Category Archives: Tequila

Coming down from Mexico

A few highlights and personal notes from my press trip to Mexico to see Olmeca Altos tequila being distilled.

Monday, March 24:

Got up at 5:30am to meet a car outside the apartment at 6:15 to head to LaGuardia. After getting through security, I grabbed breakfast and settled in to wait for boarding. After I ate, I checked in with Jen. She told me the boy missed me, so I talked to him via FaceTime. It was my first trip away from the kids, so it was hard.

Landed at Houston Intercontinental. Named for a painter who was a third-rate despot, or maybe for his father. Not sure. Had a long layover here, so I wound up at Third Bar, in Terminal B. Decent fried-oyster po-boy. Microbrew from some local place, pretty good. Outlets underneath the bar for recharging phones and laptops? Brilliant. Good work, Third Bar. Have no idea when I’ll ever fly through Houston again, but I’ll look you up. I got yer digits.

Guadalajara. Flew in over mountains, lush valleys, massive lakes. Could tell just from the air that it was going to be a geographically stunning place. The airport is Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla International Airport, named for a leader of the Mexican War for Independence. Seems they know how to name an airport. We had an airport named for a leader of the American War for Independence. We renamed it for an actor who was a third-rate despot. So much for patriotism.

Nicely modern airport, more so than, ohhhhhhhhhh, LaGuardia. Customs and Immigration was smooth, quick, and friendly. Swapped dollars for pesos, grabbed my luggage, and met my group. We took a van ride to Arandas, home to the Pernod facility that makes Olmec Altos tequila, checked into the hotel, got cleaned up, had a couple of drinks, and went to dinner.

Tuesday, March 25:

Breakfast, and then van ride to distillery. I had seen something in a very early email from the trip organizers, mentioning something about a quad-bike trip to the agave fields. I assumed we’d bike a short distance to a nearby field. Nope. We took a two-hour scenic trip through Jalisco, across paved roads, gravel, cobblestone, dirt, dust, and mud. At one point, the convoy slowed because two guys up front nearly hit a cow who crossed the road. Dogs, most of them friendly, chased us a few times. We biked past a couple of fires burning in the brush right alongside the road. I took a turn without enough caution and nearly crashed into a tree. The worst, though, was near the end, when the wind kicked up hard enough to drive white dust into our eyes, blinding us even though we all wore safety goggles.

Lunch in the agave fields: tacos, grilled meats and cactus, chicarones, enchiladas. And Palomas, lots of Palomas. All done up in the Mexican way. In America, you ask for a Paloma and you get tequila, grapefruit juice (squeezed in front of you!), lime, sugar, a hint of salt, club soda. In Mexico, they use Squirt, tequila, a splash of lime, and pinch of salt. I like that version better, and not just because grapefruit fucks up my statins.

Back to distillery, and then to hotel for a long shower to scrub off the road dust. Then dinner. Place is called Taqueria Don Chepe. Inside two garage bays, nondescript, full of local families sharing platters of food. Amazing tacos, just stunning.

Wednesday, March 26:

Distillery tour. I’ve already written it up here. Lunch out, and then depart Arandas to return to Guadalajara. Long afternoon of resting, and then dinner and drinks.

Thursday, March 27:

Walking tour of Tlaquepaque, with a chill, charming open-air shopping plaza full of antique stores, boutiques, and galleries. The area is known for pottery and blown glass, but I got Jen a beautiful silver necklace, and for Mirabelle I bought a lovely hand-sewn shirt and skirt. (Julian got a toy-airplane set from the airport.)

We also toured a farmer’s market inside an old parking garage, where Altos’s brand ambassador, Daniel Warrilow, bought produce for a cocktail seminar later that afternoon. We left Tlaquepaque and went to a separate hotel, where the organizers had rented out the pool bar for the afternoon, so we could learn to make cocktails. I’ll have more on those cocktails in a later post.

Our last dinner in Mexico was at a place called i Latina Restaurante, serving Thai-Mexican fusion. Good lord. I mean, you might think that fusion is played out, and I might think that fusion is played out, but there’s nothing about i Latina that’s played out. The food was phenomenal, possibly the best of the trip. I had a Tuna and Scallop Tartare that was just amazing. On a very meat-heavy trip, to have such delicate seafood was a treat.

Friday, March 28:

Homeward. Bittersweet.

Behind the Scenes: Making Olmeca Altos Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico

I’ll have a longer post up later, with some personal reflections on what was a very delightful trip. But for now, highlights from my trip to Mexico are up at Serious Eats.

Please read it and click through the slideshow!

Note from the Author: On a recent press trip hosted by Olmeca Altos Tequila, I toured the Destileria Colonial de Jalisco to see firsthand how tequila is made.

The Los Altos highlands of Jalisco are known for their iron-rich red soil and high altitude: we’re talking about 7,000 feet above sea level. (Take that, Mile High City!) This is where Olmeca Altos tequila is produced, in Arandas, about two hours east of Guadalajara. The distillery, Destileria Colonial de Jalisco, is fairly modern, having opened in 1997 to handle production of Patron, which, thanks to a business dispute, was only briefly produced at this plant.

Passport Hell

In early January, my editor at Serious Eats contacted me about a press trip to Jalisco, to visit a tequila distillery. She had been invited, but the timing wasn’t going to work for her, so she wanted to pass along the opportunity to me.

Only problem was, the last time I was able to travel internationally was in December 2001, and I had let my passport expire since that trip. Oh, and I’ve lost it somewhere along the way, too. Well, that’s understandable. Since December 2001, I’ve moved — hm, let’s see — six times. You lose shit when you move.

Jen had a day off, and so I went to the Brooklyn Public Library’s passport office. This alone turned into a comedy of stupid because I forgot my checkbook. So I had to go to a bank to withdraw some cash and then to a pharmacy to buy two money orders, and then go back to the passport office.

I had to fill out the form twice, unfortunately. I was having the packaged addressed to my wife at work because mail delivery at our place is unreliable, and an active passport is not a thing you want to lose. But because I had Jen’s name listed as the c/o, and her firm’s name and floor number in the address, everything on the address lines got way complicated, and the workers in the passport office needed everything spelled out exactly in a certain way.

In the midst of all this hustle and shuffle, though, I managed to fill in the wrong address on the passport form. Not that I realized that, in that moment. So thinking everything was hunky AND dory, I came home.

And waited.

The passport office sent me an update at the end of January, telling me that my passport application had been processed. Then I got another email with a tracking number, telling me it was en route. It reached New York, NY, on February 8, and then nothing.

Went out for delivery on the following Saturday, and then it disappeared. No new tracking information on the website. After a week of no updates, I called USPS customer service. This was how I learned the passport had been misaddressed. It should have gone through the FDR Post Office on Third Avenue, but because the street address was incorrect (a 4 in place of a 6), it went to the Grand Central Terminal Post Office instead.

We had phone numbers for people at both post offices. One person called Jen to tell her FDR didn’t have it. No one ever contacted us from GCT.

Then the morning of February 26, I got a call from Charlotte, South Carolina. A woman left a voicemail saying she was from the passport office and my birth certificate had been returned to them, because it was also misaddressed. (That pesky 4, again.)

So the birth certificate went out after the passport but was returned to sender before the passport was. When I called back, she was very helpful. She readdressed the birth certificate, which I received a week later.

Then she said, okay, you still have five weeks before travel. That’s plenty of time for us to cancel the old passport and issue a new one, if we need to. So just wait a few days to see if it finally reaches you.

I called the main line for the passport office on Friday, February 28. I spoke to a different person who said, try going to the post offices to ask for a trace on the package.

I spent the better part of a Saturday morning bouncing between post offices while Jen stayed home with the kids. No luck.

The following Monday was March 3, one week ago. I called the passport office again, told them I had had no luck with USPS. The woman said, “Okay, wait a few days and then fill out a Statement of Non-Receipt of Passport and mail it to this address.”

Not even an hour later, a woman called from Charlotte again, asking for the latest on my passport. When I told her, she laughed and said, “Don’t worry about USPS or going to our site to download the form. I’ll email it to you, and you can email it back, or fax it. That’ll be much faster.”

Wednesday, I sent the form back to her via email, fax, belt, and suspenders. She called a couple of hours later to say, “We’re issuing you a new passport. It’ll go Express Mail. You should have it Friday or Monday.”

Passport arrived today, at Jen’s office, at the correct address. (Fuck you, 4.)

Oh, and someone apparently eventually found the old one at GCT, because it finally got returned to the passport office. Yesterday. Who knows how long it will take to get there?

La Rosita

At Serious Eats, I contributed a drink to a new feature, “The Best Cocktails We Drank in [a given month].” This previous month being April, it was April’s turn to be the given month. The remit was, pick a drink you loved, whether out or at home. We don’t really get out much, for several reasons, so it would have to be a drink at home. I chose something new, a drink I’d never had or made before. My comments on the site were …

“Reposado tequila, sweet and dry vermouth, Campari, and Angostura bitters combine for the La Rosita, a spin on the classic Negroni cocktail. I mixed this one up at home for a crisp springtime refresher. Tequila and Campari play very well together, making for an herbal, lightly bitter drink that highlights tequila’s agave flavor.”—Michael Dietsch, Cocktail 101 columnist

Now, the recipe:

La Rosita

  • 1-1/2 ounces reposado tequila
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Campari
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

For tequila, I used Espolon Reposado. For sweet vermouth, Cinzano; for dry, M&R.

Disclaimer: The Espolon and Campari were sent to me for review purposes by Campari America. I had never before had the Espolon and I quite liked it. I would consider buying it again, but I would consider other reposados before Espolon. As for Campari, I almost always have a bottle on hand, usually purchased with my own money. But to cover my ass, I probably can’t fail to disclose that Campari America sent me a bottle.

Photograph © Jennifer Hess

On Wings of Chickens

Time for something a little different.

For a while now, I’ve been a member of the website Food52, a collaborative site created by food writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs that highlights the recipes of home cooks. The idea is this: every week, the site runs two contests, each featuring a different dish or ingredient. Any site member can submit an original recipe. Hesser and Stubbs choose two finalists from the list of recipes; voting opens at this point. Any member can vote for one finalist. The winner receives a spot in the Food52 cookbook, which will be published by HarperCollins.

A recent contest called for Your Best Chicken Wings, and it was pretty open-ended: Korean-style, Buffalo-style, you name it. As part of the Food52 process, and to help foster a sense of community, Hesser and Stubbs invite members to test certain Editors Pick recipes. One of the chicken-wing recipes up for testing was for scrumptious sounding Longhorn Tequila Wings, by a home cook and small farm owner named Tom Hirshfeld.

The process is a little involved, but man, the results are worth it. First you brine the wings in a mix of tequila, lime zest, salt, and water. After the wings brine for about 90 minutes, you remove them from the brine and dry them on a rack in the fridge. Dredge them in a mix of flour, masa harina, chili powder, and other spices. Fry, and then toss in a dressing of tequila, onions and garlic, peppers, cilantro, and lime.

When I saw the recipe, I knew I wanted to make it, so I called dibs to test it for an Editors Pick. So I whipped them up as a Sunday app, and paired them with shots of tequila and sangrita. Oh my yum.

Longhorn Tequila Wings

photo by Jennifer Hess

The wings were great. I chose not to make them overly hot because frankly, I’m kind of a wimp with spicy-hot foods. I like just enough spice to know I’m alive, but not enough to wish I weren’t. Tom calls for them to be served with home-fried tortilla strips, which were addictive. The wings themselves carried the earthy sweetness of the agave juice, well balanced with the heat of the pepper, tang from the lemon, and piquancy of the onion and garlic. The masa gave the coating a nice tenderness, and it’s a grace note I’ll want to play with the next time I fry chicken.

Hirshfeld recommends pairing the wings with a Shiner Bock, in keeping with their Lone Star State inspiration, but I went with the classic tequila/sangrita pairing, and it was fabulous. I want to do this for a cocktail party some time.

Mixology Monday: A Simple Twist of Great

mxmologoOkay, kiddos, it’s that time of the month again! Mixology Monday! This month’s theme is a pip, Superior Twists. Our host this month is Tristan Stephenson of the Wild Drink Blog. The remit is simple:

This month’s Mixology Monday is all about twists on classic cocktails, that for one reason or another do an even better job than the drinks upon which they are based.

This could be as simple as a classic Margarita with a dash with a special touch that completes it, or maybe as complicated as a deconstructed Hemingway Daiquiri with a homemade rum foam/caviar/jus/trifle. It might be taking a classic like a Manhattan and using Tequila instead of Bourbon?

In that spirit (ho ho!), I’m offering up the Ruirita, a rhubarby twist on the Margarita. First, lemme give you fools the recipe, and then I’ll tell you how I came up with it and which unsuspecting dolts I thieved my ideas from. So!

Ruirita

  • 2 oz. tequila, blanco (make sure it’s 100% agave; I used Inocente–why? because I had a free sample and the bottle’s sexy, but also because it’s a good tequila)
  • ½ oz. Cynar
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • ¼ oz. simple syrup
  • 3 dashes Fee’s Rhubarb bitters
  • 2 drops orange flower water, to rinse glass

Shake over ice. Rinse chilled glass with orange flower water. Pour the flower water into the sink, and fill glass with love.

Smile.

Now, I had been thinking about this drink over the weekend, trying to decide what I wanted to do. I remembered the rhubarb bitters Jen bought me a few months ago, and how I hadn’t really used them much. I then started thinking how I’d like to try them with tequila. Off to Google!

I didn’t find many rhubarb/tequila pairings, but the first thing I found was from Jacob Grier, who put up a drink with tequila, port, rhubarb bitters, and Benedictine. That sounded fabulous, JG, but wasn’t the way I was headed. (Jake revisited the tequila/rhubarb bitters idea in his post for this very MxMo, so be sure to check it out on Jacob’s site. Again, we’re headed in different directions, but he’s done a man’s job with his drink.)

However, Jacob did point me in another direction that I wanted to explore–Cynar artichoke bitter liqueur. Yes, artichoke and rhubarb. Jacob’s post mentions a drink that Robert Simonson discussed last year. Robert’s quaff inspired me to try Cynar and rhubarb, but it was my own warped psyche that led to the tequila, rhubarb, and artichoke delight. Jen and I love Cynar, and I don’t think I make enough opportunities to play with it.

The final element that I cribbed from another blogger was the orange flower water. A post on Kaiser Penguin has a drink with a glass rinse of the rhubarb bitters and the flower water. I wanted the orange to hint of the orange liqueur you normally find in a margarita, but orange flower water can quickly overpower a drink, so I chose the rinse. Rinses tend to engage the nose more so than the taste buds, so that seemed the way to go. However, I wanted the rhubarb bitters incorporated into the flavor of the drink, so I didn’t use them in the rinse.

So, I built the Ruirita in a mixing glass, stirring and tasting. I added the tequila, Cynar, lime, and bitters first, not wanting to deviate far from a traditional margarita. But Cynar’s more bitter than a Cointreau or another triple sec, so I needed a bit of sweetness. I didn’t want to add another liqueur–frankly, with tequila, Cynar, rhubarb, lime, and orange, there’s already enough going on with the drink’s flavor. So I added a touch of simple syrup, to provide neutral sweetening.

What resulted was a pretty damn good drink, I thought. Well balanced and complex, but not confused. The flavors melded very well. Jen was surprised, in fact, and wondered what demon had infested my soul to suggest this particular combo of ingredients. (That’s exactly the way she put it, by the way: “Man! What demon haunteth thou so that you blendeth these ingredients in yon tail of the cock! I shalt call upon the church for an exorci— Hey, this is pretty good. Wow.”)

So, try it please, and let me know what the hell you think.

(Photograph by Jennifer Hess.)

The Dave Initiative

For a couple of years now, I’ve had a subscription to Esquire magazine. I don’t have much use for a lot of the stuff in there. The celebrity profiles are often silly (April’s is by a writer who “prepared” for his Ben Affleck interview by going on a four-day bender in Vegas, trying, I suppose, to out-man’s-man the man’s man he was interviewing). I don’t share Barry Sonnenfeld’s gadget fetish. And who can afford a $9,700 watch, anyway? Probably no one I want to know.

But the one can’t-miss feature every month is Dave Wondrich’s booze column. I usually read that as soon as my issue arrives each month. And the April column’s a beaut. Dave shares with us a formula for creating new cocktails. (It doesn’t seem to be on the Esquire site yet; when I see it, I’ll edit this post and link out to it.) I’ve now mixed up three different drinks with it, and I have to say, it’s a keeper. Here’s the idea: you start with your base spirit: gin, whiskey, rum, tequila, whatever you want. Add fortified wine (port, sherry, vermouth, you name it) and a splash of liqueur. Top with two dashes of the bitters of your choice. Here’s the basic recipe.

The Basic Cocktail

  • 2 oz. spirit
  • 1 oz. fortified wine
  • 1 tsp. liqueur
  • 2 dashes bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

DSC08492As I said, I’ve done three drinks with this already. The first drink I’m not sharing here, not yet anyway. It’s a gin drink, and I want to enter it into competition at the Mixoloseum‘s Beefeater edition of Thursday Drink Night, on March 26. I’ll post the recipe after that evening. The second attempt featured Kilo Kai rum as the base, and I used Wondrich’s exact proportions.

Bitter Regret

Stir and strain. Photo, at right, by Jennifer Hess.

This was a delicious drink. Enough body from the port to match the spice in the rum, and the cherry flavor was really subtle. Tasty, tasty stuff. The next drink, however. Enh.

Not Quite Right

  • 2 oz. Inocente tequila
  • 1 oz. Martini & Rossi bianco vermouth
  • 1 tsp. St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 dashes Angostura orange bitters

This drink was too sweet as formulated. I think the bianco’s just too much for the tequila in these proportions. Worse, though, is that the St.-Germain just disappeared in it. I added a touch more tequila, and it balanced out well with the vermouth, but I think I need a drier vermouth for this and perhaps a little more St.-Germain. Still, though, this has potential. I’ll have to work on it further.

Overall, this was a fun experiment with a versatile basic recipe. I’m eager to try more combinations out and report back to you. I already have some ideas in mind for bourbon or rye, and I’d love to play with a smoky scotch in this.