As New York and Los Angeles have finally reached the Stanley Cup Finals, so has my Vancouver Tasting become final. After four weeks of world-class tastings, I’m slogged, reviewed out. All I want now is a cold beer.
Hey, tasting and blogging is hard work so don’t let anyone snicker that it’s otherwise!
This round, my Vancouver tasting centered on Agave Week, which felt like being in Mexico and not just because of the warm weather. Tequila flowed from Downtown to the East Side with parties, tastings, and seminars focusing on Mexican food, culture and the distilled product of the agave plant. As much heat rose from this town as fell from the sun.
I was lucky enough to attend 3 events, and as well as considering what newly-discovered tequila to invest in, I can’t stop from hablar espanol.
Oaxacan Cuisine with Susana Trilling at La Mezcaleria
Chef Susana Trilling may be from the US, but she could certainly pass for Mexican. Her accent, her manner and her way with mole makes you think she grew up in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she learned to cook. Such is the effect of cuisine, I suppose.
On Friday, May 30, Trilling held a cooking demonstration at La Mezcaleria in which we learned the finer points of making mole, the ubiquitous sauce in Mexican cuisine that sometimes includes my other favorite food: chocolate.
Trilling made her Mole Coloradito Oaxaqueño with her own brand of cooking chocolate, Chocolate Oaxaqueño, and created some Enchalada Oaxaqueño for us. It’s just tortillas doused in chocolate sauce, folded and topped with cheese, cilantro and onion. Yum!
As well as a Mexican band, we were welcomed with a watermelon Thai basil cocktail. Later we tried “Spring in San Pancho,” a drink with a silver tequila, berry syrup, berries and soda. So refreshing, that one.
After the cooking demonstration we were invited to taste four mezcals brought by Jonathan Barbieri of Mezcal Pierde Almas.
Like tequila, mezcal is made from the agave plant. Except with mezcal, the maguey agave is oven-cooked, which gives the drink a smoky, earthy flavor. It’s a taste that’s starting to grow on me.
With lunch we also enjoyed mole chicken well-paired with a “Tamarindo Margarita” made with with mezcal, lemon, agave, tajine and orange. It cut the heat perfectly
I ended up sitting with a who’s who of industry movers – Rhonda May of City Food, Kasey Wilson of Astral Radio, Barbieri, and Expo organizer Manuel Ortega – and heard their stories of traveling to Oaxaca. That is one place I’ve got to go someday.
Then, I was handed a tiny glass bowl – meant to invoke the traditional hollowed-out squash cup the Mexicans use – with a deep pour of the Pierde Almas Mezcal Joven. Delicious. Then, a bowl of the Sombra Mezcal, and another of the el Jolgorio Mezcal, all so smooth. Taken neat, the mezcal paired amazingly well with the chicken by matching its smoky flavors.
After all that, I had to vamoose before I would need a siesta at 3 in the afternoon.
Vancouver International Tequila Expo
The Tequila Expo Grand Tasting was held the next evening at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where they were kind enough to loan my husband Billy a wheelchair so he wouldn’t have to lumber through the crowd on crutches. While I foraged for bites and pours, Bill sat at table near the stage with a nice group of young people who knew exactly what would happen next.
They knew that after every contestant in the Cocktail Competition made a drink, there would soon be a couple dozen offered at a side table. They were right. We grabbed a few and I tasted them, but I couldn’t help feeling that the incredible tequilas and mezcals I was enjoying neat were wasted by all the ingredients heaped upon them in cocktails. I guess I’m just not a cocktail girl.
Ultimately, Kevin Brownlee of West Restaurant won the grand prize trip to Oaxaca for his concoction, Peloton de la Muerte Mezcal! (Platoon of Death – nice!)
There were lots of Mexican treats to eat: the tiny chicken tacos, spoons of civeche, and burrito burgers were great with the tequilas and mezcals, as expected, but the most interesting pairings came with the oysters. I found that fresh oysters paired better with reposados and añejos than silvers or blancos.
My Fave Agave
Tequilas go from blanco, silver, reposado and añejo depending on how much time the spend in oak, so there are more than enough styles to keep your palette hopping.
It’s amazing how far 40 drink tickets go between two people, even when one pour of ultra añejo is worth five tickets. We didn’t taste everything but we cut a wide swathe. Here are some of my faves:
Agave Underground Añejo – bursting with apricot and orange. $80
Mezcal de Amores Joven – soft, floral and citrusy. $70 when agented.
Azunia Añejo – sweet, fruity and vanillan. $110.
Tequila Celestial Reposado– savory and vegetal.
Mezcal el Rey Zapoteco – woody, smoky with fruity finish.
Herradura Reposado – cognacy.
Pierde Almas Esmida Mezcal – fresh grapy and earthy. $149.?
Suerte Blanco – vegetal yet fruity. $100ish?
Suerte Reposado – sumptuous caramel. $100ish?
Tequila Uno Estela Añejo – smokey caramel and orange fruit. $95.
But, my favourite of all continues to be the Grand Mayan Ultra-Aged Tequila – super deep and complex with an alluring orange-grapey flavor. I could sip it all night.
Importer Dominic Hauck of Reservas Tequila took a 3rd place Consumer Choice Award medal for it, which was no surprise. That stuff is fantastic.
So enough with the organized tastings of wine and tequila. Next time I’ll tell you about another drink close to my heart: beer.