TE AMO, TEQUILA
The choices of tequila these days are endless as is my love for it
BY HANNAH SUTTON
What comes to mind when you read the word “tequila?”
Is it a general bad taste in your mouth perpetuated by probably a hundred country songs? Is it a spring break situation back in college you’d rather forget? Maybe it’s that scene from The Sandlot where all of the kids are tossing their cookies on the Tilt-O-Whirl.
Even if you don’t want to, think back to that unforgettable-in-a-bad-way spring break escapade. It’s very likely you were slamming shots of a (cheap) tequila that was a blend of 51 percent distilled agave and 49 percent mystery alcohol. This mixture is so infamously harsh, which is why it’s so routine to knock it back with a lick of salt and a squeeze of lime.
In other words, my friend, it’s time to let those hard feelings go.
Slowly but surely over the last decade, restaurants and bars have popped up with mile-long tequila menus and endless flight options. Liquor store shelves are now overflowing with the robust spirit as far as the eye can see.
What is it?
Tequila is a distilled Mexican liquor made from the blue agave plant or agave tequilana, which is part of the amaryllis family. Blue agave can only be grown in tequila-approved regions of Mexico, specifically the areas surrounding the city of Tequila, areas northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands of Jalisco. Its production is strictly regulated by the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT).
While tequila can only be made from agave tequilana, its close relative, mezcal, comes from any of the other 250-plus species of agave. Huskier, smokier mezcal also traditionally has a worm floating at the bottom of a finished bottle. The worm is actually a moth larvae, and it first made its way into bottles in 1950, when a mezcal maker saw it as a way to give his product a little more pizzazz.
How is it made?
Blue agave plants take anywhere from seven to 10 years to grow. Once a plant is approved for harvest, it is dug up to reveal the piña (pineapple). The piñas are then taken to a distillery and loaded into an oven
to roast. After roasting, they are juiced then special yeast is added to begin the fermentation process. During fermentation, the yeast and the natural sugars of the plant are converted into alcohol.
How is it made?
Blue agave plants take anywhere from seven to 10 years to grow. Once a plant is approved for harvest, it is dug up to reveal the piña (pineapple). The piñas are then taken to a distillery and loaded into an oven to roast. After roasting, they are juiced then special yeast is added to begin the fermentation process. During fermentation, the yeast and the natural sugars of the plant are converted into alcohol.
Why are there so many types?
Tequila is categorized by how long it is aged.
Where can I get it?
As a Northwesterner, there’s no doubt you’re inundated with craft-beer-this and fine-wine-that. Although you love our local beverage industries, once in a while, you may be in the market for some south-of-the-border specialties.
Since 2012, The Northwest Agave Fest has been drawing over 100 tequila and mezcal brands together in Seattle for the largest tasting event in the Pacific Northwest. The festival celebrates the agave spirit as a product distilled the same way for centuries, making it an integral piece of Mexican culture. To give you even more feel-good vibes, Agave Fest benefits The Benevolent Guild of Seattle, which is committed to assisting children’s charities and support groups in the Puget Sound area. Festivities come around once a year, usually in September.
Agave Cocina & Tequilas brings over 150 varieties, brands and exclusive batches of top-shelf tequila — including their own label — to the table. Sophisticated tequila connoisseurs and newcomers alike can enjoy an endless tequila selection alongside contemporary, handcrafted Mexican cuisine. With restaurants located in Seattle, West Seattle and Issaquah Highlands, Agave Cocina & Tequilas is the perfect destination for enjoying happy hour with friends, a lunch meeting, family-style dinner or late-night snack.
HECHO, a rustic cantina located in the suburban district of Greenwood in Seattle, boasts colorful, contemporary Mexican-inspired Northwest cuisine. Over 80 tequilas are stocked, ready to enjoy in the lime juice margaritas and pair with handmade tortillas and salsas. Hecho means “made,” which is appropriate, as each food menu item is made on the premises with the highest quality local ingredients.
The Matador loves helping its guests discover their perfect tequila. The Portland restaurant has curated a collection of over 150 spirits from all over Mexico, including their own Private Reserve Tequila. A visit to The Matador is an immersive experience into the craft, heart, soul and sense of adventure that lives inside every good bottle of tequila.
Barrio Mexican Kitchen & Bar in Seattle houses over 100 tequilas, seven agave flights, an impressive margarita list and various unique agave cocktails. The vibrant menu takes on Mexican cuisine in a modern way, and emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients. Most of the ingredients are made on-site, from fresh salsa to handmade tortillas to smoked pork. On top of that, the cocktail and spirits menu has been recognized as one of the strongest in the Puget Sound region.
How do I properly taste it?
Sipping 100 percent agave tequila can give you twice as many identifiable flavor profiles as a glass of red wine. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the classic lime-and-salt pairing, as that may enhance the flavor for some tasters.
If you’re looking to stay especially true to tequila’s roots, enjoy it with sangrita (little blood). This is a non-alcoholic type of chaser that exhibits notes of citrus and chili, and can be made of a number of ingredients ranging from Worcestershire sauce to pomegranate juice. Some bars and restaurants serve this as part of a “bandera,” made up of a shot of lime, a shot of blanco tequila and a sangrita — green, white and red to represent the colors of the Mexican flag.
AGE IS MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER WHEN YOU’RE TALKING TEQUILA
LUCIOUS LANE LIQUORS
The epicenter for local spirits and liqueurs
BY ANTHONY ST. CLAIR
Oregon’s craft distilleries continue their rise, and much of that increase is happening outside of Portland. Lane County has seen growing numbers of craft spirits producers. From limoncellos to whiskeys, the Eugene/Springfield area is the epicenter for local spirits and liqueurs. Along with distilleries in two small towns, locals and tourists alike are finding fresh, innovative tipples for gift-giving and everyday enjoyment.
In 2018 Oregon had 71 craft distilleries, making the Beaver State number six in the nation, after Colorado with 99 (at the top of the list was California, with 156 craft distilleries.) Nationwide, in 2018 America’s number of craft distillers increased 15.5 percent, to 1,835. Oregon-made craft spirits accounted for 3.6 million liters of spirits sold statewide from Oregon distilleries in 2018, for a total of $66 million in sales, up 1.3 percent from 2017.
The growth in distilling is a natural evolution for an area that also includes world-renowned wineries, breweries, and cideries. With two distilleries in 2014, Lane County is now home to 10 active distilleries, with six in Eugene, two in Springfield, one in Oakridge, plus one in development just north of Eugene in Coburg. (Charleston-based Stillwater Distillery also has a tasting room in Florence.)
Here’s a taste of the spirits that call Lane County home:
Crescendo Spirits, Eugene
Veteran-owned and -operated Crescendo Spirits is also one of the few U.S. distillers to use only certified organic ingredients. Founded in 2013 by two engineers, Crescendo crafts one vodka and four Italian-style liqueurs: Limoncello (lemon), Limecello (lime), Arancello (orange), and their newest addition, Pompelmocello (grapefruit). “The idea to do a grapefruit liqueur stemmed from the requests by our fans to start making a grapefruit,” says the company. “The addition of grapefruit to our current line really completed our citrus lineup.”
Deep Woods Distillery, Oakridge
After seeing the public’s appetite for the cask-brewed beers at Brewers Union Local 180, it was only natural to see craft distilling come to the Cascade foothills. Founded in 2015, Deep Woods aims to “put an essence of the Great Oregon Forest in each bottle of hand-crafted liquor we make” — as well as be a thirst-quenching stop for outdoor recreation and mountain biking enthusiasts.
Made with the spring tips of Douglas fir trees, Fir of the Doug is the top seller of the 11 spirits available from Deep Woods. Sprüüüce is similar, but replaces fir with coastal spring Sitka spruce tips. Deep Woods also does deep dives into global spirits traditions, such as Krupnikas, a spiced honey liqueur with roots in Lithuania and Poland, as well as vodka, whiskeys, and infusions with fruits and spices, such as Stralapeño, made with strawberries, and jalapeños.
Elixir Craft Spirits, Eugene
Inspired by the long, rich traditions of their native Italy, brothers Andrea and Mario Loreto produce four artisanal botanical liqueurs in west Eugene.
Originally from Peru, the cinchona calisaya shrub was brought to Rome in 1632, and the bark was long used to fight malaria. Today that bark provides the bitter edge in Elixir’s flagship liqueur, Calisaya Liqueur. With roots in Florence, Italy, iris roots bring a delicate, violet-like scent to Iris Liqueur. Northwest and Italian herbs, barks, and spices come together in the Italian-style amaro Fernet dei Fratelli Loreto. Elixir’s newest release, Caffé Corretto, is a minimally sweetened, all-natural coffee liqueur made with coffee from Seattle’s Caffe’ Umbria.
Eon Distilling, Springfield
Only available since 2018, Eon’s PNW Vodka is all about the region that gives the vodka its name.
Founded by Trevor Davies “seven years ago with fifty dollars in my bank account,” Eon’s inaugural vodka is intended to “represent the Pacific Northwest” and help “people to feel they are contributing to something greater.”
Beginning with a six-times-distilled base made from all corn, Eon then does a seventh distillation through copper mesh and filters the final vodka through the roots of native Northwest trees that have been carbonized for maximum filtration and smoothness. Each bottled is hand-filled and hand-sealed.
Heritage Distilling Co., Eugene
From its headquarters in Gig Harbor, Washington, when Heritage was looking for an Oregon location they chose Eugene because they saw it was a place where people loved locally made products and wanted to support area businesses.
With custom-made Italian stills, Heritage is Eugene’s largest distillery. Along with their top-selling flagship, Brown Sugar Bourbon (BSB), Heritage offers vodka, gin, whiskey, and rum.
In addition to the tasting room and store, the public can also get a taste of what it’s like to be a distiller. During regular three hour My Batch classes, spirit fans can learn about distilling, tour the facility with the head distiller, bottle spirits produced that day, and take home two bottles, along with enjoying a food and spirits pairing.
Swallowtail Spirits Distillery, Springfield
After cutting his teeth working with other Oregon distillers, Kevin Barrett founded Swallowtail in 2014. With the distillery’s original 3,600-square-foot distillery in Springfield’s Thurston area, Swallowtail recently celebrated the grand opening of their new tasting room in downtown Springfield.
Swallowtail produces four gins (Navy Strength, American Contemporary, London Dry, and Barreled), along with their double-gold medal-winning Small-Batch Premium Vodka and five flavored vodkas: boysenberry, raspberry, blackberry, apple cider, and marionberry. Each bottle of flavored vodka has been infused with around a pound of fruit and uses no artificial flavors.
Members of the Swallowtail Whisky Barrel Club, the distillery’s newest offering, can purchase an entire barrel’s worth of whiskey, or just a portion. Heavy-charred American white oak (currently harvested from the Midwest) ages Swallowtail’s Scotland-imported Single Malt Whisky and their Irish-style Oatis Whisky, based on Ninkasi Brewing’s Oatis Stout.
Thinking Tree Spirits, Eugene
Located in Eugene’s Whitaker neighborhood, Thinking Tree is dedicated to farm-to-flask distilling, utilizing Oregon fruits, grains, and tubers and local/regional sourcing wherever possible. “We live in this garden of lushness and bounty,” says founder Emily Jensen. “Our space is a celebration of what makes Eugene so special.”
In addition to their flagship Gifted Gin, Thinking Tree also offers Whiteaker Rum and Mainstage Vodka. More spirits and liqueurs are in the works, says the company, including 88 Whitskey (Rumskey), bourbon, and four liqueurs: rhubarb, blueberry, blackberry, and chocolate rum.
Wolf Spirit Distillery, Eugene
Founder Phil Gruszka believes not just in upending the system, but getting “one thing perfect and then go from there.”
Wolf Spirits currently produces one primary vodka. A “one-finger salute to all who try to keep us in their own little box,” Blood x Sweat x Tears is a “vodka crafted for the misfits.” Also available is Finland-made Tom of Finland Organic Vodka, which was inspired by 20th-century LGBTQ artist Tom of Finland.
With so many high-quality spirits available, the Eugene Distillery Trail can help craft spirit fans keep track of their top tipples. The Eugene Distillery Trail Passport launched in 2017 as part of the Eugene Ale Trail Passport. Available from participating breweries, cideries, and distilleries throughout Lane County, completed passports can be redeemed for prizes at the Eugene, Cascades & Coast Visitor Information & Adventure Center in Springfield.