What better day than Friday, 22nd July to celebrate tequila, being just two days before the United States’ National Tequila Day. OK, I have answered my own question there but I feel that Friday evening is far more conducive to celebrating anything than is a Sunday.
There is much more to tequila than meets the eye, or the tastebuds for that matter, with strict rules as to where, and how, it can be produced. It can only be distilled from the blue agave plant, not cactus as some would have you believe. A cactus doesn’t have leaves whereas an agave does. I also wouldn’t fancy squeezing the juice from a cactus, I have had enough Covid and flu jabs lately to put me off anything with needles.
The areas in which it can be made are also strictly defined by Mexican law, which says it can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and portions of four other neighbouring states. I bet that you would never guess that the city from where it originally came, near Guadalajara is called Tequila. No, neither would I. I have made a note to search Google maps for the towns of Gin, Vodka and Scotch when I have finished this article.
Like other spirits and wine, the terroir has a lot to do with the taste, as do the barrels in which it is matured, although it has a much shorter maturation period that other alcoholic drinks. If you are partial to shots and slammers, it also has a far shorter glass life as well.
Although Mexicans tend to knock it back neat, we, somewhat more refined drunks, consume most of it in cocktails, which, as I found after tasting a few unadulterated samples, is a shame as it has a lot going for it on its own. There was a marked variation in flavour between, not only the areas of production, but also the spirit stored in whisky casks and those only used for tequila. This also affected the colour, the first being a pale brown and the second, clear – Tequila Blanco.
This variation in taste is so distinctive that a main exhibitors of the evening, Tequila Ocho, which is one of the few Single Estate tequilas, displays the year of production and the Rancho i.e. the field in which the agave was grown, on the label. I obviously had to check this claim out and can verify its validity.
As with any festival or exhibition, each of the producers likes to claim that their offering is the best and so, not being an expert, I felt that I had to give them all a fair crack of the whip. I have to say that I was very impressed and I can see a bottle of the old agave juice joining the array in my drinks cupboard, although after five or six small tasters I was most attracted by the large glass water dispenser where I could keep myself hydrated – and sober(ish).
There were also several Masterclasses held in the old Tetley Boardroom, a very grand office worthy of such an august corporation. The one I dropped in on was a Mistressclass given by a native of Guadalajara, so someone who obviously knows what she is talking about.
I had a chance to have a chat with the lady who was delivering the class before the ‘students’ arrived so asked her about something which has been preying on my mind for over 30 years, the Mexican National Holiday of Cinco de Mayo – or 5th May in English. In 1989 I was fortunate enough to spend some time in San Diego, California which included the above date. You couldn’t move for mariachi bands and Mexican singers and dancers. Two years later I found myself there again, but this time decided to take the tram to the Mexican border and cross into Tijuana to experience the real thing. It seems that I had already done so as the Mexicans more or less ignore it. She – I apologise for not making a note of the lady’s name – told me that the holiday was to commemorate the defeat of the French at the Battle of Pueblo, but the repercussions were so bloody when the French took the city back, that the celebrations are very muted. One thing she did say, however, is that Mexicans go absolutely barmy on St Patrick’s Day. During the 1846-48 Mexican-American War, the St Patrick’s Battalion, comprising mainly of Irish immigrants to the US, were so appalled by the barbarism meted out to the Mexicans that they switched sides and have been revered ever since. So, if you go to Mexico in the spring, try to time your visit on the Irish holiday rather than the Mexican one! I’ll be having a pint of Guinness with a tequila chaser next March. As an aside, my research showed that the amount of beer sold in the USA on Cinco de Mayo is second in volume only to that of Super Bowl Sunday.
Of course, you can’t have a drinks festival without some appropriate food and that Leeds fixture Neon Cactus was there to provide their tacos. Exquisite.
I must say that I found the venue to be very conducive to the event, with the magnificent boardroom for lectures and the smaller tasting rooms providing an air of intimacy without being crammed. The main Tetley bar was open for those who had called for the normal Friday Social, as was the outside seating area.
I enjoyed this event tremendously and learned to broaden my horizons as far as tequila is concerned and take in versions other than a margarita on a hot day. It was also fun learning about the production of the spirit and the country from which it comes.
All photographs by Stan Graham