For sports fans like me, this is probably the most boring week of the year. Football's done, pitchers and catchers have yet to report, the Winter Olympics haven't commenced, and we're stuck with dreary mid-season basketball and hockey. The best alternative I could think of to watching the Knicks lose yet again was rummaging through my liquor cabinet and seeing what turned up.
Post-rummage, I found myself with three bottles of silver, or blanco, tequila, about which I knew relatively little -- PaQui, Patron, and Tres Generaciones. What to do with this unexpected bounty? Well, drink it, of course. But how could I best get an idea of how they differed from one another? Not to mention figure out which one was best? I decided to hold a three-way throwdown -- a Battle Of The Blancos, if you will -- to determine the tastiest tequilas, with myself and a pair of seasoned margarita mavens as the judges.
Silver tequila, in case you don't know, is unaged, which is why it's clear as opposed to the cream-colored reposado and amber añejo tequilas. Without barrel aging to soften their rough edges, blancos are also a little harsher on the palate, and are better for mixing than for sipping straight. Nowadays, tequila makers encourage drinkers and bartenders to use their blancos as a substitute for rum in drinks like mojitos. I've had tequila mojitos, and they're fine. But I didn't feel like muddling mint leaves, and besides, after the '00s, haven't we all reached mojito saturation by now? I decided to keep it simple. Each tequila would be used in a margarita and would also be sampled neat.
After painstakingly creating the most uniform margaritas I could muster -- a precise ratio of three parts tequila, two parts Cointreau, and one part fresh-squeezed lime juice, served in a salt-rimmed glass -- we sat down for some serious tequila-ing.
First up was PaQui Silvera, a new tequila that first surfaced on the West Coast last year and will hopefully hit the rest of the country in 2010. I thought that it made a most refreshing marg, very light and fruity, with vibrant agave notes cutting through the Cointreau and lime. If you want a margarita where you can really taste the tequila, this is good stuff. My cohorts, however, were not as pleased. Too sweet, said one. A mushroomy aftertaste, said another. I guess you could call the results one thumbs-up and two so-sos.
Next we tried Patron Silver. In the '90s, Patron helped tequila emerge from the Cuervo-gulping ghetto in which it had been trapped in the popular imagination. The pricey stuff in the fancy bottle helped convince a lot of people that tequila was as sophisticated spirit in its own way as whiskey or aged rum. Today, sadly, Patron is belittled by tequila connoisseurs who have gone on to more exotic fare. I imbibed many a glass of Patron Añejo in my 20s, and still have a soft spot for the brand, so I was hoping Patron Silver would dazzle.
Alas, such was not to be the case. It's very clean, which can be interpreted two ways. If you like a margarita that goes down easy and doesn't call too much attention to itself, then Patron may be the blanco for you. But if you like to taste the agave and the overall complexity of the spirit in your 'grita, then Patron lacked a certain presence. And as one of my esteemed colleagues put it, "It gets less interesting as you drink it more." In the end, Patron received three fair-to-middling votes.
Finally, we got to Tres Generaciones Plata. Most people know of this brand, but not too many know much about it. Is it a mega-premium tequila with a price to match? Cheap swill for the frat-boy set? In fact, it's a highly regarded mid-priced tequila that prides itself on its unique triple-distillation process. Alrighty then -- bottoms up!
On first sip, none of us were particularly impressed. But with each successive quaff, the flavors opened up, revealing a rich, complex tequila that stopped just short of overpowering the harmonious blend of the other ingredients. Round One of the Battle Of The Blancos, also known as the Meeting Of The Margaritas, had gone to Tres Generaciones.
But we weren't done yet. After a bit of palate cleansing, we were ready to sip these babies neat, and taste what they were all about without the trappings of a margarita to hold them back. We led off once again with PaQui. Now, remember that an unaged tequila is not really a sipping spirit. That applies in spades to PaQui, which had a chloriney nose, a slightly rancid aftertaste, and a syrupy sweetness that covered up almost all of the alcoholic "burn." I still endorse it for use in margaritas, but definitely mix it with something before drinking.
The Patron, which seemed overly subdued in a margarita, really shone when consumed on its own. It's got a beautiful, light nose and a delicate flavor to match, with a slightly hot finish that reminds you it's tequila without making you run for the nearest lime wedge to suck on. Of the three blancos we tried, Patron Silver is the only one I could see drinking without mixers.
Not that the Tres Generaciones was unpalatable. It's a very dry tequila that lingers for a while on the palate, with a lovely nose of medium strength and a fiery burn that's just a little bit overbearing. It's not quite as refined as the Patron, but it's nothing for the distillers to be ashamed of.
At the end of the day, when our eyelids grew heavy, our gaits grew more wobbly, and our livers grew more alcohol-saturated, who was the winner of the first annual Battle Of The Blancos? The answer wasn't so clear cut. While none of the three made me forget about my favorite silver tequila, Chinaco Blanco (which didn't have a pony in this race only because their publicist never responded to my entreaty), I wouldn't kick any of them out of my next margarita. All three are priced in the $40-50 range and if you're a tequila enthusiast with the time and the taste buds, all three are worth trying out, at your favorite watering hole if not by the bottle. ¡Saludos, amigos!