When booze is your livelihood, it's always a plus to find an excuse to drink during the day with your friends and make it seem like you're working. A few months ago I got together with three compadres from the industry for an afternoon of drinking rum and talking about it. I recorded the proceedings, transcribed the highlights, published them here on HuffPost, and bingo, we had our excuse.
Our "work" this time involved drinking tequila, namely añejos and extra añejos (if you don't know exactly what that means, you'll find out below). The cast of characters was pretty much the same, with the notable absence of my fellow gray-haired booze writer Robert Haynes-Peterson, who promises he'll be back next time. The cast of characters for this round of day drinking included Jackie Summers, producer of the uber-tasty Sorel Liqueur (he's also got something new and delicious up his sleeve, scheduled for release later this year); and bartenders extraordinaire Cody Goldstein and Martin Preusche.
We met up at Martin's home base, the swanky members-only Norwood Club, with bottles at the ready. In short order we rolled up our sleeves and got down to work -- "work" being talking ad nauseam about everything from celebrity cognacs to puking up tacos, as well as the five tequilas we were quaffing. The results are a little... lengthy, to say the least, but hopefully entertaining and informative as well.
Jackie: So, just so we can be clear: How are tequilas classified?
Tony: They're pretty rigidly classified. Tequila makers have to have a license which is called... the AOC? No, that's cognac. NOM, that's it! They have to be distilled and aged and bottled in Mexico. I don't think they have to be made in certain regions, but almost all tequilas come from Jalisco. I don't know if it's law or if it just so happens. I don't know. I'm tired. I've been drinking a lot.
As for age range, you have blancos, which are generally unaged but can be aged in wood up to two months, I believe.
J: Blanco is silver, right?
T: Blanco is silver. And then there's the new category, which is called "joven." That's aged tequila mixed with unaged tequila which has been charcoal filtered to remove the color and some of the flavor. I don't really get the appeal.
Martin: That's like Qui Tequila?
T: Yeah, Qui is a joven. Everybody loves it, but I don't really get it. I thought it was OK, but I didn't love it. Milagro Unico is another one. They're getting really popular.
Anyway -- reposado is aged up to a year, and añejo is aged 1-2 years, and extra añejo is more than two years.
M: And blancos usually rest in steel tanks rather than wood.
J: So one of the things we talked about last time with rums is that rums compared to whiskies are,generally speaking, lower priced because you can get a 12 year old rum for half the price of a 12 year old whisky. We're talking about tequilas that are half that age or less. Do they age faster?
T: They age much faster, because in Mexico it's hot and tequila is a more delicate spirit. So you can't really age tequila much longer than 5-6 years. And even that's like a 50-60 year old Scotch. It's interesting, tequila used to be where rum is now -- nobody respected it. Then Patron came along, and also Herradura, to a certain extent, and they kind of elevated the whole category. So now, you've got really, really expensive tequilas. I kind of hope that never happens with rum, because now you can pay way too much for a good tequila.
J: Does tequila run into limits with production? Because I've got friends who do mezcal, and you can only make so much because they are bound to traditional methods.
T: Not so much with tequila. A lot of mezcal is made from wild strains of agave, whereas I think more blue agave is farmed. And I think that's why people like mezcal more. But at this point, you've gotta think that every square acre of Jalisco is filled with agave plants now. There are so many tequilas.
J: Speaking of tequila, we haven't drunk yet. Let's drink!
Cody: Sure. Now don't confuse your spit glass with your water glass.
J: Listen, I had a shit week -- I'm swallowing!
T: Did anybody spit last time? I don't think so.
C: We have less this time, so I think we're OK.
T: We've only got five, as opposed to the dozen or so we had last time.
J: We can always compensate by drinking more.
T: OK! So we're starting with Roca Patron Añejo, which is different from regular Patron, in that it uses the traditional roca method of crushing the agaves -- a stone wheel which is literally pulled by a donkey, I believe.
C: It's a pretty bottle, I will say that.
J: [lifting it] It's heavier than you'd think.
T: It doesn't have the bubbles in the glass like the other Patrons have, but it's still nice.
C: If you're looking to produce a higher-end product, and it's not necessarily in mind for bartenders who are going to be pouring it out on a regular basis, whether it's on the well or the back bar, but it's sort of a luxury brand, is it necessary to make it bartender-friendly?
J: I think the question you're asking is, are you going for on or off-premise market? And if you're thinking about producing a product, the rule of thumb is, you build awareness on-premise but you move cases off-premise.
T: This is the kind of thing you're gonna see in a high-end bar, for sipping.
J: This is either going to be in very high-end bars -- it's not going into cocktails because it's pouring money down the drain -- or it's going as an expensive gift to impress somebody.
C: Right. So again, going back, the question is, are you building this to keep it in an off-premise location, where somebody looks at it and says, that's pretty, I'm gonna buy that for a friend?
J: I think you need a little bit of both. What is it aged in?
T: It's aged in... I think it's French oak? I should look that up.
J: In this one I'm getting some ethanol.
C: Yeah, it's strong. What's the proof?
T: It's 43% (86 proof). And it's rare to find a tequila that's not 80 proof. So that's pretty cool. I think they only partially use the traditional rock-and-wheel method to crush the agave. Which is still pretty cool.
J: I'd imagine with their level of production, you'd have to adopt some modern techniques. Once you get over x-thousand cases, let me just put it to you this way -- I've got a friend who does a mezcal, and they told me they can only produce X amount of cases per year, because they felt that the donkey pushing the wheel was too modern! Obviously, if that's your production technique, you're not going to get a lot of product made. You have to use modern production methods.
T: This is only aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Usually it's a combo of ex-bourbon and French oak.
J: So a little bit of whiskey notes to it.
T: I don't taste that much whiskey -- that's why I thought it was French oak, because I thought it was milder.
J: Here's a question I want to ask. Why do so many people have negative experiences with tequila?
T: Because they were 18, they drank too much of it and they puked, and for years after that, they said, screw tequila. I had bad experiences because when I was growing up, it was just Cuervo Gold, which kind of sucked. So you'd just pound it as fast as you could -- it wasn't something to be tasted, it was something to be, you know, endured. The salt and the lime were so that you couldn't taste it. The first thing I ever wrote about tequila was called, "Sip, Don't Slam."
M: In Europe, there's way less tequila than there is over here. People don't drink it.It's really not common to have tequila back home. When I was working at the bar, if somebody came and ordered a nice tequila, that was something special. You sold more cognac... everything else sold more. Amaro... tequila was just not drunk.
T: And 20 years ago, that's how it was here. It was just changing then. It's amazing how it made the leap.
C: So the person that's ordering tequila at the bar -- are they looking to order a tequila cocktail where they can't taste the tequila? Do you find that to be the case, where people are looking to drink tequila because they like the feeling? They like how it makes them feel?
M: They like the idea.
T: And I think there are a lot more tequila snobs now, who are gonna sip it and, you know, treat it with respect.
M: I think tequila is very difficult to hide in a cocktail. For example, like all the clear stuff, like white rum, gin, vodka, whatever, you can hide. But a blanco tequila, it will always flash out of the drink.
J: I have to say that we've been sipping this tequila for five minutes and no one has made a comment about it.
T: I tasted a lot of green grape at first, and now I taste less of it. It's very mild for an añejo. There's some pepper on the back.
J: What should someone's expectations be when they're tasting a good tequila?
T: It's all in the eye of the beholder. Or mouth.
J: I don't know if I want to be in the beholder's mouth! God knows what's been in there!
C: I think you're definitely gonna get sweetness from the agave, and I think you want a nice balance of the sweetness with a little kick of pepperiness....
T: You want a little funkiness from the agave, like a little vegetal taste. And there's vanilla, of course.
C: I think you want it to finish a little more on the peppery side, with the front of the tongue more light and airy.
M: You want smooth.
J: Correct me if I'm wrong here -- the añejos are sipping tequilas. So I think we're looking for smooth here, as opposed to, how quickly can I get drunk, and how hard. So I definitely think we want smooth.
C: There's something to be said about a really great, smooth blanco tequila too. I think with tequila, there's times when you take a shot, I'm not gonna name names, but I think we all know that there's a brand of tequila that, when you take a shot, it burns -- it goes through your nose, and afterwards it's on your breath....
J: There's no burn on this at all. At all.
T: But I feel like it's a little too smooth. I want a little bit of a challenge. It comes on sweet and smooth, and then it finishes with a little spice, but I want it to do something else in the middle.
M: But that's pretty much what that is. I had it totally sweet in the beginning. I was thinking like a Sauternes.
J: I want my sipping tequila to be like my last Mexican girlfriend....
T: Only the last one, though. Not the other seven.
J: I want it to be smooth, but I still want scratches on my back.
T: I've gotta go take a cold shower now....
C: This is a romance novel meets tequila tasting!
J: So too smooth can work against you here.
T: This is great for a novice drinker who's just getting into sipping tequilas.
C: I think it's a nice product. The challenge of fighting against the brand, against being Patron... if you didn't know it was Patron and you took a sip of it, I think you would really have a beautiful bond. Do we know the price point on this?
T: Let me check... it's $89.99.
J: This one has a real cork.
T: I think you guys are all for synthetic corks, no?
J: Well the question is, does the cork affect the flavor over time? And I do not have enough experience with tequila to say whether or not that happens. I know with rums it can happen. But every single one of these is not a synthetic cork, it's a natural cork. And I wonder if that is a nuance of the genre, that they all just feel that they have to have this particular thing, or if there's a production reason why they all have actual cork?
T: I think with Patron it's because it's upscale, and they want to spare no expense on the package.
C: But really, if you think about it, if you think about a lot of the tequilas we use behind the bar, a lot of them use cork and not synthetic.
T: I like synthetic -- I prefer synthetic. Because I know it's not gonna break...
C: [who had just been opening a bottle of Tequila Alquemia Añejo when the cork broke] Oops, it's not gonna break!
T: Bingo! [rueful laughter all around]
J: And I don't even know what to do with this. This is a case where, does your pretty packaging actually work against you?
C: I don't know how much that bottle costs, but if you just spent 90-something dollars on that bottle and you just went to open it and that cork just broke on you, how pissed would you be?
J: And if it's in your bar, how good is that to you?
C: It's just an extra step -- if the cork gets in there, you have to strain it out. But it's annoying.
J: Here's my quote about corks....
J: You need a cork you can be able to pull out easily.
C: Jackie with the innuendoes!
J: I actually got a little smoke on the last sip of the Roca Patron.
T: There you go. It may have just taken a while.
J: Do these need to breathe a little bit?
T: That's true, we just cracked all these open now.
J: Again, I'm professing my ignorance. I don't know if letting them breathe will do anything.
T: Well, I think every spirit needs to breathe a little bit.
C: Especially if it's been aged, and then it's immediately been bottled and sealed, it probably needs a little bit of time to just open up a little.
C: Let's go with the Casamigos Añejo. George Clooney and Rande Gerber's tequila.
J: Do you feel there's any advantage to having a celebrity behind a tequila?
T: I don't. It almost turns me off when it's like, well, George Clooney drinks this, so you really ought to. Right? I don't give a shit.
J: Does he even drink it?
T: Supposedly, he and Rande are buddies, and they had this tequila specially made just for them, because they're rich bastards and they can do that sort of thing. And it was so good they decided to market it -- supposedly. That's the marketing story.
C: So you're telling me you don't order Ciroc (vodka) when you're out because [brand ambassador/public face of the brand/partner] Diddy drinks it?
T: I ONLY order Ciroc when I'm out! Because I want to impress the ladies.
M: But I think it sold more, to go back to Jackie's question, because it's a celebrity brand. If I like it, I don't give a fuck, but I think it's marketing. Especially that vodka -- it only sold because of Diddy.
J: I sort of think Ciroc is the only celebrity model that actually worked. There's lots of failed celebrity liquor brands. And I think if Puffy or P. Diddy or whatever his name is did it today, he wouldn't have the same influence because it was a particular point in time.
T: I think people are getting more cynical. But then there's, like, Jimmy Buffett, his Margaritaville line of booze -- I love that he's got a Margaritaville rum.
J: But there are celebrities who try to market a liquor brand and it just doesn't work.
C: Ciroc wasn't Diddy's brand, right? He was just the sponsor.
T: Right, he was just signed up to market it. Just like Jay-Z has Dussé cognac. Ludacris blends his own cognac, doesn't he?
C: This conversation has taken a really weird turn! When you start mentioning Ludacris and cognac....
T: Our next one of these should be celebrity cognacs!
J: A famous producer -- I know his face but I can't think of his name right now [later research revealed it to be Pharrell Williams] -- made a liquor for the "ignored female market." Qream, with a Q. It has deceased.
T: And there's Trump Vodka.
C: It'd be interesting if he came out with a tequila and he'd have to talk about how it was made in Mexico.
J: Like his clothes?
T: "Who's gonna pay for this tequila? The Mexicans!"
J: [sipping the Casamigos] Man, this one just burned my eyeballs!
C: Just in comparison to our last tasting, I found that with the rums, each time we smelled a different rum, we had a totally different nose on each one, and we could talk about them. With this, it's more about the sort of ethanol-ness and how strong it is on the nose versus the notes that we're getting, because to me [inhales deeply] there's not a lot being pulled from it. Whereas on the tongue, there's different notes. But on the nose, it's not as easy to decipher.
T: Yeah, this one's just singeing the nose hairs a bit.
J: This is one of the interesting things about the tasting palate -- 80% of your ability to taste is your ability to smell. So a good way to taste things sometimes is just to clip your nose and see if it just tastes like ethanol. If it tastes like rubbing alcohol with no nose, you have a problem.
[Silence as the group tastes.]
T: It's got a lot of vanilla. It's a little harsh, which is funny because it's 80 proof.
J: Now that it's actually breathing, I'm getting more aroma from it. But that first whiff really would have singed my nose hairs, if I had them.
M: Another question. What about location-wise? With the rum, we talked a lot about this location, this country and so on. What about location makes these taste different?
T: Terroir does affect it. You've got the highlands and the lowlands, which affects the mineral content of the soil, and that's the big one.
J: Are you looking at the legs of any of these? Because the legs seem generally less than what you'd see on a whiskey or a rum.
C: And do you think that's just the factor of the sugar content?
J: I'm pretty sure. There's almost no legs.
T: OK: "To source their tequila, the pair went to Productos Finos de Agave." So Productos Finos de Agave also produces Clase Azul and Avion -- which I really like, actually.
Oh, so the thing about añejos, which I forgot to mention, is that the wood aging removes it from the agave. So you're gonna taste less of the agave and more of the wood. So you've gotta do a balancing act if you're producing an añejo.
So what do we think about the Casamigos?
C: It's definitely a lot sweeter than the Roca.
M: A lot sweeter.
J: After the initial blast of ethanol, it definitely opened up.
C: I agree with you. I definitely get a little, like, caramel, and a little buttery popcorn.
[We all taste again]
C: I mean, in a good way. It's just interesting.
M: I like it. It's what I want to drink after work when I don't want to think too much about it, if I want an easy drinking... I'm not so much on tequila, but I would pick this. I know what I'm getting....
T: It's going to go down easy.
J: One of the interesting things I find about tasting is the way the different flavors activate different parts of your tongue. What are we getting here?
C: I'm getting dead in the middle, like straight in the middle of my tongue.
J: And what's on the finish?
T: A little bit of wood, a little bit of pepper, it's very smooth....
J: I sort of thought that the black pepper notes would be higher at the end.
C: But I wonder if that's a factor of the agave coming from different areas -- Highland or Lowland types of agave. I think Highland might be a little bit more peppery.
J: I like this.
T: I'm looking to see where it's from... List price of $55,
C: I also think it's safe to say that all the tequilas we're tasting today most likely wouldn't go into a cocktail.
M: But a nice tequila Manhattan....
T: With a robust tequila you can do an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan.
M: Or even a Negroni. I think the drink is so much better if it's with a full-bodied tequila.
J: I was at a bar over the winter and they did a tequila hot toddy which was terrific and surprising. But in the general sense, what are the cocktails that people are familiar with?
C: Well, I mean, most of them are gonna have some sort of acidity mixed into them, as well as sugar. And you're going to end up diluting the tequila. Whereas if you're doing a classic -- an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan -- you really want the spirit to come forward, and you want that to be sort of the stage. Tequila doesn't really necessarily have a ton of cocktails where it's....
J: It's the backbone of the alcohol but it's not holding the flavor.
T: It seems to really need the acidity.
C: It's interesting, right? You almost want it. But is that because we're trained? Like with a margarita. Or Corona -- give me a lime. I mean, it's sort of a whole branding and marketing thing.
J: When most people think tequila, they think, I'm gonna get a margarita. But none of these are anything you'd waste in a margarita. These are too good to put into a margarita.
C: I agree. It would be a damn good margarita, though.
T: Although I like a blanco. These may be too soft for a margarita, because the time in wood really softens them.
M: But I think if you make an añejo margarita, you have the most body a margarita can get. You'll make the most interesting margarita. If it's a blanco... I'm sorry, I'm not a fan. But if you take a good añejo like Centenario, using that añejo for a margarita, that's the margarita I want. If it's damn hot outside, I want it light -- a blanco margarita, refreshing -- but if I'm searching for a little bit more, I would definitely use añejo for a margarita.
J: As a producer, I always think, for the on-premise guy, how do I make this profitable for him? And the question is, what is your cost per ounce? So let's say I've got a bottle of tequila that's costing me $35 to buy. I've got 25 ounces in a bottle -- that's $1.40 per ounce. A typical cocktail is gonna have two ounces, so I'm looking at almost $3 of liquor as my base before I've added any other ingredients. Is it possible for that to be profitable on-premise?
C: Sure. It depends on what you sell your cocktail for. I'm always astonished when I go to Philly or any of these other metropolitan cities, and they're charging $10-11 for cocktails that have some pretty interesting ingredients -- high end stuff. I don't know how they do it, God bless 'em.
J: Especially if they're buying from liquor stores -- they're paying full price.
C: But I mean it's all relative, right? The cost for rent per square foot in New York is greatly increased, so we have to make up for that, and we do that through our margins, and we do that through our profit on our food, and especially on our beverages. So that's why you're going to a lot of places and $14 is the norm, $16 is OK, and $18 is... astonishing, but people still do it, you know?
M: But see, if you continue your calculation, you said $3 for two ounces? So what is the extra? If we're talking a margarita, it's a little bit of lime and sugar, a little bit of Cointreau or Grand Marnier. But let's say we're never getting over $4.
C: Well, you're over the $4 because of the cost of the labor, in terms of juicing the lime, and the glassware... but let's say you don't go over $7, just to be fair and high end.
M: Really? $7?
C: Just to be fair, if you factor in a bunch of other stuff.
M: OK, that's high. I wouldn't make a cocktail for $7. That's not profitable. But if you're talking about under $5, and you're selling for $15....
J: One of the things I appreciate about Julie Reiner, who as far as I'm concerned is one of the best in the business, is she has a unique ability to make delicious cocktails that actually sell. And at the end of the day, what you want to do is make books and say, here are the cocktails that sold, and here's the cost of the cocktail, and here's how much money we made on them. And there was a formula. The cocktails that made the most money, and sold the most, stayed on the menu. As a producer, I think to myself, how can I make money for other people? Because if they're gonna make money, then they're gonna keep buying my product. And I think that goes for whether you own a restaurant or a bar or a retail establishment. As long as other people are making money on your product, you'll do well.
What have we got open now?
T: OK, shall we? Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia?
J: I'm gonna let this breathe again, because I've already singed myself twice.
T: So Cuervo, as we know, has a bad name in the tequila industry for, like, anyone over 40, basically, because we all had to endure Cuervo Gold.
J: Tequila had a bad rep. For a long time, the profile of tequila was, "I'm going to get really drunk."
T: And that's why people have bad experiences with tequila and decide they don't like it.
M: So do we have any idea how long this is aged? I mean, it's an extra añejo....
T: It's an extra añejo, so it's more than two years. [According to the Cuervo folks, we later found out, it's aged at least three years.]
M: I mean, it's nice -- it's got the batch number on the label, it's handwritten....
C: Yeah, the packaging is really nice.
T: And they've got good tequilas, you know? They've got a lot of experience making them.
J: This is something I would like on my shelf at home. I don't know if it would do you any good in a dark bar, but it would look good on my home bar for sure. The bottle is handblown -- there's those bubbles in the bottle -- it's a beautiful label, wax seal, actual cork. And the cork did not break!
T: The nose is really nice.
M: I'm curious about aging -- what kind of barrels do they use?
T: It should be a combination of French oak and ex-bourbon [American oak]. That's what they do with most extra añejos.
J: There's almost a touch of rum on the nose.
C: Like sweet sugarcane.
T: It's light, but it's vibrant.
M: That's nice.
C: Does it get sweeter, you think, the longer you age it?
J: I sort of think there's a bell curve, where it's like, yeah, yeah, yeah, better, OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE WE DONE? Send this to marketing so we can make something out of it and still make money off of it! I think there's a peak age for all these things.
[The group tastes.]
T: This is really nice. It's smooth, but it's got substance. It's got a little backbone.
J: It's also got the best legs of anything we've tasted so far. But you've definitely got rum and whiskey notes in this, while still being an entirely and genuinely authentic tequila.
T: Yes, you're not going to mistake it for anything else, but man, it's got some rum notes.
C: I really like the color, too. It's got that nice caramel amber.
J: It's beautiful.
C: It looks expensive. [suggested retail price is $150]
J: The bottle's a little wide for my tastes. My hands aren't small, but I'm not entirely sure that the bottle is comfortable in my hands to pour. Like, if I had four or five shots of tequila, I wouldn't be comfortable pouring the bottle.
C: It's aged in a private cellar in new French and American oak barrels. This is actually delicious. This is my favorite so far.
T: If stuff gets over-oaked, are they just going to use it in a blend? Or are they gonna ditch it?
J: This has a nice amount of wood.
T: Yeah! It starts off sweet, but then the oak kicks right in. Unlike the other two.
J: It's got more body, and a better viscosity.
T: And the finish is really nice.
C: So here's a question -- we're three in right now, we're sipping on tequila. How would you feel about adding ice to any of these?
J: The only one that could stand up to it so far is the one we just tasted. Everything else it would water right out.
M: I love to put rocks on mine, in general.
C: Do you guys, when you go out, order stuff neat or on the rocks?
T: I usually do neat, because I want to taste it unadulterated. And then I'll pour in a little water. And I get a glass of ice water, so I can add water or ice.
J: I usually do neat and a side of rocks. Let me taste it, let me let it breathe, and then if it needs opening up, let me add the amount of ice that I feel it needs to balance it out.
M: That's when you order something for the first time. If I go to a bar and I know what I'm ordering, I mostly like ice. Single malts are the only thing I really stay with neat.
I have a question -- do we know anything about coloring?
J: Are they required to put that on the label?
T: I think most spirits can add up to about 2.5% of anything they want, without putting it on the label. In Mexico, though, they're real sticklers, so I'm not 100% sure about that.
J: It's a funny thing, because we're living in an age where people want to know what they're eating, and the FDA has become very strict about what people can put on the label on food packages. But the TTB supersedes the FDA, so the liquor companies have no need to tell you what they're putting in or why. They can say "flavorants," "colorants," and put any goddamn thing they want in there, and they answer to no one. Thank you, lobbyists for the liquor industry! There's so little actual regulation that goes on.
T: And it usually means there's extra sugar in everything.
J: People add color.
T: Caramel coloring?
C: Especially with an aged product, because they want to get it to look darker or whatever. You could probably, with some of these you could tell.
T: I would guess that the Casamigos has some color added.
C: Yeah, it's almost going towards maroon.
T: Yeah, maybe they added some beets!
J: This is a thing that's of interest to me as an artisanal producer, because a lot of things started out 200 years ago with ingredients and botanicals, and over the course of time we discovered chemicals, and people figured out that they could emulate a vanilla molecule. And instead of putting in an actual vanilla bean, they'd say there's a vanilla extract that we have created in a laboratory. And while you can synthesize the formula for vanilla pretty much exactly, you eliminate any actual health benefit that you might have gotten from the true botanical, and I personally do not believe that you'll ever get chemicals to dance and to play the same way you get actual botanicals to interact with each other.
M: I'm 100% with you. And by the way, I think all of these products are colored. I think there's always somebody sitting over there saying, I want it to look like this and this and this. People who never drink tequila!
T: The Alquimia I don't think is adulterated in any way. It's 100% organic. You can do organic caramel coloring, I guess, but it's pretty pale.
J: The question is, can you actually produce a particular amount of volume, and keep true to what your flavor profile is? I personally believe you can, but I'm insane, so....
C: I commend you! And since we're talking about artisanal, the Roca Patron has "artisanal" on the front.
T: Which could mean anything. There is no law saying what it means.
J: Absolut put "craft" on their vodka. I had the Johnnie Walker rep tell me that their product is craft because they "do five batches a day." And it's true! They do five batches of 1,000 barrels!
T: [pouring Tequila Alquimia Añejo] I figure we'll do the Alquimia before the cork, which is floating around in the bottle, has any more influence. And I'll do generous pours since we're not gonna take this home! So this is 100% organic.
C: This is an añejo, right?
T: This is an añejo. And look at how pale it is.
J: And again, almost no legs.
T: 80 proof.
J: This has all the aroma of tequila without the ethanol.
T: And you can actually smell the agave. And that's the only one so far.
J: This didn't burn me at all. But it's got that pure tequila aroma.
C: I wonder if the cork floating around in there soaked up all the ethanol. [We all crack up]
C: "Certified organic" is what they put on there.
J: Listen, that's a title you pay for. It's essentially meaningless.
C: It's just how much you want to spend to get these certifications.
J: You can put "gluten free" on your label, but people don't understand, gluten doesn't survive distillation. So unless people have somehow added gluten afterwards, all distilled product is by definition gluten-free.
T: But you might as well mention it, right?
C: It's a buzzword.
C: One of my -- not a pet peeve, but I always find it interesting -- is Skinny Margaritas.
T: That's seriously the most vile shit I've ever tried.
C: There's nothing wrong with somebody who wants to lower their sugar and calorie intake. However, they don't realize what they're drinking in that bottled cocktail probably has more sugar than any ingredient the bartender is adding into their cocktail.
T: And I love products like Veev, where it's like, hey, fewer calories! But that's because it's like 60 proof or something. So they can't even call it vodka, because it's below 80 proof.
J: I would put this Alquimia in cocktails.
C: Do you know how much this is?
T: It's expensive. [$65, to be exact]
J: I would NOT put this in cocktails!
T: This is really good. Smooth, and it's just vegetal enough that you know where it came from.
J: While the Cuervo is my favorite so far, for the purest expression of what I think a tequila should taste like, this is it.
C: It's a little light, though. It just kind of leaves -- I swallow and there's no lingering effect. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
T: Right through the mid-palate, it's fantastic, but yeah.
J: Something on the finish of tequilas in general seems to be lacking.
M: This is not my thing. It's a little too... I'm missing something.
C: That's what I'm saying. Actually, if I closed my eyes, I'd think this was a reposado.
T: Yes! And it looks like a reposado!
C: It's a delicious reposado, but for an añejo it's a little too... light. It tastes a little too young.
J: We need to card this at the door.
M: I'd say that's the smoothest reposado I've ever had.
T: It's a Highland tequila, aged just under three years in American white oak, which is surprising because it's so soft -- I figured it would be aged in French oak.
J: New oak?
J: That makes sense.
T: Although it's not a vanilla bomb. Which can happen when you age in new oak.
C: This bottle is not bartender-friendly. Especially with the cork.
J: This is another one of those hand-blown, bubbles-in-the-glass bottles.
M: When we're talking about bartender-friendly, what do you mean by that? I mean, I'm not speed-pouring that. Putting two ounces in a rocks glass, I don't care that my hand can't grab it perfectly.
C: Even if you're not pouring it for speed, even just pouring it.
J: If I'm a retailer, this bottle is taking up two spaces on my shelf.
C: And on your bar.
J: If they had a label on the side, that'd be better, because it's wide but not deep. But they don't.
M: That might look strange as well.
C: It's heavy, but I think that's because of the shape. I mean, if I took it and I squished it and then elongated it, it would probably feel more normal. I think it's because it's short and stumpy, it's very dense.
J: If you've been picking up bottles all night and you're feeling fatigued, this is gonna pose a problem.
T: So when certain brands are thinking, they're thinking in terms of the consumer, and how it's gonna look on a liquor store shelf, I guess.
C: The Patron was never made for speed pours anyway, so that doesn't matter.
T: OK, coming up... we've got Chinaco Negro.
J: This has the best legs of anything we've poured so far.
T: So the story behind this is that they forgot about 12 barrels of añejo, and it aged for 5-6 years instead of 2-3, and then they found it, and it was part of a larger batch, and only seven barrels were deemed suitable for release. I don't know whether they've been doing more "accidents" on purpose or if they're releasing the original barrels one barrel at a time or what. Nobody I know can confirm or deny the story.
J: How political!
T: But Chinaco makes some good tequila. Oh man, I love the nose.
C: I'll give you guys some background on it. So the product arrived in the United States in 1983. They closed their distillery in the late 1980s and apparently Chinaco became the most sought after tequila ever produced.
T: Well, if they say it's true, it must be true.
J: I read it on the Internet! [we all laugh]
C: So Chinaco Negro is "in the marvelous complexity and deep alluring colors of this rare 5 year old 100% agave extra añejo tequila. Lost in the cellars of the Chinaco distillery..."
T: There you go.
C: "... were 12 casks of aging tequila, seven of which were chosen."
T: And this is like the fourth edition now. So they keep losing more barrels?
J: What's the math on one cask? What's the yield on a single cask?
T: Isn't it a couple hundred bottles?
J: So with seven casks, you're not talking about a lot of bottles. So maybe that story reads better than if you're doing the math.
T: It's a five year aging process, a single batch, and a limited edition product. List price is $250.
M: A little sweet, but delicious. Very smooth at the end.
C: What do you get on the nose, Tony?
T: I get a drier nose than I got from tasting it. Again, I got an agave-forward nose. I love a woman with an agave-forward nose, it turns me on....
J: One gallon yields 24.6 cases [according to the almighty Interwebs], so let's do the quick math. If they have seven times 24.6 cases, they have a total of 172.2 cases, period.
T: But it's been around for years.
J: So it might be a better marketing story than a fact check would allow.
T: Or maybe the first time it happened, they genuinely lost some barrels, but now....
C: I know we talked about over-aging and reaching a peak, but I almost feel like it reached its peak earlier. It's so aged that it's....
T: Yeah, you've got so much pepper and oak on the finish. It just won't go away.
J: This is rounder. It doesn't have the rum notes of the Cuervo.
T: Would we spend $250 on it?
J: It's $250?! Coño! [a Spanish expletive which produces peals of laughter]
M: It's $250? No, I don't spend that.
J: If you're a tequila aficionado, is this a spend?
T: I feel like it is. But I don't know. I'm coming at it from a whiskey drinker's point of view, maybe, because it's got that big spicy finish, it's kind of dry.... But if you're a serious tequila aficionado you really want to taste the agave. And you do here, but I don't know if you do that much. I don't even know if you like extra añejos if you're a huge tequila fan.
M: That's an interesting point, because it's soft in the agave. You're getting the wood and you're losing the agave.
T: And it makes for a really great spirit. But I don't know if it makes for a really amazing tequila. And I think that's why people are gravitating towards mezcal, because it hits you over the head with the smoke and everything.
C: When people are drinking tequila, ordering tequila at a bar, do you think that the majority of people know the difference or care about the difference between a blanco versus a reposado versus an añejo? You know? I think it's like that conundrum of, let me get a whiskey. Do you want rye, bourbon, Scotch? I mean, like, what do you want? And most people don't really know the difference. I think that's more so, even, with tequila, where they're not sure what it means and why they're ordering this vs. that.
J: Here's the beauty of the age we're living in. Tony and I grew up in an age where marketing told you what to drink. And you did not question it. They forced it down your throat.
T: And there were no options, really.
J: There was no education component involved whatsoever. That model has now flipped, so people want to know what and why and where, and some details. There's an education component that never existed before. So you get the opportunity to shape and frame and mold the consumer's point of view, and teach them what is good and what is not good, and why. And in that sense, I think we're making a move from a marketing-driven movement to a consumer movement. And I think it's naturally a good move.
T: And the bullshit detectors are much higher now.
C: I notice it especially when some salesmen come into the bar trying to sell us some product, or distributors.
J: If they don't know why they're selling what they're selling, you can get the fuck out. I feel like the best salespeople aren't going in there telling you what's going to work, they're going to listen to what works and say to you, now that I've heard what works for you, here's what I can do to help you make more money. Because it always comes down to making money. All of this -- the aesthetics, the consumer experience, the bar experience, the retail experience -- the whole question, because we live in a capitalist society, is, who's going to make money at this? And if you're making money, then everyone's happy. If you've got a great product that no one's making money at, no one gives a fuck.
T: But then writers can write about it, and we make money from writing about it and saying, why is this great product not making any money? Right? And we get paid for it. Someone's always getting paid.
J: On the record -- writers do not get paid nearly enough!
T: We just settle for perks. But do you bartenders, Martin and Cody, do you get people coming in and ordering tequila and not knowing what the hell they're doing? And do you need to educate them? Or do they know what they're talking about? Or do you get anyone ordering tequila at all?
M: Sure. I think you have that more with a whisky direction than a tequila direction. I think tequila's already a more complex, more difficult spirit than whiskey, vodka, whatever. So I think if the person is really interested in drinking tequila, neat or on the rocks, he already knows a little bit about the story and knows what he wants.
J: We're having this conversation in the Meatpacking District, and in 8 hours, people will be coming down here on trains, wearing heels and stumbling on cobblestones, going into bars and ordering shots of tequila, and then puking up tacos at 4:00 in the morning.
T: Thank God none of us will be here!
J: And then guess what, you're off tequila! Until next weekend, at least. They blame the tequila instead of being young and stupid!
T: I know so many people who are like, I can't drink tequila anymore... because of some stupid shit I did in college.
M: It's the shot thing. If you go to the bar with your friends and say, let's have a round of shots, 80% or whatever say tequila.
C: But it's interesting you say that, because the last time we met, when we talked about rum, the topic of stigma came up, which was, what do you think rum is? And everyone says, oh, it goes into really sugary drinks, tropical drinks, you use these sweet drinks to mask the rum. Whereas, the stigma of tequila is, you take some shots with a lime and some salt, and you pound it, and it's not meant for enjoyment, it's meant for a purpose. And I think as we keep doing these, we keep going back to, what was the original stigma. And that's what this is really all about for us -- what I enjoy is trying to break that stigma, and to bring everything full circle. This is all about education and why you should be drinking it versus what you think you should be drinking.... That's what the most exciting thing about this is, the ability to try to educate.
T: I love just hanging out and talking about liquor with you guys.
At this point, we all dissolved into tears and started bro-hugging each other with wild abandon. Our next day-drinking session is currently in the works, so stay tuned for more long-winded booziness.