Try some high-quality tequila Splendido’s pairing dinner this Friday
Special to the Daily
It’s been almost three years since I traveled to Tequila for a visit. This quaint town in Mexico’s western state of Jalisco is known for its production of the famous spirit, and like most tourists who venture to Tequila, I had come to sip the nectar straight from the source.
The distilleries run through and around the town, but the majority sit on the west end, on expansive land that’s sloped and covered in rows of blue agave. The hills surrounding the town are dotted with the native plant, and though blue agave looks modest in scale from a distance, approaching one reveals that some of the older stalks stand upwards of eight feet high.
The beverage known as tequila is really a variety of mezcal, a distilled alcoholic spirit made from any type of agave plant in Mexico. To be considered tequila, the product must be made either solely or mostly from the Tequila region’s native blue agave. Any tequila labeled as 100 percent blue agave tequila must be distilled entirely from Blue Weber Agave grown in the specific zone of Tequila and several areas around it, and it must be bottled in these specified areas as well.
Some of the smaller distilleries I visited, such as Tequila Arette, La Tequileña and Tequila Fortaleza, have been family-owned for generations and pride themselves in using 100 % blue agave in all of their tequilas. We were always greeted by the owners, or a whole lineup of generations of family members, who shared the stories of their spirits and offered opinions on how the mass production of tequila has diluted the amount of blue agave used by many large-scale distillers.
Mitch Wolf is an international brand ambassador for Tequila Fortaleza, and I recently spoke with him about tequila and an upcoming paired five-course dinner with Fortaleza Tequila & Tequila Ocho Dinner at Splendido Restaurant in Beaver Creek.
“As with anything of quality the ingredients and process are of the utmost importance,” Wolf said. “At Tequila Fortaleza, owner Guillermo E. Sauza uses only three ingredients: ripe agave, yeast and water.”
Legally, you’re allowed to use young or immature agave, Wolf explained, but by doing so you don’t let the natural flavors and characteristics of the plant manifest which only occurs in the last several months before their natural life cycle comes to an end.
“You’re also allowed to add up to one percent flavoring to create the taste of a maturely harvested plant and still call your tequila ‘100% agave,’” Wolf said. “This is a common practice with larger producers but never with Fortaleza.”
While industrialization is common, if not the norm in modern tequila production, when I was in Tequila I saw how Fortaleza still uses a brick oven to cook and prepare the raw agave, as opposed to an autoclave pressure cooker. Fortaleza also uses a volcanic stone wheel to crush the baked agave to extract the juice, rather than a metal roller mill. The agave is fermented in open wooden vats, as opposed to concrete or stainless steel, and the stills are hand-made small copper pots rather than giant columns or stainless pot stills.
Brian Smith, spirits specialist with Classic Beverage Company, said that in each stage of the tequila production process there are opportunities to choose efficiency over flavor. Most modern, marketing-company-distillers choose efficiency at each point.
“The richest, most flavorful tequilas are produced on the more traditional end of the spectrum, and because they are less efficiently produced, they are generally more expensive,” Smith said. “There are exceptions; most of the most expensive tequilas on the market are in fact the most cheaply produced, using diffuser and additives. A diffuser is a method by which sugars are extracted chemically, using volatile phosphoric and sulfuric acids, rather than by roasting to activate enzymes.”
This enables huge international companies to make tequila out of immature agave, bottle with flavors and additives, and market consumers who aren’t away of the difference.
“There are plenty of massed produced tequilas that are enjoyed regularly by many but the distinctions between brands often come back to the quality of the ingredients and the process once the agaves reach the distillery,” Wolf said.
Friday’s dinner at Splendido will give guests an opportunity to ask more detailed questions of people intimately familiar with the families and the processes, Wolf shared, and to learn about the differences in regions and their respective flavors and styles.
The dinner will use two brands to explain a little about the history of tequila and its evolution away from traditional agriculture and processing and toward industrialization and commodification.
“We will be showing Fortaleza, a brand steeped in the heritage of traditional Tequila production, from its heartland in the town of Tequila; and Tequila Ocho, a brand which highlights more intentional and sustainable agricultural practices, as well as the difference between agave grown in the Tequila Valley and the Highlands of Jalisco,” Smith said.
If you go …
What: Fortaleza Tequila & Tequila Ocho Dinner
Where: Splendido at the Chateau, Beaver Creek.
When: Friday, Aug. 30, 6 p.m.
Cost: $95 per person, not including tax and gratuity, for five courses and tequila pairings
More information: For reservations, call Splendido at 970-845-8808.
Here’s what will be served at the dinner.
Baja Striped Bass Paloma Crudo, grapefruit, celery, favacado
Squash Blossom Relleno, corn, poblano, ricotta salata
Pork Trotter, remoulade, smoked cherry, mustard
Wagyu Beef Cheek Barbacoa, whipple beans, tomato