Welcome Back, Old Friend
On two separate occasions, Carlos Camarena, the third generation master distiller of El Tesoro de Don Felipe and the equally famous and classic Tequila Tapatío, stepped outside of Las Perlas mezcal and tequila bar in the heart of downtown Los Angeles to enjoy a cigarette.
Taking in the scenery of a chilly and overcast Sunday afternoon in early June, he witnessed the pursuit of a purse snatcher by LAPD, and then an attempted carjacking by another perpetrator while the police were arresting the purse snatcher!
Carlos smiled and shook his head. Surrounded by movie cameras and flood lights outside the front entrance to Las Perlas, his only thought was…
Another average day in LA.
La Perla Tapatía
Once inside the rustic and darkly lit Las Perlas, one of the more complete tequila and mezcal bars in Los Angeles, one realized that the movie cameras weren’t there to record street crimes or another TV reality show. They were there to film an historic event–
The triumphant entrance of the iconic Tequila Tapatío into California and the rest of the United States.
Jeff Couch and Vaughn Halyard, the co-partners of Congenial Spirits, a nimble distributor focused on boutique, handcrafted spirits, and the chosen distributor for Tapatío, had the foresight to sense the importance of documenting its US premier, even adding a professional photographer and a press wall for that red carpet feeling.
The invitees, comprised of LA spirits industry professionals and mixologists, settled in and Raul Yrastorza, the general manager and curator of Las Perlas, began the introductions for this question and answer segment with the guests of honor.
The Charbay Connection
Producing wines, ports, liqueurs, aperitifs, vodkas, rums, and whiskies at the famed Charbay Winery & Distillery in St. Helena, CA, Marko Karakasevic is also the importer of Tapatío under his Marko K Spirits of California banner.
Marko, a bear of a man who looks more like a right tackle for the Oakland Raiders instead of a barely 40 year old 13th generation master distiller, jokingly explains:
“In a family of distillers, no fruit, no root, is safe.”
Here, Marko recounts his first meeting with Carlos Camarena that lead to his family being invited to distill its own brand of Charbay Tequila at La Alteña distillery.
Heads, Hearts & Tails
So what do master distillers talk about in the wee hours of the morning over endless tequila? Distillation, of course!
Carlos Camarena and Marko Karakasevic tell the story of their awkward first encounter that turned into what can only be an enduring relationship based on mutual respect and admiration.
The Upside Down World of Agave Spirits
Carlos chuckled that Miles Karakasevic, Marko’s father, the retired 12th generation master distiller of Charbay, and he did not get along that evening.
Whenever Carlos tried to explain the physics and biochemistry of tequila distillation versus the distillation of other spirits, it was in complete contrast to Miles’ years of education.
Bullshit was uttered more than once.
“It’s not right!” exclaimed Marko.
Carlos discusses the upside down world of agave spirits distillation in depth…
Why Did It Take So Long To Get Here?
On my first visit to La Alteña in 2006, I asked Carlos what would happen if there was a sudden demand in El Tesoro de Don Felipe. Would he be able to fill orders, or be forced to cut corners?
He declared that at any given time, he had approximately one million liters of tequila in storage to handle any spike in demand. There would never be any need to cut corners and suffer a loss in quality. No doubt, his policy also carried over to the Tapatío brand.
Here, Carlos demystifies his reasons for taking almost 76 years to bring Tapatío into the US market, and gives a bit of family history, as well.
During the course of the question and answer session, Congenial Spirits’ Vaughn and Jeff made sure that each of the Tapatío expressions were being served to the crowd in specially branded Tapatío shot glasses, starting with the 80 proof blanco and ending with the stellar Tapatío 110 proof.
Sipping it immediately brought back fond memories of my first trip to La Alteña and tasting this tequila directly from the still.
It hadn’t changed a bit.
Once the Q & A ended, it was time to unleash the infinite possibilities that Tapatío 110 could provide. Amanda Gunderson, Tapatío’s brand ambassador and designer of the evening’s drinks menu, wowed the crowd with her signature cocktails.
Names like Lolita Swizzle and La Alteña guaranteed that everyone in attendance would get a feel of what it would be like to visit Tapatío’s legendary distillery. To say that these cocktails were lethally delicious would be an understatement.
Be aware that Tapatío 110 proof will not only shine in your cocktail and take you back to the Highlands of Jalisco, but it will sing to you for the rest of the evening. Definitely, sip wisely.
The Source Of Life
Since many in attendance weren’t as well versed in the science of distillation as Carlos and Marko were, I asked Camarena how he would define distillation to a lay person.
Here’s what he had to say…
When Tequila Tapatío can be considered the source of life on this planet, there can be no such thing as just an average day in LA–or anywhere else, for that matter.
View more photos of this momentous event on our Facebook page here.