An email arrives in my folder. It reads: “You have won a place at our exclusive members’ only tequila tasting event at Club Burrito.”
I stare at the screen for a long time.
I can’t imagine this is a random coincidence, given me penchant for blogging about local things and supporting local businesses.
But seriously…free booze? For ME? This is like asking The Joker to watch your massive pile of weapons and maps to Batman’s house while you nip to the toilet.
Meh, I’m sure it’ll be fine.
Club Burrito is a new addition to the olde worlde wonder of Butchery Lane. A solid shack resplendent in sunshine yellows and Aztec blues, it specialises in Mexican street food, which you can either take away or enjoy upstairs on one of their wooden cantina style tables. There are kitsch decorations, cocktails a plenty and Manu Chao on the sound system.
I happened upon Club Burrito’s food a week earlier, and was not disappointed. I ordered a hearty pulled pork burrito with rice, refried beans, cheese and my choice of toppings. It was one of the biggest, messiest, and tastiest burritos I’ve had the pleasure to put my face into. I shall return for more, and urge you to do the same – excellent food, good drinks, live music many evenings and utterly charming staff.
Now I like to think I know my world liquors. I’ve swilled wines in the Loire Valley, sipped Irish whiskey at Bushmills, sampled Scotch in Edinburgh, supped sake in Tokyo, and tried everything they had at the Appleton Rum Factory in Jamaica because they just wouldn’t stop bringing out bottles.
Tequila, I shall admit, has never been my idea of a sophisticated drink. The tequila I know is either downed with salt and lemon, or languishes at the bottom of a sickly sweet cocktail. Cocktails like these (my beau insisted on having the girliest drinks possible for his friends at his last birthday. Any excuse to share this again…)
|My male friends, enjoying tequila sunrises. Honestly, I ask you…
Yet Club Burrito was happy to challenge this misconception.
Our hosts for the evening were the chaps from specialist drinks importer Amathus, who pride themselves in stocking the UK’s most exclusive selection of tequilas and mezcals.The tasting and presentation was led by Eduardo, from Mexico. Lovely Eduardo. Lovely lovely Eduardo……sorry, where was I?
First came the history and myth busting.
Tequila is made from the screechingly blue agave plant, a fruit – not a cactus as many people think – grown in highlands and lowlands (much like vines, terrain is key to producing different flavours). If you’ve ever tried agave honey, will give you an idea of the notes tequila should have.
The blue agave matures for at least five years before being harvested and trimmed down so that the heart of the fruit remains. The fruit is then cooked a large oven for many hours, ground, fermented and double distilled. It will then be aged in oak casks (usually former bourbon cases) for between two months and five years. The final spirit is diluted down to 38-40% ABV.
Like Champagne, tequila it is so named after the town where most of the production takes place (though it is not technically confined to this town). In fact, only five states in Mexico have the right to produce tequila, with more than 100 distilleries in Mexico producing around 600 brands.
Tequila can trace its origins back around 2,000 years…..and that’s pretty much all I know about its history. I could research it more, but there was drinking to be done and look, here’s the internet (hands over Google) go, go look it up for yourself, I can wait.
Now, here are a few important facts that you will thank me for the morning after the night before
- Only drink tequila made from 100% agave. It will say so on the bottle.
- Wherever possible, avoid mixed ‘mixto’ blended tequila. This has a minimum of 51% agave, and is then mixed with sugars and various flavours. Really, it is the bottom of the tequila scale and is just not worth it.
- Look for the NOM number on the bottle, which is an official mark of approval. If it doesn’t have it, don’t drink it.
- If you find a bottle of tequila – or any spirit – costing loss than £8, for the love of God don’t drink it.
- Mexicans don’t drink the bring brand tequilas that you’re probably familiar with. Most aren’t even made in Mexico. It’s like drinking ‘real authentic Scotch’ made in Belgium. Stop it.
As I’ve said, what you want is tequila made from 100% agave sugars. From these you have blanco, gold (unaged and coloured with caramel), reposado (aged for around 8-12months), añejo (aged for between one and three years) and extra añejo (aged for at least three years).
History lesson done, it was time for the tasting.
We were given two brands to taste – Cabrito and the more expense Centinela – and tried the blanco and reposado from each brand. The few non-tequila lovers were nervous. Some gripped their water bottles anxiously. One girl’s hand shook as she poured her first drink.
I have to tell you this now….every sip was surprising. At no point did I gag and call for a doctor. I was not expecting tequila to be so complex or enjoyable, and I was truly astounded by what was put in front of me.
The blanco was first, and this is what more discerning folk would use for cocktails (as opposed to the cheap mixed tat we’d normally reach for). It was peppery and spicy on the tongue, and gave way to an almost floral aroma. Crisp and clean was the common vote, but with enough bite for a good cocktail.
Then came the amber-hued reposado, and the Centinela quickly become my good friend for the evening. Eduardo was also excited about this one, and quizzed us all about what we could taste.
For me, it was almond, pepper, a hint of vanilla. The first taste was spicy but much rounder than the sharpness of the blanco, and the aftertaste was of a rich, ripe fruit – plum was the one that continually sprung to mind. It reminded me a quality aged rum, but without the thick sweetness of the sugar cane, and was not a million miles away from a decent Irish whiskey. It was definitely a tipple I could see myself sipping at the end of the day, pen in one hand, list of enemies in the other. In fact, I poured myself another while no one was looking.
We spent some time comparing the Cabrito and Centinela brands, with the Centinela winning hands down in my book. The blancos shown here retail at around £25, and the reposados will fetch around £35 – £40. This probably seems a bit steep for what we normally class as ‘let’s get totally munted’ liquor. But the quality is worth it; you’d pay that much for an even half-decent Scotch.
Then came the añejo, the darkest of the bunch. Eduardo served us one from Calle 23, produced in the highlands and aged for 16months by one of the only female tequila producers in Mexico – the Frenchwoman Sophie Decobecq.
While this was the oldest tequila on offer, it seemed to lose some of the reposado’s mellow qualities and built on the spiciness of the blanco. There was a lot more cocoa and caramel, but the aftertaste had a cinnamon kick. Many around the table enjoyed its spicy sweetness. It was tad muddled for me on its own but I imagined – and Eduardo agreed – that it would transform a margarita into the stuff of legend.
At this point, I was starting to feel a bit dizzy and may have been singing out loud about mangos. I looked at my watch; I had a play rehearsal in ten minutes and begged Eduardo to release us.
“No,” he said firmly, pulling another bottle from his Mary Poppins-esque bag. “You can’t go until you have tried my baby.”
His baby with Mezcal, the little know but still much loved baby brother of tequila. Also produced from the agave plant but from different species, Mezcal is cooked underground and then matured for five to six months. As a result, it has a different flavour and smoky aroma that makes it a hit with whiskey drinkers.
I will level with you: it smelt like diesel oil. I was certain that one sip of it would make me go blind but I braved it none the less. It hit the palate hard, but then….it mellowed. It didn’t just mellow, it melted into an astonishingly sultry and smoky flavour, all peat and heat. It wasn’t quite an Islay but it wasn’t bad at all.
Full of tequila and no food, I thanked our hosts and literally ran to my play rehearsal. I spent a good portion of the night hugging the actors, telling them how much I loved them and pledging that after the play was finished, we’d all buy a cantina together and raise a goat called Brian.
While I’ve always liked tequila, I never knew just how much I was missing and I owe Club Burrito and the boys at Amathus a big thank you for opening my eyes to a whole new world of liquor*.
Tequila – it really does make you happy**.
*I’m well aware that while I am pleased about this, many of nearest and dearest will be sobbing and boarding up their windows
** The reason this post too so long for me to write is that I spent a vast amount of time trying to come up with tequila puns. The best I had was “Tequila mockingbird.” That’s it. That’s the BEST I could come up with, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with it at all. Please, share your own puns. You can’t do worse than me.