Living with a beer aficionado, I’m by no means a teetotaler, but I seldom feel compelled to drink alone. Which is why it’s freakishly odd to find myself on a Thursday afternoon with a selection of tequila samples in front of me, and no one but the dogs to share my thoughts with. How the hell did this happen?
I suspect I’m not the only person for whom the word tequila brings up bad memories; in my case a hazy night of shots followed by beer chasers at the Bovine in my wild and misspent youth, and truly the official worst hangover ever the next day. Not to mention the more coherent image of members of a rock band standing around in my kitchen, doing “body shots” off the near-naked chest of an under-aged girl who was supposed to be one of the people in charge of the music festival we were producing. Both events came with the forethought; “this is a bad, bad thing.”
But for most people, that’s what tequila means to them. For decades, there were only a couple of low-end brands of the Mexican liquor available in Canada, and outside of sweet drinks like margaritas, it was consumed with the sole purpose of getting shitfaced and/or laid.
Turns out there’s a lot more to tequila than that. Reposado Bar (134 Ossington Avenue) offers 28 different kinds of tequila, ranging from Blanco tequila which is the blue agave in its natural unaged state, to Reposado (rested) tequilas (aged from 2 months to a year in oak barrels) that end up with characteristics and flavour note often found in wine or whiskey, such as chocolate, vanilla or grass.
My samples for the day include the award-winning Milagro Silver (LCBO# 83444, $44.95/750mL) and Milagro Reposado (LCBO# 603191, $51.95/750mL), recently new to the LCBO, as well as two new flavoured tequilas from Sauza, a mango version (LCBO# 75366, $32.95/750mL) and an acai berry (LCBO# 75316, $32.95/750mL). And to my dismay, I’m suspecting I’m supposed to be sampling all of them straight. Except they’re very different beasts.
The Milagro tequilas are obviously meant to be straight sipping beverages. I go for the Reposado first after browsing the tasting notes in the press package, intrigued by promises of flavours that include chocolate and nougat. It doesn’t disappoint and if I had tasted this blind, I’d probably have guessed it as being a whiskey. This is nice stuff.
The tasting notes for the Milagro silver suggest peppercorn and agave, and while I’m getting the peppercorn, the first note that hits me is sweet and sugary, heavy with vanilla and nougat. I’ve only used agave syrup in cooking once or twice and the product I used was blandly sweet, with no specific notes of other flavours, so I’m assuming that this fantastic smell and flavour is created in the processing of the product. It’s smooth, with a grand sweet note and little burn, and I can see why this scored the Double Gold Medal at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits. This is not yer typical rock bar tequila, nosirree.
After the Milagro samples have me on the road to changing my mind about tequila, I turn my attention to the Sauza bottles. Sauza is a well-respected name in the tequila world, so I’m expecting something decent. The first mango-flavoured tequila in Canada and the first Acai-flavoured tequila in the world, these beverages are meant to be mixes, taking the place of popular flavoured vodkas. The press kit recommends mixing them with Sprite.
On their own, in straight shots, the acai flavour is burny and purple, like Barney the dinosaur on a bender (and I can smell it from a couple of metres away – it’s pungent!), while the mango smells too much like laundry detergent. Both labels clearly denote the use of artificial flavours, and the chemically aftertaste is obvious. But this is the kind of stuff the kids today go for, and realizing I’m not the target market for these particular products, I try each as a mixed drink.
It helps only marginally, and in both, the chemical aftertaste still comes through. The mango might be passable mixed with orange juice, but the acai just reminds me of a bad high school experiment with grape knee-his (grape soda and vodka), but sadder, because I’m not with a bunch of girlfriends giggling about boys, I’m here by myself, actually tasting what I’m drinking.
But maybe both sets of tequila are equally viable to their respective target markets. The flavoured versions will appeal to people in their early 20s who grew up with (and liked) blue soda pop, while the Milagro tequilas will be of more interest to fans of wine, whiskey and premium spirits with traditional processing methods and flavour characteristics that don’t resemble popsicles.
If I had to select one to grace my liquor cabinet, it would be the Milagro silver, but I still don’t think I’m much of a tequila person anyway, even after surviving my taste test and actually liking some of what I tried. At the very least, I need to stop spending my afternoons sitting around drinking alone.