This one made me sweat. Over the past four years or so, I’ve gone pretty much full-tilt on learning everything I can about spirits and cocktails, but when tackling such a big field, there are inevitably some holes that will need to be filled at a later time. For me, tequila is a big one of those holes.
Part of the reason for this is the price — a decent 100 percent agave tequila costs roughly twice what a bourbon, rye or rum of comparable quality does — but versatility also plays a factor. Open any typical cocktail guide, and you’ll find acres of coverage for gin, rum and whiskey, but just a smattering of recipes for tequila. If you prefer more vintage books like I do, feel lucky if you turn up a tequila cocktail at all. And when you do, it’s mostly margaritas and tequila sunrises, with the occasional Freddie Fudpucker thrown in for comic effect.
But thanks to Matt over at My Bar, Your Bar, our gracious host for this round of Mixology Monday, I’ve been forced to start exploring the world of tequila, with mostly positive results. I’ll skip over my experiments with sangrita recipes — Jimmy nailed a good one a couple of rounds back — and the lovely Prado — which Anita already mixed up for this round — and cut right to two newish tequila cocktails that seemed promising: the Sangre de Agave and the Rosebud.
The Sangre de Agave comes from David Wondrich’s Killer Cocktails, and takes the classic marriage between tequila, lime juice and creme de cassis, and knocks it silly with a firm slap of dark, heavy rum.
Sangre de Agave
- 1 1/2 ounce reposado Tequila [Don Julio]
- 1/2 ounce dark, heavy rum [Pusser's]
- 3/4 ounce lime juice
- 1/2 ounce creme de cassis
- 1/2 teaspoon rich simple syrup
Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass
I’m reserving judgement on this one — while mixing the drink I realized two things: my limes were lousy and my cassis was kaput. Taking this into account, the drink was still pretty intriguing, with the peppery funk of the tequila coming on right away, but with that smooth, round bass note of rum giving the concoction some welcome gravitas. My crappy cassis didn’t supply the full fruity richness I was looking for, but that’s easily remedied, as is the coarse bitterness that I’m blaming on the fine-looking but nasty-tasting limes I got at Trader Joe’s. A drink to come back to with more efficient ingredients.
But I didn’t want to leave Mixology Monday on a down note — I’ve already done that — so this evening I started going through the books, looking for a lime- and cassis-free tequila cocktail that showed promise. Wisely, I started my search with The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics, a really beautiful and spectacular book by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz from Absinthe in San Francisco. I’ve had this book on the shelf for months, and I keep meaning to dig into it for a post, so what better time. Plus, I’ve got a soft spot in my jaded heart for the pitch-black musings of Citizen Kane, and the touch of bitterness in this cocktail seemed entirely appropriate.
- Dash of rosewater
- 1 1/2 ounces silver tequila
- 1/2 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
- Dash of Campari
- 1 piece orange zest, about 1 1/2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide
Rinse a chilled cocktail glass with the dash of rosewater, discarding the excess. Stir the tequila and vermouth with ice and strain into the glass. Flame the orange zest over the drink (light a match and hold it above and just slightly to the side of the drink, point the zest at the flame and spray the oil through the fire onto the drink surface). Add a few drops of Campari to the surface.
Wowser. The rosewater rinse and the burnt orange oil make this a very fragrant drink, but the taste is crisp and smooth, like a martini with its collar button undone. It’s kind of deceptive — the aroma is very flowery and perfumey, with no trace of tequila’s telltale whiff of pepper, so you’re expecting the taste of a flower bomb, like a cocktail supercharged with an aromatic gin like Hendrick’s or Aviation and matched with chartreuse. Thing is, the flavor is nothing like that — the florals take a backseat to the gentle bitterness of the Antica slightly prodded by the Campari, and that bitterness meshes very well with the vegetal funk of the tequila. Nicely done — if you’re looking for a delicate tequila cocktail, this is a good candidate.
That’s my little tour of tequila for this round of Mixology Monday. Head on over to Matt’s place to see what everybody else is doing with tequila.