tequila

10 Tequilas you should be drinking

There’s a strange sense of responsibility when compiling a list of spirits that I think others should try. I always try to put across a list that covers as many styles as possible, and includes products that I’d gladly recommend to anyone if I was stood at the bar with me. Of course a list of products is always subjective, and there are always others that could have made the list, but the point is to give anyone reading this a starting point, and hopefully to get you thinking, and talking about the category.

Because my knowledge of tequila is good, but I work with someone who knows even more than I do about agave goodness, I thought I’d use this as an excuse to be led through the category by someone else for a change. James Triffo, my business partner in NOLA, helped to launch Partida and Ocho tequilas into the UK, and worked for Tomas Estes of Café Pacifico and Ocho tequila fame, managing one of the La Perla sites in London. When I asked if he’d help me put together a list of 10 Tequilas that would show the breadth of the Tequila category, he suggested we use this as an excuse to do a tasting and maybe get a few Tequila lovers together to talk them through.

Now if you live or work in London, and you like Tequila, then one of the first bars that will jump to mind is Café Pacifico in Covent Garden, so where better to go and taste tequilas? Jesse and Tomas Estes kindly agreed to let us take a corner of the bar, and drink our way through a pretty healthy selection of their back bar. They also let slip about some of the design touches for their new bar, El Nivel, which will be coming soon to the space above La Perla on maiden lane… and trust me this is going to be an agave lover’s paradise! Enlisting the help of fellow Tequila lovers Matthias Lataille (ex Green & Red and now ambassador for Olmeca Altos tequila) and Guy Hodcroft (spirit buyer for Selfridge’s) we set about compiling a list of blanco, reposado and anejo Tequilas. Our original intention was to have a list that covered a range of highland and lowland styles, but as we worked through our samples we all seemed to gravitate towards the Highland style (with the exception of one). Needless to say that dinner, after tasting our way through so many Tequilas, was a lively affair.

So below you’ll find a list of some great Tequilas, all of which I believe offer a fantastic drinking experience. That’s not to say that there aren’t others that are just as good, including many valley or lowland tequilas, just that these offer you a glimpse of the category, and serve as a great jumping off point to start experiencing this amazing spirit. They’re all 100% agave, they reflect a range of prices and styles, and they’re all well made Tequilas that are a pleasure to sip. I hope you’ll try them and maybe find out which ones you enjoy the most!

10 things you should know about tequila!

 

So here’s the thing about tequila; it’s pretty straightforward right? You make it from the juice of a cactus, it has a worm in it, it gives you a hangover and really it doesn’t taste very nice but that’s ok because you would only ever drink it as a shot anyway, and the wedge of lime washes the taste away…

Ok, maybe that’s an exaggerated version of peoples perception of this spirit, but let’s face it even with good tequila being much more widely available than it was even 5 years ago, it’s not a million miles off the mark of what many consumers think when you mention tequila. It’s a misunderstood spirit with a generally undeservedly bad reputation (although in truth some tequilas may have earned that rep fair and square). So here’s the REAL thing about tequila; it’s a spirit category split in half like no other I can think of, and because of this, good tequila is fantastic, and bad tequila is the worst kind of spirit imaginable.

The reason for tequilas split personality is simple, there are two kinds, governed by a set of rules that is necessarily flexible enough to encompass both types. This flexibility in the rules means there are also two kinds of producers. On one had you have those who want to make and promote lovingly crafted and traditionally made tequila, a spirit that can be complex and elegant, and is deserving of our respect. The other type of producer, unfortunately, wants to make something inexpensive, that only vaguely resembles the agave-based goodness of the other side of the industry.

Bloody Mary? Bloody Maria? Bloody good idea!

 

I don’t know about you, but this year the span from Christmas to New Year had a lot of potential for hangovers. For once though I was prepared for the silly season as I had decided that my first update of 2013 would be on the subject of everyone’s favourite morning after cure. The Bloody Mary is one of those rare ubiquitous cocktails, found on menus the world over, and known to every bartender in one form or another. But why is it such a popular drink, and how has it come to be such a well-loved cocktail?

I personally see the Bloody Mary as the ‘last man standing’ in a very old tradition of morning drinks. I’ve written before about Corpse Revivers, and it’s well documented that many cocktails started as ‘bracers, eye openers, revivers or pick-me-ups’ and yet these days the Bloody Mary is really the last remaining drink that it’s socially acceptable to be seen drinking before noon. That alone is enough to give it a fond place in most people’s heart, that and the fact that it is seen as the drink that helps you on your way to recovering from your hangover.

Spirit and Cocktail gifts, all wrapped up

Well it’s that time of year again, the weather’s turned cold, the shops are packed full off people battling to spend their money as fast as possible and every bar has mulled wine or hot spiced cider bubbling away. Yep the run up to Christmas is in full swing, like it or not. So I thought rather than simply trot out a few recipes for hot cocktails or recommend where you should go for your office party, I’d instead work up a list of booze related presents to suit every relative or friend. So below is the official b&t cocktail and spirit Christmas list.

The great thing about giving spirits or cocktail related goodies for Christmas is that you’re likely to be able to share in the enjoyment of the gifts. I know they say that the pleasure is in the giving rather than the receiving, but as far as I’m concerned the pleasure is also in the sipping. So below you’ll find some of my favourite tipples, bits of cocktail equipment and booze related paraphernalia that should help you to have a very merry Christmas indeed!

 

Ready steady shake cocktails

 

When it comes to making cocktails at home, I find it very easy to turn to my old favourite drinks.  There are about 400 bottles of spirits in the b&t drinking room, and sometimes it can be difficult to decide what to choose, in those moments I find it easier just to stir myself a Manhattan with a favourite rye and vermouth, or shake up an Aviation with a particular gin. So to keep things interesting and to stop me from falling into a routine, I regularly ask my better half to pick a spirit and modifier and I come up with a new drink on the spot. It’s kind of the cocktail version of Ready Steady Cook.

 

A few weeks back we were on Twitter and it occurred to us to throw this idea out to our followers and get them to name a spirit and a drink style and we’d take care of the rest. Sure enough within a couple of minutes we had people suggesting ‘tequila in a tiki style’ and ‘banana frappe’ and so our regular weekly #readysteadyshake was up and running.

 

The devil is in the detail, part 2

 

As promised in last week’s blog, I’m back with part two of my look at the rules and regulations of spirit production. Once again this isn’t a short or light update, there’s a lot of information here that hopefully will go a long way to explaining how each spirit category must be made and what some of the differences are between one type of spirit and another. I've chosen to leave out liqueurs as I've written about those rules very recently.

 

This time we’ll be looking at vodka, tequila and mescal, and several types of brandy. So if you’ve ever wondered what makes cognac different from other brandies, or why rums from different countries taste so unique, then stir yourself a manhattan, put on your reading glasses and let’s have another look at the rules and regs!

 

those old summertime favourites

If you’re in the UK you’ll have been enjoying the unusually early appearance of the sun in our April skies, which of course means that barbecues have been fired up in record numbers over the past week or so. It seems to me that my drinking habits change the moment the sun starts shining and, without even thinking about it, I turn to white spirits and crisp refreshing summer cocktails to keep me cool.
 
 
By nature, I admit, I am a dark spirit drinker. My love of bourbon and aged rums is well documented, and I’m occasionally partial to a drop of cognac, Scotch or even Irish whiskey too, but suddenly I seem to be ordering gin drinks! Suddenly my lime intake has increased and my tequila and white rums are disappearing at an alarming rate. It seems a few rays of sun are all it has taken to remind me of my summer cocktail favourites.
 

Forget about the worm! - tequila part 2

Back at the end of October I wrote about tequila and its much-maligned reputation. The focus then was on blanco or un-aged tequilas, with a little information about the differences between good tequila and bad tequila. I promised a follow up looking at some of my favourite reposado and anejo tequilas, and here it is at last!
 
 
Just as with blanco there seems to be a lack of understanding or confusion about the aged or rested tequilas. It doesn’t help that the lines are quite blurred between the various categories and qualities of what’s available, with many cheaply manufactured mixto tequilas adding caramel colour to give the impression of age. As I said in my previous blog, look out for 100% agave tequilas… anything else is likely to be rough and unpleasant!
 

Forget the salt and lime!

Tequila is perhaps the most maligned of spirits, whose reputation over the years has seen it associated with ending your evening in hospital, a police cell or a gutter. It’s true that there are plenty of tequilas on the market that leave a lot to be desired but it’s also true that there are plenty that are smooth, well balanced and a pleasure to sip.

For the past five years I have been hearing people say that tequila is going to be ‘the next big thing’ in terms of spirits category, but somehow it has never really made it. Certainly the selection on most back bars has grown, and there are more tequila-based cocktails on drinks lists, but from a consumer point of view it hasn’t taken off in the way that other spirits have. Maybe it’s a slow burner or maybe all those late night shots of Jose Cuervo have just put people off forever.

A Little Bit of Favouritism

Looking at my drinks cabinet I have just realised that there are certain bottles that get used a lot more than others. Havana Club 7 year old Rum, Geranium Gin, Siete Leguas Tequila, Sagatiba Velha Cachaca, Wild Turkey 101, these bottles seem to need replenishing rather often. But why is it that I have formed a bond with these brands? It’s not as though I don’t have other great rums or tequilas to choose from, but I seem to often find myself drawn to my old favourites.
 
 
The same is true when I’m sat at a bar, staring at the back bar and pondering what to drink first. I always smile when I see a few of my favourites on the shelf, knowing that I have some choices that are bound to hit the spot. 
 
 
Of course a lot of it has to do with finding products that taste good and I find myself going back to them simply because I enjoy the flavour, but sometimes there is a deeper pull towards one brand over another. I think there are a few reasons for this emotional attachment that go beyond simply liking the taste of the liquid in the bottle.