Cinco de Mayo is coming and what better way to celebrate it than a massive tasting of Mexico's proudest spirit: tequila!
We had a very successful tasting of 3 different labels of tequila-plus an additional label of mezcal!-and 13 different expressions running just about the full gamut of possibilities. One way you know you had an enormously successful tasting? Well, one way is when the participants perform a wave right there in the bar-that's a sign of some seriously great tequila. The second sign is that we had no single, dominant tequila. We had just about an even split of preferences across the different labels and even the different expressions.
This was a tasting for serious tequila-lovers (and those adventurous enough to find out what the big deal is). No mixing-we took them all neat. One after the other over 13 rounds we tried them all with a little ice water and some quesadillas. It was a marathon of agave awesomeness.
Click through to see our comments on each of these products and reactions from the ebullient crowd.
"On no you didn't!"
Well, actually we did. We opened up a premium tequila tasting event with Jose Cuervo Gold tequila. Yes, that ubiquitous bottle from the top-selling producer on the planet. That same tequila that is the celebration of every college party at night and the scourge of every college bathroom in the morning.
When you ask a random individual about tequila they're liable to make a face and relate some college story that invariably involves this or some similar type of tequila. So we opened with this product just to remind everyone present just how far the distance is between your college shooting tequila and some of the great stuff that's coming out of Mexico in this golden age of tequila-making.
We were pretty hard on this tequila. But you know what? We might've been too hard. Because the bottle was empty at the end of the night. There's some magical quality about tequila that keeps people coming back to it.. and whatever that magical quality is, while it's not as tasty or aromatic or classy as some of the other bottles, Cuervo Gold still had it. And really, what else can you say about it? It does the job. Let us not become too snobby as we venture our way through all the wondrous variety that the spirit world offers.
The first label of tequilas were the Sauza Hornitos tequilas and we tried each of the Blanco, the Reposado, and the Anejo expressions. (A quick note on tequila definitions: the difference between these tequilas is the aging. The Blanco is not aged at all, the reposado or "rested" is given a brief aging between 2 and 11 months, and the anejo or "aged" is aged in oak for 1-2 years and sometimes more. They're all the same tequila, just different ages and greatly different tastes as a result.) These tequilas are made by Sauza, who is the second leading tequila producer in the world. They're considered an exceptional value often selling in the mid-$20 range for very decent 100% agave products.
These were quite popular at our tasting. Almost everyone thought that they were good-particularly the reposado, which is only very lightly aged based upon the color-and a pretty significant contingent thought that Hornitos offered the best tequila of the night-even against tequilas twice their price!
These are your neighborhood party tequilas: they're good, they mix nicely, they won't break the bank, and your neighbors will really, really like you at the end of the night.
Moving on, we decided to try a famous tequila. We wanted to try a tequila everyone has heard of and that is accorded some instant respect. Not to mention the fact that a bunch of the participants threatened to walk out on the event if we didn't feature this tequila.
That tequila-whose name brand commands the kind of automatic respect that BMW does in the auto world-is the tequila of Sammy Hagar himself: Cabo Wabo. And we tried them all: the Blanco, the Reposado, and the Anejo. (Editor's note: there is actually an Extra-Anejo expression from Cabo Wabo that retails for about $250 that we did not get to try.)
These tequilas are usually in the $50+ category of tequilas making them twice as expensive as the Hornitos. They come in very cool bottles with wide mouths a wooden cork top. Of course, they have the name cache as well. They're made in a dedicated distillery for the Cabo Wabo name and they fill the top shelf of any liquor store north or south of the border. If you've heard of tequila, then you've heard of Cabo Wabo.
And we had some fans. One thing about drinking - when you find something you like, you tend to stick with it. For those who like their Cabo, tasting other tequilas was an interesting experiment in the same casual way that a lady who loves her perfume sniffs at test samples in the mall or any guy checks a different brand of underwear at the discount bin at WalMart. Yeah, check it out, there are other things out there... but I already got mine!
For those uncommitted souls, Cabo was considered a very good tequila... "smooth" was the common comment of the night. Perhaps the highest praise came after the event when one participant remarked, "You know, until this, I didn't know there was such a thing as 'good tequila.' Then I tried the Cabo." There you go, Cabo: changing the reputation of tequila one palate at a time.
If Hornitos is your neighborhood party tequila, then Cabo Wabo is the tequila you keep on the highest part of the cabinet way in the back where the neighbors can't find it. You elbow the coolest person of the opposite sex at the neighborhood party and you say under your breath, "Hey, you wanna see something really cool?" Yes, after our tasting we can say in all honesty that a bottle of Cabo is like the voice of Barry White.
We wanted to shift our attention away from large- and celebrity-brand tequilas to a small, craft distiller. We had the great opportunity to try some craft-distilled, tradition-based tequila with the line of spirits from 1921. Small distilleries are springing up all over Mexico to take advantage of the growing popularity and prestige of tequila-beginning to rival scotch whiskies in some cases-and the distillery produces several labels of small, boutique brands of which 1921 is one. (Editor's note: it appears that 1921 has very recently shifted distilleries and-if our hunch is right-the newer distillery "Destileria Morales" is even smaller than their prior operation Agabe Tequilana.)
The name 1921 is meant to celebrate the Mexican Revolution and is a very fitting tequila for Cinco de Mayo. It is presented in a very cool bottle with a ceramic name plate and images of Mexican heroes on each bottle. They're priced in the same range as Cabo Wabo, placing them squarely in the premium class of tequila. We had the opportunity to try each of the Blanco, the Reposado, and their Reserva Especial, which is technically either a reposado or an anejo depending upon the particular bottle because they age each barrel of tequila to taste rather than length.
Did the 1921s live up to their billing? Yes, they did. Our participants liked these tequilas a great deal. They're a testament to how good tequilas can be. But they're also a testament to how good tequila is right now. Many were the comments of, "These are good but just as good as..." and then mentioned Cabo or Hornitos. Yes, about a third of the group liked the 1921s best of the night but equal preference fell on the Cabos and the Hornitos. High standards, good agave, careful production... there is a tremendous amount of pride in tequila production down in Mexico and it absolutely invites the kind of exploration we performed this night because so much of it is so good. 1921 was an excellent tequila among equally excellent competitors: a tournament of peers rather than a slaughter of unequals.
So while the neighborhood party rages on outside with the Hornitos and someone is attempting a carefully planned seduction with the Cabo, the 1921 is the tequila you drink all by yourself or with perhaps one committed, long-standing friend quietly in the library while discussing world politics or fishing holes.
The night was not done, having tried 3 different labels of tequilas (and 10 different bottles) we wanted to end the night with something special. That something special turned out to be mezcal.
We had a singular opportunity to try a mezcal that has been pulling down all kinds of awards in different competitions: Scorpion Mezcal! (As you may or may not already know, any spirit distilled from agave in Mexico is a "mezcal" with tequila being a specific type of mezcal-namely, with Blue Weber Agave and from a specific region in Jalisco, Mexico.)
Mezcals are famous for having a worm in the bottle (many people mistakenly believing it's in tequila... it's not). The worm is actually a little larva that lives on the agave. But Scorpion has something to say about that... they say, "Worms are for wimps!" and to back that up they put a scorpion in the bottle.
Yes, a 1 to 2 inch honest-to-God scorpion, immortalized in alcohol at the bottom of each and every bottle.
Now that's an instant party. Just passing that bottle around elicited all kinds of reactions from cheers to jeers to fears. The mezcal itself is actually a marvel. The agave they use is roasted over traditional wood fire and it imparts a deep, robust smokiness to their product. While not everybody's favorite, there were a few scotch-lovers in the audience and those individuals-who are well-accustomed to smoky flavors-absolutely loved the smoky mezcals from Scorpion. We tried two different expressions: both the Reposado and the 1yr Anejo. Both were well-received (though cautiously and nervously in some corners).
You're wondering, of course, did anyone eat the scorpion? Why yes... yes they did. Both scorpions were spoken for and-to the eternal pride of feminists fighting for equal treatment-by no less than two lovely ladies of our participants. The scorpions are, at least according to the marketing literature, FDA approved for consumption but we don't personally believe these ladies needed that assurance. To thunderous applause from the crowd, both were consumed and both are still doing fine to this day.
As a final postscript of this fine night, 1921 produces a very popular Tequila Cream Liqueur made with their own blanco tequila and blended with cream and other flavorings. In fact, Oprah Winfrey highlighted this product on her magazine during its run according to the 1921 website and multiple other sources. If there was a star of the night, it was this tequila cream product. Maybe everyone was in such a good mood after so much tequila or the stars were aligned or this product is really one of the finest liqueurs on the market, but multiple individuals were ready to drop coin on the counter right on the spot to take home a bottle of this liqueur. There was no better way to end a night than a mild, 30 proof cream product. When the neighborhood party is over, you've cleaned up, and you're ready to retire, you pull this stuff out while watching late-night TV and pondering the beauty of life.