So after spending a delightful evening sampling a variety of Mexican liquors last Wednesday, recounted here are my digested impressions on the event known as the Spirits of Mexico festival, along with photos I took that night.
I began the night at the Mezcal from Oaxaca table, with a sampling of Espiritu Lauro, a 40% alcohol, copper pot-distilled spirit from San Agustin Amatengo, Oaxaca. Its mild sweetness enriched by faint smoke made a good re-inroduction to this spirit, as I’d not tasted a mezcal in a long while. Tasting this, I struggled to recall why in fact that was so; I quite enjoy them, and certainly will not again go so long between sips.
For contrast, a helpful associate named John poured me a sample of Mezcal Real Minero. Clay pot-distilled and made from four varieties of agave plant (Espadin, Largo, Barril, and Tripon), this one favored more intense smoke notes to which subtle fruity notes were secondary. At about 46% alcohol, it obviously tasted hotter than the Espirito Lauro, though never felt harsh on the palate, and its finish lingered pleasantly enough to make it one of my favorites of the night.
Mezcal from Oaxaca sponsored one of two informational seminars I would attend that evening. The first was on mezcal, its history, and how and where in Oaxaca it is produced. The second seminar, hosted by Milagro Tequila, would speak to the spirit’s versatility, would explore said versatility through various cocktails. But for now it was time to move on. With approximately a dozen tables present and at least a half-dozen spirits available at each station, I had a lot more ground to cover. Pacing, and all that.
The SX Liquors station was my next stop. There I had the pleasure of sampling two tequilas, two vodka, and two rums, all from Mexico, and speaking with company CEO and co-founder David Knight about each spirit.
At risk of having my ignorance show on a subject I admittedly don’t think about that often, I’ll confess that prior to this evening I hadn’t realized Mexico also produces rum and vodka. A thorough education awaited me on the matter however, and it was delicious, particularly poured over ice.
Standouts at this table for me were the SXcalypso rum (for the way it all but demands inclusion in your next batch of mojitos) and the SXnegro, a 96-proof vodka distilled from sugar cane and rested in añejo oak casks before bottling. The oak aging adds warm, woody flavor notes that were enjoyable on the rocks, and promise to add depth to any cocktail. Of the two tequilas tasted, I favored SXchachacha, a honey-and-lemon-infused treat I could sip at length despite my historical failure to find flavor-infused liquors all that impressive. SX liquors have presented me with a rare exception to that assessment and I could not be more pleased at the contradiction.
Many items I sampled that night would come in the form of cocktails utilizing the Mexican spirits being showcased.
At the table for Qui Tequila, notable for being the world’s first platinum extra añejo tequila and for bringing home the Gold Medal at the 2013 Spirits of the Americas Competition, I first sampled the tequila solo. Its flavor was warm and woody, faintly buttery with vanilla undertones.
I was then invited to sample of a cocktail called a Spirit of Qui, which was among the better mixed drinks I had that night. Utilizing housemade hibiscus syrup and aromatic bitters among other ingredients, it maintained a good balance of the sweet, tart, and astringent, given the presence of several big flavors. This cocktail, unlike a number of others I sampled, avoiding falling into the traps of either cloying sweetness or undrinkable sourness.
Another great cocktail, my unrivaled favorite of the event, came to me from the Milagro Tequila table. Called a Dark Side, it brought together the sugar of fresh orange, the spicy heat of ginger syrup, and other ingredients to create a cup of sweetened flame that could have been my preoccupation for the remainder of the night. If I hadn’t been working. Professionalism!
At the station for Suerte Tequila, after individual samplings of its blanco, añejo, and reposado varieties, I tasted an Amigo Viejo, which I was told is a variation on a classic cocktail called an Old Pal. Suerte tequila is produced in the highlands of Jalisco, a thing that is significant for the fact that generally speaking, highland tequilas tend to be sweeter in taste and bouquet than their lowland counterparts.
This, because blue agave grown in highland locales are typically larger in size and sweeter in flavor and aroma. The cocktail was not one I could imagine ordering often (a bit too sugary for my tastes,) however the tequila used to create it is one I may soon have to purchase, along with one other that I’ll get to shortly. Add to this the bonus of my learning I apparently favor sweet highland tequilas over more herbaceous lowland ones, and it adds up to a veritable cocktail of valuable discoveries (I promise that is the sole terrible pun I will permit myself in this article.)
Moving on, Herradura Tequila‘s mixologist, an affable gentleman in an immaculate black suit and tie, offered me a memorable bit of trivia as I sampled his pourings of silver (with its decisive fruity flavor notes), reposado (nutty and woody), and añejo (with hints of smoke and leather among its flavors). The reason the Herradura bottle is adorned with an inverted horseshoe, he explained, is that an upright horseshoe symbolizes good luck. According to the makers of Herradura, luck is greatest when their tequila is being poured. And because one must at least partially invert a bottle in order to pour from it, their logo’s inverted horseshoe becomes a harbinger of good times soon to roll.
I chased that bit of newly-acquired knowledge with a sample of the smoothest tequila blanco I tasted all evening, courtesy of Olmeca Altos. This brand is notable for being a 2012 and 2011 Gold Medal winner at the Beverage Testing Institute/International Review Of Spirits. Fresh-tasting with hints of citrus and a long finish, Olmeca Altos Plata is coming soon to a liquor cabinet near me.
I ended my expedition at the table of 1921® Tequila. Here I encountered a thing I never had before. Aside from the standard tequilas we all know and adore, they also make 1921 Tequila Cream, a velvety libation that combines cream with distinctive 100% Blue Weber estate-grown agave, flavored with vanilla and cinnamon. The result is a luscious texture, full bodied-sweetness, and a surprisingly understated alcohol element that makes it ideal for enjoying with desserts or simply for chilling and sipped straight.
It seemed the perfect way to conclude what had been quite an enjoyable time. So in avoidance of ingesting enough alcohol to compromise me, it was at this point that I departed.
All in all, I had a great evening, met some wonderful people, and discovered several wonderful brands of Mexican spirits. The chance to enjoy some wonderful light fare (see the menu below) in accompaniment with good drinks and the camaraderie of like-minded drinkers is something we should all leap at whenever we have the chance. I’m glad to have leapt. Here are the brands that served me my most memorable sips of the night.
And here is the menu of delectable bites great and small, that were shared with everyone who attended the NYC Spirits of Mexico Festival 2013.