It happens every year. I get a bunch of tequilas or mezcals or agave nectars or orange liqueurs in the mail. I think, well, this margarita-centric stuff doesn't fit with the in-depth exploration I'm working on of schnapps made in the greater West Virginia area, or the pastrami-flavored vodka review I have to write for next week. I'll leave it until Cinco de Mayo. Inevitably, before I know it, it's Cuatro de Mayo, and instead of writing about tequila or anything vaguely Mexican, I'm working on a piece about chocolate chip cookie-infused aquavit, or the best armagnacs to drink with Cheez Doodles.
So, without further ado, here's a quick little shout-out to some of the best tequilas and related products I've had the pleasure to sample over the last year, and to the PR flaks who faithfully remind me about Cinco de Mayo starting in, oh, November or so.
Here's to you, Casa Noble Tequila, whose blanco, reposado and añejo are all among the finest tequilas you can quaff. My favorite is the añejo, triple distilled and aged in French limousin oak barrels, with a damn near perfect balance of vanilla, agave and earthy/grassy flavors and a long, smooth finish that will leave you going "Aaaahhhhhh...." And the bottles are as attractive as the tequila inside is delicious.
Muchas gracias, Dr. Adolfo Murillo, creator of Tequila Alquimia, one of the best tequilas you've probably never heard of. Certified organic and housed in bottles made from recycled glass, Alquimia is both earth-friendly and mouth-friendly. The blanco may be the best I've tried all year, with soft anise and grape notes that make it delicious both in a margarita and sipped on its own. The reposado is a stunner as well, with strong vegetal, vanilla and pepper notes. And the añejo is simply out of this world -- soft and velvety, caressing your taste buds and doing everything but singing Mexican folk ballads softly in your ear. If you see Alquimia at your local watering hole or liquor store, don't hesitate. One sip and you'll be thanking Dr. Murillo too.
A hearty ¡ay, Dios mio! to Patron, the groundbreaking premium brand whose Gran Patron Burdeos will run you in the neighborhood of $500-700. Patron blew my mind and broke me out of the Cuervo Gold ghetto when I first tried it in the '90s. But after the distillery was moved in 2002, its quality and reputation suffered, to the point where it's de rigeur for serious tequila fans to either ignore or belittle the brand. This super-high end bottling, finished in vintage Bordeaux barrels and housed in stunning handcrafted black walnut boxes, has had its share of both ecstatic and horrific reviews. I'm closer to the ecstatic camp. It's definitely an odd one, with the Bordeaux barrels giving it flavors of dark fruits and more intense caramel notes than you'd find in a typical tequila. But of course, it's not supposed to be a typical tequila, is it?
Big Cinco de Mayo props to Milagro Tequila, who sent me one of the spiffier gift packs I've gotten in recent memory. The "World's Freshest Margarita" kit included a Boston shaker, a lime press -- essential for margarita making! -- Milagro's own Silver blanco tequila and agave nectar, fresh limes and a beautifully bound hardcover recipe book, containing recipes for margaritas and much more, in a handsome tote bag to carry it all. Is it the world's freshest margarita? Well, I guess it's in a tie with every other margarita made with fresh squeezed lime juice. But it's tasty, that's for sure -- Milagro Silver makes a fine margarita. On its own, it's got a lovely, herbal and slightly mineral flavor with a bit of citrus on the entry. As a mixer, it's full-bodied enough to stand up to whatever you throw in with it.
As for the agave nectar included in the kit, I much prefer sweetening my margs with orange liqueur (or triple sec or curaçao), which complements the agave in the tequila in a way that simply adding more agave in the form of nectar can't. Which is why I tip my chapeau to Mandarine Napoleon. Sure, it's French, but your margarita definitely won't mind. Most orange liqueurs use a neutral spirit base, but Napoleon, like Grand Marnier, uses a cognac base, which gives the whole shebang a much deeper, richer and more complex flavor. It also uses Sicilian mandarine oranges rather than the more traditional curaçao oranges. It's a liqueur, so it's a little sweet and syrupy when consumed on its own, but it makes for a mean mixer, comparable to Grand Marnier itself. And legend has it that this stuff was first created for Napoleon himself. Pretty cool, right?
Mixing rum and tequila? Sounds gross, right? But not if you flavor your margarita with Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb orange liqueur, which uses Clement's superlative rhum agricole (meaning rum distilled from cane juice rather than molasses) as a base. It's got a beautiful, zesty orange flavor that's lighter and less sweet than most triple secs, and a finish that's got a lot of wood as well as orange notes. I wouldn't have believed that it could work in a margarita... until I tried it. A big "¡Saludos, amigos!" to Martinique's finest.
And last but not least, a misty-eyed "Yo recuerdo, querido" to El Teddy's, the legendary and long-gone Tribeca watering hole. As a callow youth in the mid '90s, uneducated in the way of drinking for quality instead of quantity, El Teddy's opened my eyes to the magic of margaritas. Cocktails with fresh ingredients and premium spirits weren't as ubiquitous back then as they are today. To taste a 'rita made with fresh-squeezed lime juice and a tequila that wasn't Cuervo Gold -- and shaken in a shaker rather than frozen in a blender, no less! -- was an eye-opening and mind-expanding experience that will stay with me until the last sip of tequila crosses my lips. I miss that place to this day.
¡Tenemos que beber ahora! Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone!