Sometimes, sipping splendid tequila is all the day needs for sunset to fall the way it should. And the guy who may best know tequila in these parts is Julian Cox, the Rising Star winning mixologist at downtown's Rivera restaurant.
After opening downtown LA's Roy's in 2005, and tiring of mixing Red Bull, vodka, and cranberry juice at hipster bars in Hollywood, Cox met with Rivera Chef John Sedlar in November 2008. He remembers the conversation.
“I said, 'John, I know you're doing some amazing Latin food and there are no burritos on the menu. So I'd like to do something equally amazing at the bar and not put any margaritas on the menu'.”
Sedlar (Bikini, Abiquiu) happened to own an agave field in Mexico, so the two had a meeting of minds. You won't find the tequilas you can buy at the corner liquor store on Rivera's shelves. Look instead for Partida Blanco, which is 100% agave; the very floral Tequila Ocho; golden-hued reposados like Forteleza and Siete Leguas, which offers hints of cinnamon, vanilla, and butterscotch; and several 3-year-old or better añejos.
“There are highland and lowland tequilas,” Cox says, stemming from where the tequila-giving agave is grown. “Lowlands can generally have a lot of great earthiness, a lot of spice. Highland tequilas can be a lot more floral, a little more sweet. And there's a beautifulness in both.”
Soil matters, too. “Many of these agaves grow over 4,000 feet elevation and those agaves are in dirt that deal with extreme heat and cold, much like you see in wine country. The flavors will change because they strain to grow.”
So, if you walk into Rivera, plant yourself in one of the special 'tequila chairs', and ask Julian Cox to pour you something, it might look like this. “We make a drink called a barbacoa. It's unlike a margarita, which is Cointreau, lime, and tequila. The barbacoa is made more like a Brazilian caipirinha – shaken and dumped with chipotle, ginger, and lemon, and garnished with beef jerky.” Beef jerky. It may be the only bar drink you can order as an appetizer.
Steve Julian is the Morning Edition host on 89.3 KPCC. Hear part of his conversation with Julian Cox on KPCC's Offramp.