It wasn't until traveling to the Mexican state of Guerrero that I became interested in tequila, perhaps the most misunderstood spirit around. More than just a quick and not particularly tasty means to drunkenness, a 100% agave reposado or a three year aged anejo can actually be...delicious. So when I heard that Malo, a popular Mexican restaurant in Silver Lake, was launching a Tequila Appreciation Society with a tequila tasting, I signed right up. In addition to learning about some great brands and snacking on ground beef and pickle tacos, I caught up with Malo's Bar Manager, Rhachel Shaw, who shared a perfect margarita recipe along with her foolproof rules for tequila acquisitions. But first, a quick tour through some of the evening's highlights:
The second oldest tequila distillery, Casa Herradura was founded in 1870 at the Hacienda San Jose del Refugio in Mexico. In the 1960s, the company introduced the first reposado to the marketplace. (Photo by Alex de Cordoba)
Tequila Ocho is the only tequila to indicate both the "rancho" where the agave is grown as well as the year it is harvested. Similar to the production of a vintage wine, fields change annually and are selected based on which will yield the best agave at that point in time. These limited edition tequilas are all about the earth and it you can taste it with every sip. (Photo by Alex de Cordoba)
The select barrel reserve silver from Milagro Tequila was one of the cleanest flavors I tasted all night (served on the rocks with muddled mint, this might just be perfection). And this quality tequila is gorgeously presented in hand blown glass bottles. (Photo by Alex de Cordoba)
Azunia sources their certified organic agave from fields surrounded with pepper trees, accounting for the pepper hints in their platinum blanco. But the real star of the show was the anejo with notes of butterscotch and vanilla. Try it mixed with muddled strawberries and lime for a dynamite sipping experience. (Photo by Alex de Cordoba)
1. Don't go for the gold:
Any tequila labeled gold is what they call a mixto. Legally, mixtos can contain one or more of the following ingredients: caramel coloring, natural oak or encino oak extract, glycerin and sugar-based syrup. This is what most people drink that gives them the worst hangover of their life and makes them swear off tequila. Always make sure the bottle is labeled with 100% blue agave.
2. Ignore marketing:
Tequila has some of the most beautiful hand made bottles of any spirit. That being said, just because the bottle is beautiful it doesn't mean the tequila is good. The same goes for price. Don't discount a tequila just because it's affordable.
3. Experiment and ask a professional:
Probably the best way to pick a good tequila is to go to a bar and taste some. Ask the bartenders for help. If you can't do that, buy some airplane sized bottles and see which ones you like the best. That way you can try more without making the commitment of buying a full-size bottle. Try the different expressions (silver, reposado, and anejo) to see which you gravitate to. Silvers tend to be spicier, while reposados and anejos start to be more mellow and take on flavors from the wood they are aged in. See what you like the best.
Malo's Market Fresh Margarita
2-3 pieces of fresh fruits (use whatever is in season - anything from blackberries to blood oranges)
1/2 oz. agave nectar
1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 3/4 oz. Herradura Silver Tequila
Muddle the fruit, agave nectar and lime together. Add tequila and ice.
Shake and serve.
For details on upcoming events and more information on Malo's Tequila Appreciation Society, visit malorestaurant.com.
Photographs by Alex de Cordoba
Chef Speak is a bi-monthly column by LA-enthusiast Heather Taylor in which she explores LA's diverse and dynamic food culture, featuring interviews with Angeleno chefs of-the-moment, seasonal recipes, and rising restaurants.
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