Thursday, April 16, 2009

B.A.R. Comes to LA, Tequila Flows

In addition to being some of the coolest cats in the biz, the B.A.R. team is also one of the most knowledgeable assemblies of spirits aficionados imaginable. So, the excitement among the 40 attendees at an all day tequila immersion at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, sponsored by Partida Tequila, was palpable. Some of us have already taken the B.A.R. course and had an idea of what to expect. The uninitiated seemed unaware of just how much we would learn over the next 8-hours.

After mingling over a continental breakfast, Steve Olsen began the journey through tequila history, Mexican tequila-growing regions’ topography and geography. He ran through types of agave plants (there are literally hundreds) and showed photos of burros laden with 6 – 8 agave “pinas” sometimes weighing 200 kilos (over 400 pounds) each. Steve ran through methods of distillation and aging, and Paul Pacult also likened tequila to wine in that its “terroire” and the altitude at which the plants grow directly affects the final flavor of the product.

We launched into the tasting, starting with the unaged or “blanco” tequilas first. Words such as “green pepper,” “cilantro” and “lime rind” were used as adjectives. As we moved through the next 7 blancos and into the 8 reposados, descriptors such as “creamy,” “white pepper,” “earthy,” “licorice,” and “rosemary” came into play. When we hit a bad tequila (the team threw in a couple so that we could pick one out of a line up) aromas such as “plastic,” “medicinal” and “methanol” were descriptors.

Once we ran through 16 blancos and reposados, out came three spicy sangritas. The one they called “traditional” was made with pomegranate juice, orange juice, lime juice and habanero sauce. The next blended Cholula sauce, lime, grapefruit, tomato and orange juices, slat and jalapeno. Finally the Green Sangrita (from Green & Red in London) was my favorite of the three, made with pineapple, mint, coriander, lime juice, cane sugar syrup and sea salt.

David Wondrich and His Highness Dale DeGroff ran through some historic tequila cocktails and how to make them. The old-school and new-school Tequila Daisies (or traditional margarita) and the original Tequila Sunrise, which in a fancy Tijuana resort made popular during prohibition touted the drink as the “sure cure for colds.” After all that, well, we had lunch.

If you haven’t already had lunch at Whist, you should know that you’re missing out. And, in this case, the 4-course, tequila cocktail pairing lunch blows the 1950’s style 3-martini lunch out of the proverbial water:

Luscious scallops were paired with the Spicy Abbey (Partida Reposado, Lillet, fresh OJ, angostura orange bitters and pepper jelly). The St. Rosemary (Partida Blanco, St. Germain, apple and lime juice and fresh rosemary) was perfect alongside zucchini blossom with bellwether ricotta and charred tomatoes. The braised leg of duck with artisan chocolate mole and corn tamale came alongside a Holy Mole (Partida Anejo, Aperol, Madeira, crème de cocoa, barrel aged bitters with a Gentleman Jack rinse with a flamed orange peel.) Dessert featured a crisp plantain with chipotle ice cream and caramel.

How do you top a lunch like that? You go back in to the conference room and taste about 16 more tequilas. Only this time anejos and extra anejos. To be anejo, the tequila is aged in wood for 1-2 years. The “extra anejo” category kicks in after 2 years and lasts until 5 years in the barrel. It seems a crime to sip-and-spit them but, lets face it, if we drank them all, we’d have died from alcohol poisoning. And, that would mean we’d never get to enjoy another tequila cocktail again. That would be a shame.

Andy Seymour, Willy Shine, Aisha Sharpe, Leo DeGroff, Jacques Bezuidenhout and Damian Windsor prepared and demo'd cocktails for the group, as well. Even Gary Shansby, the President of Partida tequila was on-hand to share enthusiasm about the tequila category, in general. It was an amazing array of old-and-new-school talent, and we were all damn lucky to have been part of a wonderful and educational day. B.A.R. may be the most prestigious spirits training in the U.S. but one thing is for sure. These guys know how to have a good time.

And, isn’t that what cocktails are all about?

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