Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tequila Confessions...

Tequila can be quite addictive as a stimulating blend of herbs and earth and thanks to its reputation, you'll never have to think up an excuse as to why you drank it in the first place.

People are very forgiving when it comes to drinking and overindulging in tequila, especially when you're in Mexico. After all, it's the national drink so say 5 Hail Mary’s and your tequila sins will be forgiven...forever. I like that!

If I could relive my very first Tequila experience, I would first of all remember it. Lucky for me I didn't have a connection with Mezcal until last year. A few nights with Amores and I was officially in. 

This may require me to give up my long-time nickname "The Tequila Queen" and officially declare that I am having a love affair with Mezcal.

While Tequila has very specific regulations and standards, you can explore the many contrasts of Mezcal and there will still be so much more to learn. 

It's also got me thinking about the differences between tequila and mezcal.

Jose Cuervo's application to produce tequila was to make "Mezcal de Tequila." So Tequila is Mezcal. Does this surprise you?

So what's the difference? Tequila is made from blue agave and ONLY blue agave and Mezcal is made from several different agave cacti. 42 species to be exact.

Also, Mezcal must be 100% agave while Tequila only has to be 51 percent.

Tequila can only be produced in specific geographical areas, primarily the state of Jalisco where the town of Tequila is located and where I celebrated, or should I say lost, my first tequila experience.

Mezcal, the oldest distilled spirit in North America, is produced in 8 regions in Mexico, Oaxaca being one of them and the center where many great mezcals are made.

Just like champagne, both Tequila and Mezcal have Denomination of Origin status. In other words they can only be produced in Mexico.

Sales: 90% of Tequila sales are made in Mexico and the U.S. That figure is astonishing to me since I expected at least half the world to appreciate the taste of tequila by now.

Brands: As of April, 2013, there are 154 registered tequila distilleries producing 1,324 certified brands of tequila. 

Mezcal? The number changes daily.

Oh Mezcal!

Mezcal offers so much variation in both the type of agave and the method they are cooked even down to what type of wood you use when smoking it.

One could also get into the types of agave used…Espadin being the most common and wild agave like arrequeño, the most esteemed or tobalá, the hardest to find.

I'm fascinated by the fact that in and around the villages near Oaxaca, there are families that have their own recipes for mezcal and have for generations. I hope to sample some of them when I am there next month.

It can be said that Mezcal producers are more like great winemakers than they are distillers.

Classifications: Like Tequila, Mezcal is classified as:

Joven - white or silver - which is not aged. It is very popular for mixing because it will not overwhelm the flavor of the drink. It has a very simple profile.

Reposado is aged in oak barrels between two months and up to a year. Amber in color, it's the all purpose spirit because you can sip it, mix it or even shoot it. Reposado is my favorite class of Tequila and Mezcal.

Anejo is complex and aged for more than one year giving it a smoky flavor. It's for sipping and for people who totally enjoy the taste of Tequila or Mezcal.

Proof: Both Tequila and Mezcal can be produced up to 110 proof. Maybe this is why you have a hard time remembering just exactly what happened the night before?

Aging: Once you open a bottle, it starts to lose some of its qualities and gradually becomes more like bourbon from the cask it’s aged in.

In fact, in just a few months, oxidization will start to diminish and destroy the agave profile.

Lesson learned? Drink up!

Taste: Tequila and Mezcal are both an acquired taste which means you have to drink it often. I knew that would disappoint you.

To me, Tequila is pretty much kick and bite but good tequila is smooth, much like a cognac.

Tasting tequila isn’t really any different from tasting wine in that it strongly relies on your senses of sight, smell and taste.

In Mexico, they have an expression that mezcal is meant to be kissed. In other words sip it slowly to allow a deep connection and if you don't get the instant connection, try it again.

Lesson learned? Drink up...again!

Perhaps the best way to get to know Tequila or Mezcal is to try a few side by side for comparison.

We've done it before with Tequila so this was an excuse for us to try the new Mezcal bar in San Miguel, La Mezcaleria at 47-A Correo.

Monica and Alexander, a young couple from Mexico City, have created a beautiful space of their own design and a menu of different Mezcals - one of which is made from Espadin and the others from wild agaves produced in Ejutla, a village outside of Oaxaca.

We sampled four brands of Mezcal: Espadin,Tobalá, Tepestate and Cuixe.

Two preferred the same brand - Cuixe -and the other two liked the Tobalá and the Tepestate. The only one that is cultivated - Espadin - came in dead last but that's what Mezcal is all about...a different profile for every taste.

All of Mezcals we tasted were pretty smoky and were served in the traditional style with fresh orange segments and Chapulines.

Chapulines? Small grasshoppers that are toasted with garlic and lime, and seasoned with sal de gusano, which is worm salt, a combination of powdered chile, salt and gusano - a caterpillar that lives off the agave plant.

We also tried 3 Margaritas: The Pepino y Cilantro (Cucumber with Cilantro), the Gengibre y Menta (Ginger and Mint) and the Jamaica. They were all delicious because they mix their drinks with fresh fruits and vegetables and not with any juices or mixes. You know, the kind that give you a headache the next day. There is so much to be said for using quality ingredients.

Speaking of drinks, here are a few to try including the classic Margarita and my favorite - The Paloma.

Tequila or Mezcal? You be the judge but like La Mezcaleria proved, you can substitute Mezcal for Tequila in any of these cocktails.

So what does the Tequila Queen prefer after all this tasting?

Another round por favor!

Drink up, Salud and Buen Apetito!

Classic Margarita

2/3 cup tequila
1/3 cup Madrilena Jarabe Natural
Juice of 2-3 limes

Put in shaker with ice.
Shake and serve.


1 oz tequila blanco or 2 oz if you want to get your guests drunk from the start.
Juice of half a lime - squeezed at moment of serving
Grapefruit Soft Drink - I used grapefruit juice and soda
Pinch of salt
Ice in a tall glass
Lime juice in a plate (for separate use)
Salt in another plate (for rim of glass)
Lime slices for garnish

Dip rim of tall glass into lime juice on plate.
Dip dampened rim of glass into plate of salt.
Fill glass with ice.
Pour tequila into the glass.
Squeeze half a lime into the glass.
Add pinch of salt.
Fill glass with grapefruit soft drink. Stir very slightly.
Garnish rim of glass with a slice of lime.

Tequila Sunrise

2 oz. tequila
orange juice
2 dashes grenadine syrup

Pour tequila in a glass with ice and top with orange juice. Stir.
Add grenadine by tilting glass and pouring grenadine down side by flipping the bottle vertically very quickly. The grenadine should go straight to the bottom and then rise up slowly through the drink.
Garnish stirrer, straw and cherry-orange.

Juan Collins

1tsp. Sugar
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1.5 oz. Tequila
2 oz. Soda Water
1 Lemon Wedge
1 Maraschino Cherry

Take sugar and lemon juice and mix the two in a highball glass. Stir well.
Add tequila.
Fill your glass with cracked ice.
Top with soda water.
Garnish with half a lemon wheel and cherry.


2 oz coconut rum
1 oz triple sec
1 oz grenadine syrup
12 oz orange juice

Pour the rum and triple sec into the bottom of the glass.
Pour the orange juice into the  grenadine and stir.

Brave Bull

Think of this as the Mexican Black Russian.

2 oz blanco tequila
1 oz Kahlua coffee liqueur

Pour the tequila into an old-fashioned glass with ice cubes.
Add the Kahlua.

Bloody Maria

2 parts Tequila Blanco
8 parts Fresh Tomato Juice
Pinch of Celery Salt
1 dash of Ground Horseradish
Worcestershire Sauce (to taste)
Hot Sauce (to taste)

Combine tequila with tomato juice over ice in a mixing glass.
Add Horseradish, Worcestershire Sauce, and Hot Sauce to taste.

Passion Cocktail
Based on the Cosmopolitan

2 oz gold tequila
3 oz cranberry juice
1 oz lime juice
2 oz Grand Marnier
lime slice for garnish

Pour the tequila, cranberry juice, and lime juice into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
Shake well.
Strain into a chilled stemmed glass.
Splash with Grand Marnier.
Garnish with the slice of lime.

Long Island Iced Tea
Photo: Fine Cooking

1 part vodka
1 part tequila
1 part rum
1 part gin
1 part triple sec
1 1/2 parts sweet and sour mix
1 splash Coca-Cola

Mix ingredients together over ice in a glass.
Pour into a shaker and give one brisk shake. Pour back into the glass.

perfect for tequila chasers

2 medium cucumbers, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter
1/2 dried ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup tomato juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut two 3 1/2-inch lengths from each of the cucumbers to use as cups. Peel the pieces, leaving a 1 1/2-inch band of peel at one end of each. Using a melon baller, scoop out the seeds, stopping just before reaching the bottom. Refrigerate the cups for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the ancho chile over moderate heat until it begins to blister, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer the ancho to a work surface to cool.
In a blender, combine the orange, tomato and lime juices with the onion and Worcestershire sauce; crumble in the toasted ancho and puree. Strain through a coarse sieve. Season the sangrita with salt and pepper and chill for 20 minutes.
Pour the sangrita into the cucumber cups and serve.

Mezcal Drinks:

Oaxaca Cooler

1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Mexican-style chili powder
2 lemon wedges
5 slices of cucumber
1 ½ tsp agave nectar
2 oz. mezcal produced from unsmoked agave, such as Zignum

Mix the salt and the chili powder together on a small plate.

Run a lemon wedge around the glass to moisten, and rim the glass with chili salt.
Combine the lemon wedges, cucumber, and a pinch of chili salt in the bottom of a shaker and muddle well.
Add mezcal, agave nectar, and ice.
Shake and strain into a margarita glass over fresh ice.

El Angel

The Mexican Government invited Junior Merino, The Liquid Chef, to create the country’s very first national cocktail. It was served at the Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival.

3/4 oz Dainzu Gomme Syrup (can substitute for simple syrup (2:1 ratio sugar:water)
3/4 oz Tequila Blanco - use 100% Agave
3/4 oz Mezcal Blanco - use 100% Agave
3/4 oz naval orange juice - use fresh juice and NOT pre-made
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
3 dried hibiscus flowers (flor de jamaica)

Put all of the ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice & shake.
Pour contents into a highball glass rimmed with amaranth & chile-lime salt.

Dulce Diablo

1 1/2 oz. Mezcal
2 oz. Orange Juice
2 oz. Grapefruit Juice
2 oz. Pomegranate Juice
1/2 oz. Lime
1/4 oz. Agave Nectar
Chili powder

Shake all the juices with ice cubes until these start to foam.
Add the chili powder on top of the foam.
Garnish glass with grapefruit, orange and lime wedges.


2 ounces Mezcal
3/8 ounce lime juice
3/8 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce orange juice
3/4 ounce agave nectar
Pomegranate seeds
Lemon leaf
Chapulín salt

Combine all ingredients.
Shake and pour into chapulin-salt-rimmed cocktail glass.

Garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds, lime wheels and lemon leaf.