of the Scottish single malt scene, if not the volume, yet.

All tequila is mescal, but not all mescal is tequila.

More on that, tomorrow.

November is Tequila Month, Spirit

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia

Jose Cuervo is probably responsible for more headaches and ill-advised one night stands that any brand producing alcohol around the globe. The popularity of their Joven mixto, Cuervo Especial, means the brand defines the category for many of the folks who stand on the side of the bar that has comfy seats and plush carpeting.

While the brands heritage is firmly in cheap mixto tequilas, filling more than one varsity paddling pool with a communal margarita I am sure, they have also been in the 100% agave business for some time as well.

Reserva de la Familia represents the pinnacle† of the Cuervo range. It is made with spirit distilled from only the best part of hand selected piña and then aged in French oak for between three and four years. That much alone would make this a quality product, but wait, there’s more. The extra añejo tequila is then blended with material from the Cuervo family reserve, some of it up to thirty years old. The result is a very smooth product, with some incredible complexity and sweetness from the rest and the old drops, but also retaining a hefty earthy oomph that all good tequila should display. I doesn’t need ice, salt, mixers or to be downed in one go. It might not be the best tequila available on this blue-green earth, and certainly some pine on about its hefty price tag but I’m extremely happy to have a tot each night when I head home, and with only 17,000 bottles being produced each year, the price is probably relative.

It was first produced in 1995, to commemorate 200 years since the Cuervo family received a Royal warrant from the King of Spain to produce tequila. Settlers‡ had only arrived in Australia 7 years earlier, to put that into perspective.

The Reserva de la Familia comes in a rather handsome box, which changes each year. You can see the history here, not sure why some years get two, or three different boxes while others get one, but I’m sure if I keep drinking the tequila I’ll be able to work it out. Mine is the striking orange one, but my all time favourite would have to be the tiger in the picture above. Each one is designed by a local artist too, which I reckon is a pretty nice touch.

The use of older, retained vintages (while not a solera aging system) and the use of local artisans certainly seems reminiscent of another brand ion Diageo portfolio, the famed Ron Zacapa. It seems like a massive call, but I reckon the stuff in the bottle stacks up.

These guys have it online in Australia for $195. That said, you can find it online for around $90 U.S. and as the Aussie dollar hit parity today, the $100 difference might buy a reasonable amount of shipping… Let me know if you find a U.S. retailer who ships to this market.

† Well, almost the pinnacle. Check out the 250 Aniversario site for a really top notch and impossible to find product. You will need to register for an invitation code…

‡ Settlers… Convicts if we are really being honest…

November is Tequila Month, Spirit

This November, I’ll be mostly drinking Tequila.

Sometimes, as I write about spirits and drinking in general, I forget that alcohol is a drug. It changes your consciousness, it makes you do silly things and best of all, it makes it difficult to remember them.

Spend enough time with a person and you’ll usually find out that there is one spirit that takes the blame. One drink that they just can’t stomach because of a bad experience. I find quite often that the spirit is Tequila.

Now, I’m not sure that you can blame an inanimate object for an obvious lack of self control, and certainly it wasn’t that long ago I would have been on the self same hating bandwagon. Something, however, has changed. An introduction to 100% agave tequila, the ritual of sangrita and the explosion of quality brands around the world have firmly changed my mind.

As such, I thought I would string together 30 days worth of Tequila content to dispell a few myths, share a few gems and hopefully, change a few minds.