Adventures in Tequila (part 1)

I used to be indifferent to tequila. Early in my drinking career , I couldn’t stand tequila and the lack of choices never really compelled me to change my mind. With the tequila shots, the tequila slammers and lackluster margaritas—watered down, over-salted monsters consisting of powdered sour mix and cheap, rough spirits—more often than not I just passed. A lot of things have changed since those days. A tequila slammer still doesn’t sound all that appetizing, but oh, how the landscape of options has changed. My relationship with tequila really began to change a couple of summers ago when Tracy and I went to a local Mexican restaurant. This restaurant has a substantial list of tequilas, and because of that they offer tequila flights. There is simply no better way to really explore a new spirit than to have a flight. I remember it was a Chinaco flight, blanco, reposado and anejo. Though my mouth wasn’t accustomed to the flavors, the experience was an eye-opener and I was determined to learn more. Now not only is tequila one of my favorite cocktail ingredients, I have also become enamored with mescal. Lucky for me, and everyone else as well, tequila has recently taken off in popularity in many craft cocktail bars. New tequila concoctions show up on bar menus and the Internet with regularity, and all of them push far beyond the classic margarita or paloma. Bartenders are pairing the different types of tequila with herbal liqueurs, bitter digestivos, and wine-based aperitifs to create new flavor combinations that are not only unexpected but also delicious. Last weekend Tracy and I focused our cocktail attention on some of those tequila cocktails that utilize some of those unusual ingredients. On Friday, we started with the Rosita.


1 1/2 ounce reposado tequila (Milagro)
1/2 ounce Dry Vermouth (Noilly Pratt)
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth (Martini & Rossi)
1/2 ounce Campari

In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir ingredients. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist (I used a Meyer)

This cocktail is beautiful, though I am sure the picture doesn’t do it justice. The Campari provides the bright red color and I am sure that the sweet vermouth just deepens it. The aroma is filled with the oils of the Meyer lemon twist, though I could also detect the faintest hint of tequila. Tracy didn’t find that the tequila stood out in the aroma, but instead she detected the familiar herbs of the Campari. As we dove in, the taste of the citrus was the first thing we noted. The bold flavors of the Campari and the reposado dominated soon thereafter, and remained potent even as the drink warmed up. I could only faintly detect the grape flavor of the vermouth in the aftertaste. Overall the drink was great, but we both thought it was a bit less complex than some others we have had. The flavors just didn’t evolve as much over the course of the cocktail—not that it wasn’t a tasty aperitif. The Rosita is a perfect aperitif, dry and refreshing, just what is needed in a preprandial. The combination of the smoky tequila, the bitterness of the Campari, and the spike of brightness from the citrus was exceptionally tasty.

The next drink we tried I found on Chuck Taggert's blog, Looka! The Broadway Theatre District Cocktail was a winner in a cocktail contest in Los Angeles where all of the entries were named for local neighborhoods. One of the more interesting contest rules was that the cocktails could not include citrus juice.

Broadway Theatre District Cocktail

2 ounces anejo tequila (Corralejo)
3/4 ounce bianco vermouth (Dolin)
1/4 ounce Benedictine
1 dash grapefruit bitters (Fee's)
1 dash Xocolatl bitters (Bittermens)

Stir ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Strain into an absinthe-rinsed cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

This cocktail has a translucent golden glow that reminds me of straw. The aroma is full of citrus, which makes sense since I can actually see the oils from the twist right on the surface. There is also the distinct smell of anise and the herbs from the Benedictine and vermouth. Tracy noted that she could also detect the cactus smell of the anejo. On first sip, the tequila dominates the flavors. The cocktail's creamy texture also stands out and it provides a rich, velvety mouth feel. The bianco vermouth and Benedictine combine with the tequila to produce a complex sweetness that is nowhere near cloying. In fact it is downright refreshing considering the potential for sweetness in those two elements. The anejo provides the backbone of the drink, and the orange oils and herbal notes are expertly layered on top of it. The mellow anise of the absinthe rinse and smoky tequila linger after each sip. We both thought this drink was complex and well-balanced, a definite winner. It is no surprise though that the tequila-Benedictine pairing worked so well after stumbling on the Nouveau Carré. This is just another tasty example. Now all I need to do is learn how to flame an orange peel and we will really be in business.

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