Posts Tagged ‘Mexican Music’

One rainy evening in San Miguel, (and believe me, many of them were rainy) it was suggested that we take refuge in the warm bar called Berlin and undertake that tequila tasting I had been talking about.  By way of background, to be called tequila, the product must originate from the region of Tequila, where it is made from the blue agave plant in a time-consuming process. Anything with over 51% agave can be called Tequila, but the higher the agave content, the better the product and the more expensive the bottle. But is the extra cost justified?   Connoisseurs of the fiery Mexican drink will tell you that you get what you pay for:  more expensive tequila should taste better, smoother, more complicated and nuanced in flavour. 

There are over 950 brands of tequila but I have neither the time nor the liver to conduct an exhaustive survey so we took a simple approach to the question.  We ordered a pair of roughly equivalent tequilas, served straight up in shot glasses, tasting in sequence from least expensive to most. 

Honestly, it was all a bit lost on me. I don’t think tequila will ever replace fine Scotch whisky or premium bourbon in my liquor cabinet. However, some folks in San Miguel sip it all night in small snifters, and report feeling no ill effects the next day. I cannot say the same about an evening spent with Glenmorangie!

However, in a country where beer is the ubiquitous beverage of choice, which I don’t drink, and house wine tends to err on the side of plonk, tequila is a good choice for an evening out.  Frankly, the best part of the tequila tasting for me (except for the charming company) was the sangrita. It is a traditional accompaniment to premium tequila, meant to heighten the appreciation of the agave flavour, by sipping alternatively from each glass. It is made from a spicy blend of tomatoes or tomato juice, orange and lime juices, onions, salt and hot chili peppers. It is vaguely like sipping a Blood Mary with the liquor in one glass and the tomato mixture in the other, and it is really appealing.

 At the close of our evening, our intense concentration was broken by a gentleman from a group sitting across the bar who shouted “OK, enough already, which was the best?”  Apparently, our little experiment had attracted an audience.

So here’s the verdict: the best tasting tequila was indeed the most expensive:  Don Julio.  The next best was actually not Tequila at all, but a premium mescal:  Jaral de Berrio  Made of 100% agave, and aged for about four years, this beverage had a smoky flavour that these two scotch drinkers found appealing.

 Since mescal does not have the cachet of aged tequila (it is commonly associated with college binges and dodgy worms lurking in the bottom of bottles) it will always cost less than premium tequila. Think of the relationship between Armagnac and Cognac. Despite the name mescal, it has no psychedelic properties, and indeed, in the north of Mexico, they drink it before breakfast as an aid to controlling diabetes and hypertension.  Somehow I think my good doctor might be skeptical. 

But there is really only one way to drink tequila or mescal for that matter. You find your way late to a dark, dingy cantina in Mexico, where the doors swing open like in an old-time Western. Brush the crumbs off the battered chairs, ignore the decades of grime ground into the carpet and order a round of tequila and sangrita. The corners are dark and the air smoky and there will be at least one couple dancing close and another kissing as if they were on life support. If you are very lucky, the music will be old-fashioned Mexican western songs of love and loss, strummed on an acoustic guitar by a handsome man who wears a Sombrero and sings in a rich baritone. Mix the music with impromptu sing alongs by the mostly Mexican audience, really filthy jokes (they have to be really profane if I understood them in Mexican) and good-natured heckling from the floor and you have the makings of a fine evening with tequila and friends. Salud!

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