Folks, the clock is finally winding down here in Dunedin. In exactly one week, I’ll lock the front door of my flat for the last time. I’m among the stragglers – North Dunedin has become a veritable ghost town of late. It’s rather pleasant, actually. The days drift by slowly but surely; they’ve become dominated simply by leisurely walks, baking experiments, and innumerable preparations for my imminent departure.
Perhaps the most gut-wrenching of these came yesterday morning, when they destroyed Shadowfax. ‘Twas the strangest experience. I drove her to the wreckers myself, and she was purring and handling just beautifully. Then they gave me some paperwork to sign and pried off her license plates, and that was that. Our beloved white stallion – which faithfully carried us sixteen thousand kilometers over the last three months and continued to perform admirably – will run no more. Instead she’ll be cannibalized and melted down because the world at large concentrates on her form to the exclusion of her function. I felt true guilt while signing those papers. There was nothing wrong with my car.
I might’ve wallowed in the depths of despair for some time after that, but then along came Greg Robertson. Greg’s one of the star bartenders at Pequeno, which is arguably the classiest drinking establishment in Dunedin and certainly among my favorite hangouts (surprise, surprise). Several weeks ago Greg offered to put me on Pequeno’s mailing list. I never received anything, so after awhile I just forgot the whole episode – but after dropping of Shadowfax the other day and trudging home in the rain, I found a bubbly little note in the ol’ inbox. That very night, it informed me, Greg and his bar would become the site of a swanky tasting/sales pitch by esteemed tequila producer Casa Herradura.
I’ve never really possessed the means or the inclination to make a study of tequila, so this adventure was a small revelation for me. Brand ambassador Matt In The Hat was quite congenial and knowledgeable, and his products were altogether fairly solid – though not exciting enough to really win me over. We tried six tequilas selected from the Herradura and El Jimador lines over the period of about two hours, which provided plenty of time for conversation with our fellows. I ended up chatting with some doctoral candidates, bartenders, and a former executive at 42 Below (producers of Seven Tiki Rum, South Gin, and their eponymous line of vodkas) who made bank and retired by selling off his distribution rights to Bacardi last year. I’m not necessarily a fan of globalization (or Bacardi, for that matter), but if this guy was really with the company to begin with, I suppose that on some level I defend his right to decide what happens to it.
But enough of that; on to the tequilas! We began with El Jimador’s baseline blanco. Priced around $30 at your local bottle shop, this stuff isn’t really marketed as sipping sauce, but I found swigging it straight rather enjoyable. The aroma was – well, agave-ish. My prior experience with tequilas and these spiky plants from which they are derived is sorely lacking, so that’s pretty much all I can say. There’s some ethanol on the nose as well – it’s not unpleasantly strong, but this spirit’s spirit certainly asserts itself. Given these aromas and the unaged nature of this beast, its smoothness on the palate was a pleasant surprise. Sure, there was some alcohol heat, but very little harshness. I found the taste, like the nose, difficult to place. It was vaguely sweet, but also had strong notes of pepper and reminded me of menthol somehow. ‘Twas quite good. The notes were balanced, and strong but not overpowering. The only thing that bothered me somewhat was the mouthfeel – although this blanco has beautiful legs in the glass, it feels too thin and watery on the tongue. Nonetheless, altogether a very nice dram, and I could certainly see its flavor standing out in cocktails.
After some palate-cleansing water/snacks, Matt In The Hat presented us with Herradura Hacienda del Cristo, another blanco. This tequila was probably the most intriguing, and not in a good way. Y’see, the Hacienda is marketed as the world’s smoothest, most refined blanco – an ideal sipping tequila. Its official descriptors are veritably dripping with superlatives, and its price tag seems to hover around $65. Yet our group immediately reached a full consensus that it didn’t hold a candle to the much cheaper El Jimador blanco we had sampled earlier. It was certainly harsher, both on the nose and palate, and maintained a similar watery consistency. Nobody could discern any positive contributions that might justify all that extra panache and expense, aside from the pretty bottle. Marketing bull-sheezy, for sure.
Unfortunately, the Hacienda del Cristo kinda set the tone for the remainder of the tasting. As we traveled upward through the El Jimador and Herradura reposados and anejos, I began to feel that although they were quite solid and enjoyable (Herradura Anejo was particularly good), none really jumped out to effectively justify the cost or hype surrounding them. I think my fellows got the same impression; everyone gradually seemed to grow weary of the tequilas and focus more on interacting with each other.
So, what’s my final verdict? El Jimador blanco strikes me as a great deal. I’d certainly give it a shot (so to speak) for mixing Margaritas and such. As for the others, well… they’re certainly worth a try if you: a) love tequila, b) have truckloads of money, or c) aren’t expected to pay. Otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you’ll stick to saving for a bottle of Booker’s or Sazerac.