Michael on the scene, ready to present to you the fourth installment of our 101 Achievements Tequila Tour 2013. (To bring yourself up to speed, you can review some tequila basics by reading our tequila tasting primer, and by reading Act I, Act II, and Act III of this agave-addled adventure.)
As per usual, some legal babblings: while Verde‘s ginormous (to use the legal term) wall of tequila inspired us to undertake this suite of achievements, we are not being paid by Verde to write about said wall, and we buy the vast majority of our drinks ourselves. However, from time to time the awesome staff or the restaurant’s owner, Jeff, will buy us a taste, and in those cases, we’ll make a fuss about it, blah blah blah.
And now for our scheduled programming.
What usually happens in an Act IV? Well, Ophelia drowns herself, MacDuff’s kid is murdered — in short, shit gets real. Our Act IV holds no exception. In this entry we decided to go a little off the beaten path to write about infusions and sexy, smoky mezcals. Plus, I eat a scorpion. And a worm. And we film it. (Real enough for you?)
First, though, infusions. Infused tequilas are really not all that different from infused vodkas — different spirit, same process. They’re generally lower alcohol than regular, 80-proof tequila — sometimes up to 40 or 50 proof lower. A number of different brands make infused tequilas, so we’ll start with one of the more interesting ones: Gran Centenario Rosangel.
As we’ve written previously, Gran Centenario is a very good brand, and their infusion is right on point. It’s reposado tequila infused with hibiscus and finished in port barrels, so it’s got a floral character with hints of semi-sweet chocolate. In a word, delicious!
We also had some fun comparing various coffee-infused tequilas. The three we tried were Patrón XO Cafe, Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa, and Avión Espresso. The XO Cafe was surprisingly balanced, kind of like hazelnut coffee, but with a little saltiness. The Dark Cocoa had that character, but with a little baking chocolate thrown in the mix, like when you eat semi-sweet chocolate chips. (This one was our least favorite.) The best of the bunch had to be the Avión Espresso, which tasted just like a real espresso. The infusion shined through the best here. It’s a delicious additive to a cup of black coffee, or wonderful to sip on its own!
We tried the rest of Verde’s infusions in one fell swoop. Going in favorite-to-least order: the 1921 Crema de Tequila was basically Baileys with a little more bite; the Agavero was floral, though not intensely so — but a little too sugary for us; the Cuervo Cinge (which was gifted to us by bartender Hannah) was cinnamon-infused and, to quote my wife, “tasted like an 80s Night Rumplemintz hangover uggggghhhh.” As for the 1800 Coconut? Well, imagine doing a body shot off a Venice Beach bunny wearing too much suntan lotion. On second thought, don’t.
As you can see, the infusions were rather hit or miss. As a group, we enjoyed the mezcals quite a bit more. If you’ll remember from the primer, mezcals are the sparkling wine to tequila’s champagne. They can be produced in 7 states in Mexico, the main one being Oaxaca (pronounced wuh-HAH-ka). By law, mezcals are all 100% agave (even the crappiest of the bunch). They also follow the same aging classifications as tequila — though you’ll often see the silver/blanco mezcal labeled as Joven, or young. And as for the worm or other creepy-crawly you often find in the bottom of a mezcal? In most cases, they’re basically just a marketing ploy. It’s kind of a shame that the gimmick is what most folks think of when they imagine mezcal; the flavors of mezcal are more than interesting enough on their own.
Let’s start with Los Nahuales, which shows a lot of what we love about mezcals. Made entirely by hand, it’s got great range. The joven has a cool smokiness that dives down your throat, bringing along a hint of leather and clean rubber. The reposado has a little more alcohol on the nose, and a slightly diesel quality that my wife noted as “summertime tractor pull.” The añejo is surprisingly smooth, with a little mesquite undertone, like when you inhale while making a S’more at camp.
Ilegal is another great brand of mezcal (and one we keep stocked at home now). The joven again has a little bit of rubberiness, with some minerality and a whiff of tar; the reposado brings flavors of applewood, and leaves you with an impression of a wood-burning stove — smoke, wood, and metal). The añejo was actually our least favorite of the bunch, with it having some copper and saltwater flavor — or, as Fox put it, “not different enough from the joven for me to get any sort of boner over it.”
The Scorpion mezcal became another one of our favorites. According to Fox, the joven was “pretty chill, like hanging out at Bruce Springsteen’s mechanic shop.” Which is precisely what I meant when I described it as having a sultry smokiness and surprising smoothness. The repo had a smoky caramel flavor, with a slight greasiness; the añejo reminded me of smoked sheep cheese, with a hint of rubber.
And, of course, at the bottom of every bottle of Scorpion mezcal, you’ll find one of these:
And what happens when you finish a bottle of Scorpion at Verde? Luckily for you, I soldiered through to do the research.
So yeah, the scorpion in the Scorpion ain’t so great. It’s honestly like chewing a piece of mezcal-soaked gristle.
This flight is made up of two expressions of Wild Shot, which is Toby Keith’s mezcal (I’ll let you decide whether that’s a plus or a minus), and two tastes from the really nifty Del Maguey line. The Wild Shot wasn’t so bad, actually — the joven had some smoke, rubber, a little gunmetal, and the repo was like a more sanded down, polished version of the joven — although my wife also picked up hints of burning cedar, and “Jason Voorhees interrupting your coitus.”
The two Del Magueys were both very interesting. You see, Del Maguey is a brand that distributes “Single Village Mezcal,” in which they partner with old-style producers in remote villages, and then they name each of their mezcals for the village in which they were produced. They can be kind of polarizing, because they all have a ton of personality and some unusual flavor profiles. In this flight, we had VIDA, which had a stony flavor with a little touch of sandalwood, and Tobala, which had a combination of nectar and campfire smoke.
Here we have another Del Maguey flight, containing Chichicapa, San Luis del Rio, and Crema de Mezcal. The Chichicapa started out fairly light, developing salty and cedar smoke tones, with rubber on the finish. The San Luis del Rio was smooth with cool smoke (are you noticing a theme here?), with some clean minerality on the finish. The Crema de Mezcal was kind of an outlier. It’s actually San Luis del Rio mezcal with some agave syrup added in, and for both of us, the syrup just overpowered the positive traits of the mezcal itself. The sweetness pushed past all else; it was like boozy cotton candy.
To round out our Del Maguey experience, we tried the Santo Domingo Albarradas, the Pechuga, and the Minero. The Santo Domingo had a clean, fresh rubber taste, sort of like brand new tires; it was the most in-your-face of the trio, but the least complex. Pechuga had a lot going on — Fox found it to be rubbery and creamy, with some hickory; while I got something like axle grease with an oily scent. I honestly don’t know if I liked it or not — but it was really fun trying to pick out what the hell was going on while sipping it. As for the Minero, it had tones of spicy pepper and charcoal, with a slightly floral quality floating above it.
We also had the opportunity to do a tasting of a few mezcals from the Wahaka Mezcal line.
We tried three of the five mezcals produced by Wahaka — Espadin Joven, Reposado con Gusano, and Madre-Cuishe. The Espadin Joven had a quasi-industrial character. It was smooth, but with rubber and diesel. It gave me the mental picture of a well-functioning machine. The Madre-Cuishe had mesquite, oil, and a scent like dying embers, with a touch of citrus as well. I saved the Reposado con Gusano for last because it has the most interesting backstory. Con gusano translates to “with worm” — here, though, the producers consider the worm to be more than a gimmick, but rather essential to the production process. They use worms as filters to take out impurities and roughness — and apparently, to impart the spirit with aphrodisiac qualities. What’s the end result? An almost scotchy mezcal, with flavors of peat, tires, leather, smoke and ash — Fox described the experience to be like “having a cigarette in my old favorite boots.” So yeah, it’s pretty sexy.
For this final mezcal flight, we ran the quality gamut. (Or should I say gauntlet?) The El Buho, in addition to having one our favorite bottle designs, also had one of our favorite flavor profiles. We found a lovely combination of wood smoke, candy, sweet corn, and baked goods. The Sombra is another scotch-esque mezcal, with a kind of syrupy quality, run through with smoky peat. As for the Monte Alban? Oof.
Michael’s note: spice, earth, plastic, ugh.
Fox’s note: this tastes like the weird closet at your grandpa’s house.
I’d recommend against drinking it, and even more, I’d recommend against finishing it. Why? Because at the bottom, you’ll meet a new little friend.
And when you meet a worm…well…
So, yeah, while a scorpion is crunchy…a worm is explody. I hope you’ve learned from my suffering.
And that brings us to the end of our survey of infusions and mezcals. Within the next week, I’ll return with the final installment of our Verde Tequila Tour, in which we finally conquer Verde’s wall. Tune in soon!