And last year, at friendly-rollicking Garduno’s Mexican restaurant at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, area manager Steve Sluder poured me a snifter of Herradura Seleción Supreme – at $300 a bottle retail - simply because he thought I should try it. Aged for five years, I can still recall the gently roasted liquid agave coating my throat.
Indeed, these are not your bite-off-the-cork fiery spirits of Sergio Leone westerns. And while Mexico’s premium spirit continues to be popular in cocktails, more super-premium tequilas are finding their way into snifters, so that this crisp, agave distillate – both aged and unaged – can be appreciated to its fullest. There are currently over 250 different tequilas, and our industry knows that an ever-sophisticated public is willing to experiment.
Diego’s, Las Vegas
Diego’s, a chic, upscale Mexican restaurant at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, artfully displays over 100 different tequilas on shelves facing a bar that reflects Mexico’s infatuation with bright colors offset by subdued lighting.
Bartender Cesar Gomez, who has been with Diego’s since they opened, combines showmanship with skill, especially when pouring Porfidio “Barrique” at $325 a shot. This super-aged añejo is one of the most expensive tequilas in the world, having been matured in French oak barrels for substantially more than the one-year minimum required by law. But in spite of its Las Vegas locale, you don’t have to be a high roller to enjoy a cocktail at Diego’s.
“By far our most popular drink is the Diego Margarita,” says Diego manager Matt Holder. “The difference between Margaritas here and what you might get somewhere else is that the Diego Margarita is made with fresh lime juice – in fact, we squeeze it fresh for every drink, and instead of a regular orange liqueur, it’s made with Citronge by Patrón. There’s no sweet & sour or Triple Sec, which a lot of other people use. And we make it with rock candy syrup.”
Another Diego’s favorite is their Bandera Mexicana, which consists of three shot glasses, one filled with Penca Azul añejo, one with freshly squeezed lime juice, and the third with Sangrita, a spicy house-blend of Clamato and tomato juice. “The idea behind the drink is to represent the colors of the Mexican flag,” says Holder, “First you drink the tequila, then the Sangrita, then the lime juice.”
Photo #175 – MGM Grand’s Diego manager Matt Holder (r.) watches as Richard Carleton Hacker (l.) field tests one of the restaurant’s many tequila cocktails.
BOA, Santa Monica
Further proof of tequila’s popularity can be found in the crowded, party-like atmosphere of Boa’s in Santa Monica. Great food, such as Kobe Corn Dog appetizers and a 36 ounce off-the-menu Porterhouse, are complemented by a carefully-honed list of 35 super-premium tequilas, with cocktails as unusual as some of the menu entrées. Boa’s Cotton Candy Kiss consists of Gran Centenario, fresh lime, a hit of Chambord, and is topped off by a huge fluff of house-made wild cherry cotton candy.
“Even if someone doesn’t like tequila,” says Boa General Manager Brent Berkowitz, “we’ll suggest Aguavero, a tequila-based liqueur at $14 a glass, and make a convert. When people ask what it is, I say think of tawny port meets Madeira meets Cognac. Naturally, we serve it in a snifter.”
Indeed, it’s ironic that tequila, first distilled by Aztecs over 500 years ago, should become one of the trendiest drinks of the 21st century.
Photo #506 - Boa manager Kevin Travis (l.) and Boa General Manager Brent Berkowitz (r.) with Richard Carleton Hacker as he toasts them with Boa’s Oaxacan Martini, consisting of Patrón silver, Citronage, and hand extracted lime.
Richard Carleton Hacker’s Top Tequila Picks
Patrón Silver - rich and thick, the best of pure agave distillation.
Corazón Reposado – double distilled and very floral. Caramel, oak and cedar, perfect with a Montecristo or H. Upmann cigar.
IMAGE TO COME, please leave room for bottle shot
Casa Noble’s Añejo - aged in French oak for five years; nuances of vanilla, violets and orchids; like sipping a garden.
Don Eduardo Silver – triple distilled, evoking citrus and candied yams. Try it with a 1997 Vintage Macanudo.
El Tesoro Reposado – complex and full, with a crackle of electricity. Made the old-fashioned way, in brick hornos (ovens).
Frida Kahlo Reposado– named after the late Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s most flamboyant and talented artists, this is one of the newest tequilas. Aged in Jack Daniel barrels, it is full of buttery almonds.
Tezón Blanco – another newcomer with a hauntingly distinctive taste. Estate-grown agave crushed in lava rock grinding wheels, imparting a crystalline spicy hint of mint and wood bark.
Corzó Silver – triple distilled, using twice the agaves as most other distillers, gives it a full, rounded taste.
Photo #1819 – Five of the world’s most elegant tequilas are Don Julio 1942 (a three year old añejo in an agave leaf-shaped bottle that commemorates the year Don Julio Gonzales started his distillery), triple-distilled Corzó, in an elegant minimalist bottle by designer Fabien Baron; Porfidio “Barrique,” in an individually numbered “cactus” bottle hand blown of the same glass used for laboratory beakers; Tezón, with cast metal bands on the bottle that symbolically tell the story of its slow roasting, lava rock methods; and Gran Patrón, a triple distilled “aged” blanco that comes in a numbered cut crystal decanter signed by the distiller.
#1879 – These three classics define the best that tequila has to offer, whether drinking it straight or in a cocktail. They are perfectly matched with medium-strength cigars such as the Fonseca Sun Grown from the Dominican Republic, or the Nicaraguan Tatuaje with its double binder.