In the past five years or so, tequila has experienced an upswing in popularity that defies prediction. Once the boozy choice of collegiate party animal shooter games, and relegated to single-use status in the margarita, the agave spirit has risen to a place not only of respect, but adoration. The primary reason for this is the emergence of artisan styles entrenched in the terroir of the land on which the agave is grown.
With craft bottlings that offer single-sourced agave plants and a range of styles from blanco (typically un-aged) to reposado (rested and aged ) to añejo (extra aged for at least one year), tequila has become the cocktail spirit du jour in the Los Angeles bar community.
We sought out some favorite selections by local bartenders, whose choices strongly reflect the sophistication now seen in this infinitely complex spirit.
Nick Meyer (Petty Cash Taqueria, Director of Operations, Soigne Group)
Nick Meyer, who spends a good deal of time behind the stick at the Petty Cash Taqueria, favors the over-proof (higher alcohol), Highland style of Tequila Cabeza, which is made by the 86 Company. When the guys at 86, which was started by a group of cocktail industry big wigs including Dushan Zaric and Simon Ford, set out to make spirits, they consulted bartenders as to what they wanted. Cabeza is one of four spirits they produced, and it's become a bartender's favorite. "The raw characteristics of the tequila show through," says Meyer, "and the 86% proof shines through in cocktails nicely." Higher proof means better flavor delivery, allowing the sweeter, more floral qualities of this Highland tequila to explode, particularly in popular tequila-based drinks such as the margarita and the paloma.
Josh Goldman (Acabar)
Josh Goldman's current favorite tequila is Dos Armadillos, one that many bartenders favor. "It has a great mouthfeel and an incredible floral bouquet," he says, "including fresh lemons, cinnamon, bananas, white pepper, anise and red plums. Such great complexity adds depth of flavor to any tequila cocktail."
Christine Wiseman (Pour Vous, La Descarga, No Vacancy)
Christine Wiseman gets a kick out of telling customers that Tequila Tapatio is not related to the hot sauce of the same name. Once she gets past that inevitable question, she explains that she considers this her newest go-to brand because of its heritage family recipe, which is from the legendary tequila-making Camarena family; it's also just started being distributed in the U.S. This is a perfect example of the recent flood of new tequila brands, many of which have never been distributed here.
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123 Organic Tequila Diablito Extra Añejo
Jason Eisner (Gracias Madre)
"I'm in love with Tequila Uno Dos Tres," Jason Eisner says unapologetically. Eisner not only appreciates founder David Ravandi's pioneering techniques of slow maturation and extended aging, but also the underlying history of the brand. "The plants are estate-grown on the same ancient volcanic soils that once sustained the Aztecs," he says. Eisner describes the Diablito Extra Añejo much as you might describe wine, another terroir-driven product. "In every glass you can taste the iron-rich soil of Tierra Roja. The nose reveals deep vanilla notes, along with plenty of fresh black pepper. Flavors are a seductive melange of deep vanilla, racy spices, and chewy agave all in harmony. The body is rich and creamy, and the finish surprisingly long-lasting, offering citrus-focused tartness and plenty of bite." Cheers.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book "Gin: A Global History." Her book "The 12 Bottle Bar," co-written with David Solmonson, will be released on July 29. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.