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Spirits Articles

Dreams Come True in Blue Agave

Posted: October 14, 2013

By Terry Sullivan, Very Special to Tastings.com

 “If Elvis had developed a taste for añejo Tequila instead of fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches, he’d be on tour today. “ - José Cuervo IV

At least he said his name was José Cuervo IV. Ran into him in a joint in Memphis a few years back, which is how we got on the subject. Dude was full of wisdom, and I figured he was right on the money about Elvis on account of if you start frying peanut butter regularly you can be pretty sure one more white shirt will be all you need. Plus he was buying.

OK, I made that up, but it’s still true. And I did actually have dinner with a genuine Cuervo once in Tequila, the town, and it was a dream come true when he poured any number of glasses of the family’s finest agave distillations over a long evening. Started with cocktails made of local citrus and blanco Tequila, progressing through the lightly aged reposados and ending with dessert and for some time afterward with añejos old enough to have voted for Lyndon Johnson. Could have passed for Cognac, some of them, and they marked the end of a meal whose only downside was when the host made me eat the ant eggs.

At the time, all I could think of was that Tequila had led me to any number of awkward moments. My first experience with the spirit, like that of many people, began not with aged agave juice, nor with bright, snappy well made blancos, but with a bottle that I believe had a picture of Pancho Villa on the label. This was in the 60s (during the aforementioned Johnson administration, come to think of it) at a party on the west side of Chicago and it involved, yes, salt and lemons. What can I say—we were young and innocent and believed everything we’d seen in the movies. I recall that a friend and I eventually ran out of lemons—which is a bad sign—and had to go out for more and, it being quite late-ish, ended up talking the owner of a Chinese restaurant into selling us half a dozen. I believe he would have sold us anything in exchange for our leaving, but the memory is a little fuzzy.

Back at the party, we continued celebrating our discovery of the Mexican spirit. I’m told, by the patient woman who eventually married me, that at one point when the party got overcrowded, my lemon-buying companion and I decided to sit on the floor under the kitchen table. And, I’m further informed, after toasting Pancho Villa and Chinese restaurateurs, we--no doubt smitten by the view--took to biting the backs of women’s knees. Seemed like a good idea at the time. After that, I recall only someone taking the knife (lemon slices, remember) away from us, and someone else saying “did he have a coat?” as we were leaving.

I still have a taste for those unaged pretties (blanco Tequilas, not those knees, although…) and I think the unique agave aroma and taste is best experienced in them. They are, I believe, the bottlings best used in cocktails, the better to stand up under the mixers and let you know you’re still drinking Tequila.

And aside: if you find yourself, say, picnicking and unprepared to mix sophisticated cocktails, try the Margarita alternative favored by Jalisco cement finishers at the end of a dusty day, it’s called a Paloma: mix inexpensive blanco with grapefruit-based Squirt. (There’s a reason the Mexico is the largest market for it.)

Where was I? Yes, aging, or the lack of it. Reposados, aged (rested) for a few months or up to a year, I think of as just having the harsher corners knocked off. The oak does a better job at what the caramel does in most “gold” Tequila, adds a little color, sweet or vanilla notes, and makes for a slightly more sippable drink. There’s a reason spirits are aged in wood.

But the añejos. I’m not kidding when I said some could pass for Cognacs. You put distilled agave juice in a barrel for 2, 3 or 4 years and it can get awfully hard to find the agave, but the result is stunning—a deep richness that reminds me of old rums, with a taste you can almost chew under the woody aromas. The house specials that Señor Cuervo served at the end of that dinner in Tequila would have made a Frenchman forget his homeland. And they did make me forget that I’d just eaten all the ant eggs on my plate.

Lesson number one for writers: when one is traveling on someone else’s dime, drinking their hooch and eating their food, it behooves one to do as the host does and not act like an ugly American. Honoring this principle is why I’ve flown in hot air balloons, thrown up in Irish fishing boats, hiked moors and highland trails, played Canadian snow golf, chewed on sheep lungs and enjoyed a nice order of insect eggs. Besides, the eggs were in a lovely cream sauce and tasted just like tapioca. Elvis would have loved them.

2013 Tastings – Beverage Testing Institute Tequila, Mezcal, and & Agave Spirits Reviews:

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