Tequila Crash Course – Part III: Tequila and Food
Tomas Estes, owner of Tequila Ocho and long-time industry veteran, wrote in his recent book The Tequila Ambassador:
"I had an awakening in 2002, during a visit of 40 tequileros accompanied by Mexico's then president Vicente Fox. They were in London at the Royal Academy of Arts for the opening of the art exhibition "The Aztecs". Afterwards, at my restaurant, the 'tequileros' were proudly sharing their own tequilas. I noticed pitchers of cola and ice going out to some of their tables. I thought they were refreshing their thirsts with this but, as I soon observed, they were mixing their most treasured bottles with the cola and enjoying themselves thoroughly in the process. I had not thought to mix fine tequila with cola – and still don't – but who am I to question their customs?"
Sometimes, when we become interested in a foreign culture, we take the customs of other countries, glorify them, pretend to understand them better than the people who customarily practice them, and then realize we've completely overblown them into something ridiculous that no longer resembles the original. Wine and spirits appreciation is the perfect example of this phenomenon. Over the years, a mindset has materialized in America that somehow equates purity with true connoisseurship – as in all fine spirits must be enjoyed neat without any water. We assume that this is how the professionals do it. But when Lou Palatella and I went to Mexico this past Spring, we drank tequila and Coke, tequila and Squirt, or tequila and soda the entire time (which you can see in the above photo) because that's what the tequileros were doing. That's how the distillers in Guadalajara enjoyed their tequila and we were their guests. Why is that so surprising to people?
That's not to say that we never sipped tequila while we were in Mexico, or that a simple glass of tequila was never enjoyed or savored, it's just to say that not every experience with tequila, or any spirit for that matter, needs to be reverent. That's why last night, at our favorite hot spot in San Mateo, K&L customers and staff got together to enjoy our new Campeon tequila with a fine meal. We had bottles of the new blanco on the table, we had grapefruit Jarritos and Coke bottles to mix with, and we had buckets of ice – just like we had experienced in Guadalajara and much like Tomas Estes described during his experience with the tequileros. The goal wasn't to be authentic or act like Guadalajarans, but rather to continue the exploration of this week's topic: to show that tequila is not only similar to wine in terms of production and terroir, but that a bottle of tequila can be also enjoyed like a bottle of wine – you can pass it around the table, pour a shot to sip on or make a refreshing Paloma, and enjoy your food simultaneously. If you don't know which bottle of wine to open with your fajitas, maybe you shouldn't open a bottle of wine at all!
David Suro, who I did the podcast with this past Monday, is also quoted in Tomas Estes's book as saying:
"For me, to drink tequila is always a feeling of being festive, being open, getting close to people, relaxing...I always feel I can last longer and be in control of myself longer from drinking agave spirits compared to other spirits. You have all of the buzz without the discomfort. You can be more coherent and have more fun."
While it's great to appreciate tequila's complex and distinctive taste, enjoyment is not always just about flavor. Sometimes it's just about getting your buzz on! Sometimes it's simply about having fun. Actually, it should always be about having fun.