The Tragic Story of Tequila Hunting in Spain

“Thinking there’d be a good selection of Tequila in Spain and also being disappointed is the most American thing I’ve read today. We don’t deserve our birthday this year”

– Reddit User, July 2nd, 2022, in response to my post of this story.

The comment made me do three things. One, realize the author was right. Two, take down the post in shame. Three, repost it as written on my Tequila site. Because I am American, I came by my foolish opinions organically, and as an American, I also stubbornly stand by them, even if I no longer support them.

ORIGINAL POST

First I must make two disclaimers. One, I was not in Madrid or Barcelona. Two, I know that Spain is not Mexico, but I thought I might do well to find some rare or at least hard-to-get bottles when there.

Why did I think that? One reason was that prior to arriving, I found, through wine-searcher.com a very rare bottle of “Unico,” an 85+ reviewed brand Tequila Matchmaker at a store in Madrid. (Well, the blanco was reviewed, I didn’t know there was a Repo or Anejo but Repo was the only one available, see picture below).  It was $30 a bottle. And it is DELICIOUS.

Secondly, at my first night in the hotel, I noted the Tequila Ocho (European 8 bottle) in the bar I was staying at. “Wow,” I thought. “That’s a good sign and a great brand of Tequila.” Thinking there might not be as many hoarders in Spain as in America, I allowed myself to get excited about Tequila-hunting.

I further thought “I bet Spain is full of great Tequila finds.” This was WRONG on several counts. First, I found no ‘liquor stores’ per se. There are stores that sell wine and spirits, but not surprisingly, they offer mostly Spanish and European wine. The spirits they do sell are those used to mix with wine, to add to sangria, or to have for an aperitif.  

Typical of most stores in Malaga: Jose Cuervo dominates.

Tequila was not well-represented at these stores. After continually finding only Jose Cuervo or brands that I (and TMM) had never heard of, I did more research and I found that tequila and some other spirits are sold in Supermarkets and Department Stores in Spain. So I found my way to El Corte Inglés, the biggest department store in Europe (according to Wikipedia). 

Nice looking display, if quality of tequila is not your aim.

This department store has a world-class supermarket inside it, as well as a huge gourmet department near the top floor dedicated to candies, hams, chocolates and such.   

The Supermarket display is topped with the words “Tequila,” but they could not even fill four modest shelves with Tequila. As you can see in the picture, the “T”, “L” and “A”s are lined with other spirits (Vodka and Rum).   This Tequila section featured brands such as 1800, Epsilon, Don Julio, Herradura and the ubiquitous Jose Cuervo, which is EVERYWHERE I went in Spain.  Plus, some Mezcals and a bunch of budget brands I had never heard of but in reviewing did not seem worth buying and carrying out of the country. 

Entering the Gourmet shop, you are immediately assaulted with a Patron display of about 50 boxes and bottles and a Dos/Once Mezcal display.  Making my way to the Tequila section I was again disappointed to find Patron, Don Julio, Mezcals and some budget brands. 

Finally, I saw that on my way home I would have a layover in Madrid and thought “I bet the duty-free shop in Madrid will have some cool bottles of Tequila.”


Wrong again. And so back to America I go, certain to continue my Tequila hunting there.

Looking the greatest Tequila Cocktail for Memorial Day? Look no further

IMG_6971Back in 2009 I had the good fortune to eat at a restaurant called Hungry Mother, in Cambridge, MA (which has since closed) and I was literally stopped in my tracks by this incredible mixed drink. This is notable since I don’t like mixed drinks and I like my tequila straight.

The drink was simply called “Drink #57” and basically tastes like a delicious, refreshing lemonade, which is not what you would think from looking at the ingredients! You might immediately conclude that it would taste bad, because the ingredients call for mixing sour lemon, beer and tequila.  But if you love lemonade, you will love it.

I loved this drink so much that for months I tried to reproduce it home. When I realized I couldn’t, I knew I would have to ask them for the recipe. Rachel at the Hungry Mother thoughtfully provided the recipe:

DRINK # 57 (Hungry Mother Cocktail)

Fill High Ball glass with ice and build:

  • 3/4 oz Don Julio Tequila
  • 3/4 oz Becherovka
  • 1.5 oz Sour Mix (equal parts fresh squeezed lemons and simple syrup, which is 1 part sugar to 1 part water)
  • Roll once ( one stir )
  • Top with Ale – we were serving it with the Smutty Nose Star Island Single, but now have changed that to Mayflower Brewing Golden Ale … not sure which you had, but any bright ale would serve the purpose.

Robert’s 57

Of course, Hungry Mother is a great restaurant and they have professional bar tools and everything.  I found that nearly the same drink could be made by using the three ingredients in the picture:

  • Patron Silver Tequila
  • Stirrings Sour Lemon
  • White Harpoon UFO

In a tall beer glass, add tequila and sour lemon in a 1:2 ratio, whether you’re using a 1.5 oz jigger or 1 oz shot glass. Top with beer.  Mix!  (I am no mixologist)

That’s it!  Thanks Hungry Mother, and if you’re in Kendall Square, check out their new restaurant, State Park (for take out during the pandemic).

Brilliant Blancos!

Brilliant blancos (and Dobel, which is clear, but a reposado)

Brilliant blancos (and Dobel, which is clear, but a reposado)

Excuse this picture, it contains Maestro Dobel, which is not a blanco, but a reposado that’s been double-distilled, and so is clear (sort of the opposite of a Joven).  However, its crisp, clean taste and clear appearance mean it is often confused for a blanco at a bar.  On the store shelves you can see Dobel has a collection including a reposado ‘classico’ that is not clear and blanco that is not as tasty.  They also have a Humito, which I have not had, but seems like a Mezcal (smoky flavor) they are calling a tequila.  The Diamante though, is a great starter for anyone who is not familiar with Tequila, because it is so smooth. Likewise for Tequila Cabeza’s and Villa Lobos.  These are great starters pre-food because they are simple, have a snap, little burn and a nice aftertaste.

Extraordinary Añejos

Some of the best tasting tequila ever concocted.

Some of the best tasting tequila ever concocted.

I have written about the ArteNom tequilas and it should be noted that while every bottle they produce is worth buying and drinking, especially their Anejo, the Clase Azul Añejo is so crazily delicious that it might knock ArteNom off its throne.

You may know Clase Azul from its unique blue and white porcelain bottle and its best of class reposada.  The anejo, which is prohibitively expensive, even more so than an extra añejo and not easy to find, is a special bottle that likely deserves the extra effort and attention.  Their website does a good of explaining how they make the tequila and how ‘every bottle is a one-of-a-kind work of art. That just tells me that art-haters who are budget-conscious tequila lovers should have an option of getting it in some plain bottle, too.

Did I say it was prohibitively expensive? If you’re not sure you want to go on the journey, I recommend you try the reposado (about $85-$100) because it is a good reposado (except for artenom) that you will find.  Once you’ve savored that, and your mind is blow that is another level of smoothness you could get to, you might want to embark.

And then, if perhaps you hit the lottery, you can seek out the $2,000 bottle of Clase Azul “Ultra” that is aged for five years and each bottle, according to their website, “features a 24k gold label and is hand-painted using pure liquid platinum by Mexico’s most talented artisans. Adorned with the signature Clase Azul agave medallion in .925 Ley sterling silver, each bottle is truly one of a kind!”  So if your stimulus check is burning a whole in your wallet and you love tequila and precious metals, this is the one to get!  But don’t forget to have me over for a taste when you get it.

The Joy of Extra Anejos

Extra Anejos more often than not, are worth the $$.

Extra Anejos more often than not, are worth the $$.

Even if you don’t know about all the kinds of tequilas there are, you probably have discerned that there are different colors of tequila, and that the one you buy is probably called ‘white,’ ‘blanco’ or ‘silver,’ because you have purchased it for mixing.

I am no expert, just a tequila-lover, but I have found that every ‘class’ of tequila is different. That is, knowing the ‘type’ you like may not regularly result in a good tequila drinking experience.  And while blanco, reposado and anejo have very mixed results, I have found that Extra Anejos, most often, though not always, are pretty reliable.

The thee pictured here: Diabolito, Tapatio Excelencia and the Arette Gran Clase are among best tequilas I have ever tasted.  They are all very very smooth, and not at all viscous (a bad quality in any drink but chilled Sambuca).  They are deliciously nuanced drinks, have little burn and finish with warm, caramel notes.

These rich, well constructed tequilas are great if you are trying to win over people who have been scarred by a Cuervo or alternate Joven tequila, or fans of good Rums or Bourbons.

These are sipping tequilas.  They should not be mixed and while it’s fun to shoot, it does deprive you of the pleasure of enjoying it slowly and purposefully.  They cost between $100 and $150 (and sometimes more) and so that’s another reason not to shoot them.

The Diabolito is part of the organic 1-2-3 series which are all excellent and deserve to be in your liquor cabinet.   I am not a regular buyer of other Tapatio tequilas but their blanco is fun. I am surprised at how much I love the Arette because I really do not like their lesser grades— they even have a $23 bottle that is very close to Jose Cuervo (especial) and that is not good.  Once again, the label ‘extra anejo’ does not guarantee a great drink, but I can tell you about three that are worth every penny.

 

 

My Five Tenets of Tequila

These aren't really tequilas but I think they make the point: cheap yellow (often "joven") is to be avoided, no matter what your budget.

These aren’t really tequilas but I think they make the point: cheap yellow (often “joven”) is to be avoided, no matter what your budget.

If I told you how many times I was at a liquor store, in any state, lingering over the tequila section, assessing my choices of blue agave weber drinks, trying to discern between the promising labels, pretty bottles and half-remembered reviews which one I should get, when my operations would be disturbed by a single person, usually on a cell phone, asking someone which tequila that should get. I know they don’t love tequila, they don’t tequila, and no matter what, they will be consuming it in a way that is likely in conflict with best practices (i.e. with some sugary mix). It is precisely because of these situations that I have been forced to write about what I would tell them.  I call them the five tenets of tequila:

  1. KNOW YOUR TYPES. You should know what you like, even if you don’t know tequila: there are some that are closer to a vodka, some closer to a rum, and some closer to a scotch.  Their are five standard variants (blanco, joven, reposado, anejo, extra anejo) and then stuff that is kept locked behind glass that you have no business looking at anyway.
  2. PRICE MEANS ALMOST NOTHING. There is no discernible connection between the cost of a tequila and its quality. I have had some amazing $28 bottles and some terrible $100 bottles. That said, the yellow Jose Cuervo is always terrible no matter what the cost is.
  3.  YELLOW IS CHEAP AND CHEAP IS BAD. The ubiquitous Jose Cuervo that I, and maybe you, drank in college, is not representative of all tequilas and should be avoided at all costs, even as a prank. No amount of mixer will make it taste good or mitigate its effect on your body.  You may also traumatize a group of people for years to come from enjoying tequila.  Many “Joven” types of tequila have stuff added, or have bad stuff not taken out. Besides yellow, if it’s on the bottom shelf, comes in a gallon size, or has other flavors added to it (cinnamon, coffee, mango) avoid at all costs.
  4. NIGHT OF TEQUILA DRINKING? AVOID MIXING.  Every human is different, but mixing tequila and other alcohol beverages results in a sub-optimal experience. Some pair nicely (like beer) but others not so much.  Experiment at your own risk.
  5. BE A STRAIGHT SHOOTER.  I know there’s no accounting for taste, but with the wide world of tequilas out there, there is every reason to find one that you can sip, drink with a little lemon/lime or soda/water on the rocks, or shoot straight. Many different bottles require a different treatment.  Skip the margarita, which adds unnecessary calories, and blocks the true savoring of the tequila.

Why Should I Like Tequila? For All You Skeptics— Posted on National Tequila Day, July 24 2016

Patron Tequila Silver, Blanco, Patron Bottle

The first tequila I tasted that did not make me recoil in horror and reach the protection of a pile of salt and a wedge of lime.

About 10 years or so ago, my brother and I found ourselves a bit outside Philadelphia, at a celebration honoring my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary.  Flying with young families is a tiring thing and our wives and children had taken to bed at an early hour, leaving us at about 9:30pm in strange city with no car and very few ideas of what to do– the rest of the family was not due until the next day.   So we retired to the bar at the hotel, which happened to be a Bennigan’s (or something very much like that).

I asked him what he was drinking.  He is a spirit enthusiast, and is always furthering his own knowledge of different ones, though I believe Scotch and Rum are favorites.  On this evening he said “Tequila.”  As nearly everyone would have done at the time, I recoiled in horror at the memory of the paint-thinner like gold substance that had left me and my college roommates flattened of affect, dizzy and ill of constitution after a night spent with the drink.   The whole idea of the lime and salt seemed like lipstick on a pig (and in actuality, better, because at least pigs are made of bacon).    Seeing this look he sought to reassure me.  “No, it’s better now.  They have high end Tequila.   He ordered two neat glasses of Patron silver, whose brand was unknown to me (and I suppose, hundreds of rap stars) at the time.

On tasting it I did not spit as in a double take.  The flavor was smooth, cool, and refreshing.  Based on what I thought it would be, I was surprised at the mild and restrained quality of its agave flavors.    It was like discovering you like Jazz– a creaky door opens in your mind where you realize you might have judged a thing too harshly, too quickly, or based on a poor candidate for its entire cannon.

Since then I have discovered not just that I like Tequila— and certainly it seems my timing makes me part of the tequila revolution—but that it might be my favorite spirit of all.  Previously I had been consigned to some version of a blended scotch, or vodka with some juice but tequila had a flavor that I actually liked—a bit of lime and ice were enough, and eventually no lime at all was necessary, and the salt stayed where it belongs- in the shaker.

I suppose the epilogue is that I feel strongly enough about the spirit to actually write about it, during a time when there is very little in any day to do so.   So it may not be often, but it will be passionately felt.  So today, on what is apparently National Tequila Today,  I wish you a responsible and happy celebration.   I am likely to have a glass of Arte Nom 1580.

The Winner and Still Champion- ArteNOM Seleccion Tequila

IMG_6145Of all the tequila I have had, far and away, the best, at any price range, is the Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion.   As I understand it, the tequilas are numbered following the casks they are aged in, which include Sherry and Port casks.  The numbers do not stay the same, as their current blanks are 1549 and 1579, which followed the infinitely superior and now out of stock 1079 (pictured, above).   The Blanco is smooth, crisp and surprisingly delicious.  The Reposado, which is usually my favorite in any tequila line has a delicious carmel-like taste.  The Anejo is the crown jewel, a superior sipping tequila that should be enjoyed slowly and likely after dinner.   For fans of tequila, you cannot go wrong with anything in this line.  These are in my opinion, after sampling many different tequilas, the finest spirits available today.   If you want to serve me tequila, please have this in your cabinet.