Tiffin Project

How I Drank Tequila and Didn’t Get a Hangover

by Rick Green on August 23, 2011

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Our experience of tequila in BC is like a Mexican all-inclusive resort — you play in an isolated stretch of beach while the rest of the country is out of sight, out of mind. Like me, your first experience of Mexico’s national spirit was probably the lick, sip, and suck of a tequila cruda, a series of which were intended to delver a masochistic blow to the head. Then, one day, someone gives you a taste of Don Julio or Patron, and you realize that shooting tequila is muy primitivo. Instead, you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed instead of thrashed. The education begins.

When learning about a new subject, it helps to be guided by someone schooled in the discipline. Recently, I sat down to a tasting with Eric P. Lorenz, a Vancouver-based ambassador and importer of tequila. Not only does Eric hold a Distintivo T diploma from the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (Tequila Regulatory Council), he has a respectable personal tequila collection from which to sample. We spent an afternoon discussing the finer points of agave spirits — their history, production, and appreciation — but could easily have gone on much longer.

So what is tequila? It is the spirit distilled from the cooked and fermented juice of the heart of a perennial desert succulent related to yucca. Like the mestizo culture of modern Mexico, tequila is a product of both the Aztecs and the Spanish. When the conquistadors ran out of a reliable brandy supply, they tried distilling indigenous alcoholic beverages. After an initial failure with an Aztec drink made from fermented agave sap (octli/pulque), they found success in distilling a “mezcal beer” fermented from roasted agave piñas. This vino mezcal de Tequila was North America’s first indigenous spirit.

^ Harvested agave piñas

By Mexican law, only the spirit produced from agave grown in the state of Jalisco and some municipalities of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas can be called tequila. This area is a denomination of origin registered with the UN World Intellectual Property Organization. The Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), which controls production, has certified over 110 distilleries in the tequila region, producing more than 1,400 brands. They fall into two categories: 100% agave and mixto. The former can only be made exclusively with sugar from the Agave tequilana, Weber Blue variety. The latter must be made with a minimum of 51% agave sugars, but the balance need not even come from agave.

Tequila is distilled at least twice, may be aged in barrels, and is bottled at 35-55% alcohol (70–110 proof). Most tequilas are 80 proof, but producers of inferior products may cut corners by distilling to 100 proof, then diluting with water. Tequila can be divided into five different classes:

  • Blanco/Plata (Silver): un-aged, clear tequila
  • Joven/Oro (Gold): mixture of blanco and reposado of the mixto variety
  • Reposado: aged 2-12 months
  • Añejo: aged 1-3 years
  • Extra Añejo: aged at least 3 years

The flavour profile of tequila is affected by terroir — there being distinct differences between the soils and climate of the Jalisco highlands and lowlands — and aging, which will lend additional characteristics from the type of barrels used, as well as colour. American and French white oak barrels are preferred. Reposados may be aged in new barrels as large as 20,000 litres, or in ones previously used to produce wine, whiskey, or scotch. The wood may be charred to bestow a smokey flavour, but smokiness is more typical of mezcal. Añejos cannot be aged in barrels larger than 600 litres. These may be used reposado barrels. Bourbon and whiskey barrels are also popular. After a year of aging on wood, they can be transferred to stainless steel tanks to reduce evaporation.

To appreciate a fine, 100% blue agave tequila, don’t shoot it; swirl, sniff, and sip. The traditional glass used for tequila is called a caballito. However, a snifter or the CRT’s official Ouverture Tequila glass by Riedel would be more appropriate. Serve at room temperature to enjoy the tequila’s full flavour. If you are encouraged to consume a neat tequila chilled, it is likely an inferior product.

Like any cocktail, those made with tequila are best when using high quality ingredients and fresh juices. Try this one, perfect for the current weather:

Fresh Margarita
by Eric Lorenz

  • 2 parts t1 Tequila Blanco Ultra Fino (or any 100% blue agave blanco)
  • 1 part Giffard Premium Curaçao Triple Sec
  • 1/2 oz Wholesome Organic Raw Blue Agave Nectar
  • juice of 1 whole lime
  • flaked kosher salt

Rim a chilled margarita tumbler with a wedge of lime and the salt. Add remaining ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice; shake “until it hurts”. Strain into tumbler and serve. Salud!

With the growing interest in spirits and cocktails in BC, we’re starting to see more variety in the types and brands of tequila available. However, with the astronomical government markup, it may take some time for the market to further develop. Perhaps, that’s why tourism to Jalisco is growing.

^ Eric Lorenz of Lorenz Agave Spirits

Want to learn more about tequila? These upcoming events that may be of interest:

An Afternoon with Agave Spirits: Tequila
Saturday, October 1 @ 3:00pm
Latitude on Main
3250 Main Street, Vancouver
Tickets: $45
Info & Reservations: nick[at]thecascade[dot]ca

Tequila Tasting and Appreciation Class
October 4-25, Tuesdays @ 6:00pm
UBC AMS Minischool
Registration (starts Sept. 6) & info: AMS Minischool

To arrange your own tequila tasting, seminar, or dinner,  contact:

Lorenz Agave Spirits
Cell: (604) 836-4319
www.agavespirits.ca
Twitter: @agavespirits

~ RG

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Lorenz August 26, 2011 at 11:12 am

Great article Rick – and many thanks for featuring Lorenz Agave Spirits to your readers! I would like to offer a clarification, however.

Distilling to 50% ABV or 100 proof (or much higher) followed by dilution with water to 76-80 proof for bottling is actually quite a common practice across all spirits, including tequila. It does not necessarily indicate an inferior product at all. However, what is true is that, by distilling more slowly at the lowest temperature possible (which may cost more) to a lower proof, one should (in theory) retain more flavor compounds – for a bigger, bolder, more agave-forward tequila.

Of course, we all know that some drinkers seek “smoothness” above all else. At the extreme of smoothness, vodka is required by US and EU law to be distilled to 95% ABV (190 proof) or greater. Most other spirits are required to be distilled to below 95% ABV. Vodka’s popularity is derived from being flavorless. Mind you, this is not a judgement or an insult – the US standard for vodka actually states “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color”, and the EU standard states “organoleptic properties must be reduced”. These standards are attained by both distilling to extremely high proof and charcoal filtering. In contrast, whisk(e)y, tequila, and rum are intended to have flavors reminiscent of the sugar sources (grains, agave, sugar cane, respectively), their terroir, and the barrel aging process.

Most imbibers are not at one extreme or the other. Rather, we all most likely want something in between in terms of our flavor preferences – a nice balance of spice, fruit, sweet aromatics, savory or vegetal hints, floral notes, perhaps some agave heat, all while endeavoring to hit the right level of “smoothness”. I know that’s what I’m after, and why I keep exposing my palate to new and old tequilas in a search for that balance. It is the wide variability among tequilas and other agave spirits that make tequila tasting, collecting, and generally imbibing such an adventurous pleasure – you never know what exciting sensations and discoveries await when you take your first sip of something new.

QuintoSol August 30, 2011 at 11:45 am

My NSHO is to drop the triple sec from the margarita recipe… it will be more flavorful.

BTW-I was tripping out on the previous comment being almost as long as your article.

BCbrews August 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Have you tried the Giffard? It’s pretty darn flavourful. Nevertheless, your suggestion is just begging for a taste comparison. I’ll check it out.

QuintoSol August 30, 2011 at 5:27 pm

My understanding is that the original margarita did include triple sec.. But since the introduction of agave nectar, the “basic” recipe substitutes agave nectar for the TS… Give it a try and tell us what you think… The agave favors should really stand out.

Eric Lorenz August 31, 2011 at 9:33 am

QuintoSol – nice to see you here!!

Fair enough on the triple sec comment – IF it was plain old synthetically-derived triple sec like so many on the market. As this article is for the BC market, we are supremely lucky here to have a local importer of the Giffard liqueur and syrup line from France. Giffard’s Premium Curaçao Triple Sec is made from actual macerated Curaçao orange peels steeped in the spirit to extract the sugars and flavors. The truth is, calling this liqueur a Triple Sec is inherently confusing because of all the artificially flavored sugar syrup with overly bitter notes calling themselves Triple Sec – the Giffard version is a premium orange liqueur through and through.

While I sometimes use Cointreau and Gran Marnier (both!) because of my ridiculous sweet tooth, the truth is that the Giffard product gives a brilliant fresh orange taste with almost none of the bitterness of any of the other Triple Secs on the market – or, for that matter, without the bitterness of Cointreau. I think the T1 Ultra Fino just may have something to do with the taste of this margarita as well though…:-).

As far as wordiness: Come on Alex, you know who you’re dealing with, right?

Eric Lorenz August 31, 2011 at 9:37 am

P.S. My favorite agave nectar is from the Madhava brand – after tasting blue agave fresh from the roasting ovens, my opinion is that this brand tastes the most like the real thing. And, I do sometimes use only agave nectar, but I usually prefer a combination as above. I certainly prepare both for guests and clients and let them make their own decisions!

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