Tag Archives: Tequila

Drinking Pink at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association

A colleague asked me what I thought the “headline” of WSWA 2011 was. “One word,” I said. “Pink.”

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Why pink? Pink is the color of at least two new tequilas (Pasion, Mejor), designed to attract women to the liquor (no, they don’t taste different, they’re just pink). It’s also the color of Chambord’s new-ish liqueur and bottle color of new Rouge vodka, and… I could go on. I’m wondering just how the fairer sex found alcohol before it was color-coded for them. Insert emoticon.

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Smooth Ambler's White Whiskey, herbaceous Vodka and Gin

Pink bottles were certainly not the only innovation in the vodka category, the most popular spirit in the world (and thus, flame, to the eager moths looking to enter the liquor biz). At the Orlando trade show and convention were DeLos, from Texas, promoting itself as the first American vacuum-distilled vodka; from Israel, came L’Chaim kosher vodka for the observant (not the first kosher vodka, of course… that seems to be a growing category all its own); from Britain, the reserved Mayfair English Vodka; and from Holland, Sonnema VodkaHerb…which does not actually taste nearly as herbaceous as Smooth Ambler vodka from—of all places–West Virginia (save the moonshine jokes).

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Packaging is just as often the primary hook. For example, U’luvka Polish vodka’s gorgeous bottles and accompanying bubble-handled shots, SX’s bottles that are so curvaceous, you want some alone time with them… But why beat around the bush when WTF and Jersey Shore-labeled vodkas go for the marketing jugular.

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“Stop the Madness,” declares the ads of Polish vodka Sobieski (Number One Premium vodka in Mother Poland, they say). “Distilled 5x, 8x, 39x … How about distilled enough.” Amen. On the other hand, we might need some clarity between “Ultra Premium” vodkas and “Super Premium” vodkas, like Holland-made Trump vodka (can we see the birth certificate?),  the “world’s finest,” according to… itself. One brand with legitimately different flavorings I tasted was French-made DragonBleu, now with Rose Blossom, White Ginger and Penja Pepper. They deserve the medals they’ve won.

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On the other hand, you might wonder what a “Dude” tastes like. Apparently Three Olives vodka has the answer—or at least a flavored spirit by that name. Ivanabitch vodka has been successful enough to now offer gin and brandy to their female-empowering fans. With a slogan like “Feel The Burn,” Mad Dragon seems proud of going after the fortified and flavored market with eight varieties—none of which is called “dude,” nor “rose blossom.”

Koi Tequilas

Kai Tequilas

By the number of new entries, tequila would seem the second most popular category. It isn’t—it’s rum, actually (worldwide, anyway), which seems to be slow inbeing exploited, though the range offered here, from the premade Sandy Bottom cocktail–in a bottle labeled like an ‘80s soft-porn—to DonQ’s new flavors, Cockspur (that name sells itself!), best-in-show honey-ginger flavored Cayrum to the extremely elegant and refined Agricole rhum of Martinique’s Clement, suggests things are picking up. Tequilas, by comparison, are everywhere, from the exotic dia-de-los-muertos inspired skull bottles of Kai, which had a pleasantly surprising smoothness and caramel notes, up to to a $600+ retail Gran Patron Burdeos Bordeaux cask racked extra-anejo (sorry, didn’t get to sample that).

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Of course there was a great deal of wine on offer as well—some of it even pink, like Moscato sparkling rose, Dinastia Vivanco rosado, and two excellent re-emerging French Rosé wines (Sables d’Azur) I tried. Piper-Heidsieck celebrated the release of a new limited Prestige Cuvee,  Rare 1999. But more intriguing to this palate were some Eastern European offerings: Greece’s Tselepos, Strofilia and Katogi Averoff (bottling indigenous Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko varietals), Romania’s Trei Hectare and Zestrea Murfatlar (the Feteasca Negra grape holds massive potential) and Montenegro’s Plantaze and Stara Soklova brandies. Of course there were  new Italian, Spanish and Argentinian bottlings of note too, as well…particularly those of Opici importers (94 point-rated ’07 Poggio Bestiale) and Luigi Bosca.

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Wine of Japan poured me some excellent sakes while showing me on a map which area’s breweries were destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami—and which area’s more popular breweries have had their transportation routes disrupted. Expect shortages.

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Although the show was notably smaller than the previous year in Las Vegas, at least some vendors had their share of wacky promotions—Hairy Cow, for example, who brought a mother and calf to sit in a pen outside the opening night reception. There were the expected leagues of models touting free shots at the show, but my heart belonged to the Slavianskaya ladies, who managed to look cute in Spring 1832’s latest fashions. And there were gimmicks for sale (the prophylactic-esque Wine Shield), hangover cures, and mixers—a buzzed-about standout being McClure’s pickle-juice based Bloody Mary Mix. Tart, peppery and juicy…a genuinely worthy twist on the classic.

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In the middle of it all, I got to take a break and help judge the inaugural Iron Mixologist contest on behalf of The Tasting Panel magazine. Consisting of three “heats”–aperitif, long drink and dessert, all with surprise ingredients–I would say it was a tight race, but clearly certain competitors were more prepared than others. Fort Worth’s Cat Miltenberger, with the focus that only a military background can bring, won two out of three categories handily, and took home the brass ring (a cocktail shaker, actually).

Click to download full article PDF

Click to download full article PDF

Leafing through my pile of collected print matter on the way to the airport, one ad gave me pause, by Palm Bay importers.“Give the Gift of Authenticity,” it read. I couldn’t agree more. Mix some of their Aperol with water,  if you need to think pink.

Burn This! Judging Hussong’s Salsa Contest

Sometimes you have to take a stand. Sometimes you have to accept a difficult task. The kind of task that just can’t be left to amateurs. Sometimes, you have to judge a hot salsa contest. And that sometime, for me, came on February 15.

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To answer the first FAQ, no this was not a salsa dancing contest. Although I may have my opinions about hot salsa dancing, and certainly hot salsa dancers, I am by no means an expert. This was salsa, as in Mexican food, and in that world, yes, I think I have some experience. So it was that on the day after Valentine’s Day, Hussong’s Cantina-Taqueria in Mandalay Place on the Las Vegas Strip invited me to join restaurateurs, a hot sauce entrepreneur and a dedicated Hussong’s regular in judging the Burn a Hole in My Heart salsa-off between Executive Chef Noe Alcala and chefs Tino Guzman and Michael Vargas (one of whom is his former and the other his current sous chef, I think).

Noe Alcala, Tino Guzman and Michael Vargas at Hussong's Cantina 2

I tried to be pure about the process, but before I knew what was happening, Noe was plying all of us with shots of silver Patron, and I couldn’t turn it down. At least we’d all be on a level field. I suspected a fix when I saw Noe got to use the robocoupe and the other chefs were given bar blenders but honestly, I don’t think that affected the outcome too much. Beyond the obvious ingredients–tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime–each took a different approach. All were far superior, by the way, to what you get at the original Hussong’s in Ensenada, where the chips are topped with a very plain, relatively dry pico de gallo of tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeno.

The first of the three we judged used more fresh peppers and was the most traditional–a little heat, a lot of vegetable flavor. The second used a lot of smoked chilis, making it extremely hot on the back end, with a thick, almost mole-like texture. It almost won. But ultimately Alcala’s recipe prevailed with a “kitchen sink” mentality, using a wide variety of fresh peppers, two hot sauces, almost a dozen dried spices, for an all-encompassing flavor with a lot of heat from beginning to end, that stayed with you (it took me holding a gulp of margarita in my mouth for 30 seconds to calm it down). It wasn’t just the heat that made it a winner though, but the variety of “heats” and flavor complexity–also the wet but thick consistency, which helped it stick well to tortilla chips.

Photos courtesy Bryan Steffy/Magnetic PR

Chefs Noe Alcala, Tino Guzman and Michael Vargas

Chefs Noe Alcala, Tino Guzman and Michael Vargas