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Articles & Essays

"Tip up the tequila, turn loose the trouble"

Published 10/03/10
News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)

I’ve been invited to a birthday party which will have a Mexican theme and offer lucha libre masks for the guests. Ordinarily, I’d be concerned about an evening that includes wearing a Mexican wrestling mask.

But tequila will be involved, so concealing my identity might be a really good idea.

Things just seem to happen around tequila.

Why that is, and why it’s not as prevalent with bourbon, vodka or Pink Ladies, I don’t know. Actually, I do know why in the last case. One Pink Lady is more than you’ll ever want in your entire life.

Ask around, as I did, and you will hear some interesting tequila-inspired tales. The names have been concealed to protect the guilty.

From a friend: “Everyone probably has stories of learning to ride a bike and stupid things they attempted. Tequila is like that. Except most bike accidents don't end in nudity and jail. Just sayin'.”

Another friend had a tequila encounter in a Nogales restaurant: ”The owner started coming around with a bottle and pouring free shots. Afterwards, my friend and I reeled down the street, shopping. For a long time, I had the armadillo-shaped clay planter that I bought because I thought it was the cutest thing I ever saw. Plus, it reminded me not to drink free tequila.”

A reputable acquaintance in the medical field was involved in a flaming facial hair incident many years ago in college when he had Senor T as a study-break guest. Whether it was mustache or beard has been lost to the mists of history.

And there’s my own epic tequila story. It was about 30 years ago. The couple in the other side of the duplex where I lived threw a birthday party. Lime, salt and tequila arrived. So, of course we relocated the festivities to the front yard, which we set on fire.

Why? You would have to ask that question. Truly, I have no idea, except that tequila was there.

Obviously, drinking alcohol to excess is dangerous to yourself and others, and you should never do it when operating a motor vehicle. Or a lighter. These stories make the point pretty well, especially if you have a goatee or care about your landscaping.

It’s like tequila makers know their product has a shady rep, because they’ve been trying to shine up the image. Tequila is being treated like single-malt scotch, as a sipping elixir for the cultured with its own nuances, far distant from crowds shouting “salt, salt.”

One tequila maker is circulating a recipe for Thanksgiving turkey in which the bird is rubbed, marinated and injected with a total of three cups of tequila. Between the tequila and the tryptophan, your guests would be asleep before you slice the pumpkin pie.

 At the Association of Food Journalists conference I attended recently, Al Lucero, author of three books on tequila and owner of Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen in Santa Fe, guided us through a tasting of four tequilas the way that a Napa winemaker might have had us sniffing Pinots.

We tasted four tequilas: Jose Cuervo Mixto, El Tesoso Silver, El Tesoro Reposado and El Tesoso Anejo.

Lucero explained that Mexican authorities closely regulate tequila, and it must be made, at least in part, from the agave plant. The plant is mashed and strained, fermented by natural yeast and distilled twice. That’s for silver or white tequila. It can then be aged on oak for anejo or reservado designation. If it’s labeled mixto, the liquor  is a combination of agave and something else.

The Jose Cuervo we tasted was a combination of 51 percent agave and 49 percent cane sugar dissolved in distilled water. The others were 100 percent agave. The reposado was aged in oak barrels for at least 60 days, and the anejo, for at least one year.

The anejo was smooth, but I didn’t like it. There was too much woody flavor and aroma for me, although, considering my history with tequila, I should have liked the whiff of  smoke. The reposado, with a milder woodiness, and silver were my favorites.

Even margaritas have gotten fancier. Lucero’s restaurant offers more than 100 different margaritas, including a $40 one. It uses a brand of tequila that’s three types blended by a French-trained cognac blender and aged in oak, plus a special 150th anniversary Grand Marnier.

Being older, wiser and more frugal, I don’t anticipate adding to my stock of tequila legends at the birthday party. All the same, those lucha libre masks probably burn pretty easily, and I think a fire extinguisher would make a great birthday gift.




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