Seeking Out Agave Value & Integrity

IMG_1608.jpg

I had a few emails yesterday from readers asking about choice Tequila expressions that refrain from diffusers and still offer value, as well as which mezcales I might recommend in a pinch. Let me start by saying this: there are more agave spirits than I can ever write about in the Pacific Edge book alone, let alone the market as a whole. I’ll also add that I rarely sip Tequila or mezcal these days, as most of my booze consumption is done either at home with my wife as we talk and sip cocktails, or out at the bar with my wife as we talk and sip cocktails. Although I live in L.A., I’m not hanging out with a bunch of dudes on the beach, savoring mezcal out of little copitas and waxing philosophically about life (although I do read the Surfer’s Journal religiously, despite the fact that I have never surfed once in my life—a matter I hope to change in the near future).

Nevertheless, I can tell you my list of Tequila sipping recommendations still goes as follows: ArteNOM from my boy Jake Lustig, Forteleza from the Sauzas, the new Calle 23 Criollo from Sophie Decobecq is pretty phenomenal (although pricy), and I still love Gran Dovejo as it’s an under-the-radar label sourced from NOM 1414, still my go-to distillery in Arandas run by the Vivanco family. When it comes to mezcal and other regional agave spirits, I’m blessed by my new proximity to the best labels in the business. Yuu Baal, Rancho Tepua, Fidencio, and Mezcales de Leyendas are all in my book, and there are dozens more I’m still getting to know, from everyday espadín expressions to rare and complex wild agave editions. But, like I said, I’m still into bargains. Since I’m a volume guy deep in my heart (as in I like to drink many cocktails over the course of an evening), I drink lighter, less-heavy libations, like a makeshift Paloma using Tequila, Curacao, and some grapefruit-flavored sparkling water. I might pour some low calorie lemonade into a glass of mezcal and ice while watching The Adventures of Ford Fairlane for the 500th time. That kind of thing.

Lately, when imbibing at home, I’ve been very much enjoying two brands that I never had the pleasure of tasting or selling during my retail days: Rayu espadín mezcal and Zapopan blanco Tequila, both offered in my preferred volume size of one liter (Rod Farva would be proud). You’ve probably seen Zapopan around if you shop at some of the grocery chains that specialize in packaging their own branded goods. It’s been a supermarket staple for years, and even though the agave shortages have had the price point inching up over the last few months, you can still find it for less than $20 at most locations. I’m also a big fan of Cimarron, made by my homie Enrique Fonseca and also available in a liter, but what I like about Zapopan is that it’s sweetly-spiced in contrast to the peppery and herbaceous quality of the Cimarron. Depending on what I’m in the mood for, I’ll reach for one of those two bottles as neither is selling me diffused juice. I’ve been very much enjoying the mellow and gentle nature of the Zapopan as of late, however.

sanjuandelrio.jpg

Someone else asked me via email how I really know when a Tequila does or doesn’t use a diffuser, looking to avoid the latter option in the marketplace. I like to think that I can taste the difference—the flat, neutral, artificially-flavored profile standing out against the citrus and spice one finds in a ripely-fermented agave product—but most of it is based on what I know about the producers. I trust my friends, my partners, and my colleagues when they tell me they don’t dabble in diffusers, but that’s all I can ever offer anyone in terms of proof. I say that as someone who has long preached that we as consumers can’t ever really know everything about what’s in these bottles unless we’re there to watch the process continually (which is, of course, not going to happen). I remember my father-in-law, a former chef, once telling me: “How should I know if the chicken is really organic or not? I didn’t follow it around for every day of its life, watching what it ate.” Therefore, as far as I know, I drink non-diffused Tequila, but I didn’t go to Mexico and watch how every batch of it was distilled before I put it into my mouth. I can’t know everything that happens behind the scenes, nor can anyone, and I’ve definitely been fooled before. I mean, Dennis Rader’s wife and kids thought he was best dad in the whole wide world until they found out he was actually one of the most brutal and maniacal serial killers in history, right?

Rayu mezcal is another big winner for me. It’s not going to blow anyone’s mind, but at $30 a liter for a clean, flavorful, smoky, and textural spirit, it’s going to make a lot of cocktail drinkers very happy. As I’m typing this, I’m sipping on a Rayu mezcal Paloma and loving life, taking in pure grapefruit tartness with just the slightest bit of savory smoke. I’ve traveled to Oaxaca with the teams from Danzantes, Alipus, and Don Amado in the past, so I’m very partial to those brands as well and you can’t go wrong with any of their stuff either. I still treasure the Danzantes Tobalá bottle I got to distill with Karolina Abad Rojas like it’s gold. But I only open that treasure trove once or twice a year for a special occasion.

In the meantime, I’m drinking liters of Zapopan and Rayu.

-David Driscoll