I’m always surprised when someone watches me pour a spirit from a bottle, sip it straight and then shoots me a look that implies I’m a drunk or a daredevil. “Don’t you want to mix it first?” such inquisitors ask. “I mean, it’s kind of harsh just straight, isn’t it?”
Well, of course, it can be, especially if the spirit has no chance to breathe or it’s not well made. “No,” I typically reply kindly. “I sip it straight because I want to know exactly what it tastes like. That way I can decide whether to mix it or sip it straight.”
Such answers convince only a few to join me in the exercise, and only a fragment of those ever learn to enjoy unadulterated spirits. But most do seem to get the principle so widely accepted in cooking: that you must know your ingredients intimately in order to cook well. Such logic also is essential to great cocktails.
I had the chance to apply that rationale this summer after receiving a bottle of Lunazul Blanco ($22-$25) on July 2. The date is important since I was invited a Fourth of July party where numerous spirits enthusiasts would bring fun stuff to share. Either this bottle, newly labeled with blue trim, would be a surprise sipper or better served in a cocktail, and I was in the mood to find out.
I started with small glass of it straight, swirled it a bit, let it rest and came back to it after a few minutes. The first sip brought a lot of alcohol, a surprising amount for an 80 proof spirit, and just a hint of agave. It was thin on the palate, lacking body like many blancos, especially those approaching the value category.
I let it breathe about 10 minutes and went back: an herbaceous entry, a little tamer sting, but still lots of alcohol with notes of menthol and peppermint.
Again, I let it sit awhile before coming back after munching on a bit of fresh mozzarella. Expectedly, the cheese softened the alcohol blow and unexpectedly amplified some wintergreen and vaguely fruity notes. Not bad, but again, I gave it a rest of about 15 minutes before coming back to it.
The nose now promised a little agave, some faint roasted pineapple and some musty floral aromas. Intriguing, but not exciting.
Convinced this wasn’t going to be a dynamite sipper, I considered a batch cocktail for the party. Given that most there would be bourbon or beer drinkers, I figured I’d play down the middle with margaritas. Helping my decision was the fact that the Mexican market I visited the day before was selling limes at 10 for a $1, so I bought 30.
I’m a recent convert to margaritas without orange accents: just agave syrup, lime and tequila. Simpler the better. And in this mix, Lunazul Blanco served perfectly. The sharpness I disliked before now knifed through the sour mix and even revealed agave notes I couldn’t detect before. It wasn’t overpowering, I was no longer hot on the palate, it was quite simply, just right.
Quite clearly, cocktails are this tequila’s calling.
* End note: Keep your eyes open for a unique Lunazul offering to hit store shelves in September, a double barrel reposado aged in Larceny Bourbon barrels. I got a pre-bottling sample yesterday from Lunazul’s parent company, Heaven Hill Brands. And just to tease you a little, it is delicious. A full bottle review is forthcoming.
Tequila Aficionado is proud to welcome rising star in tequila and traveljournalism, Stephen Coomes, as a Contributing Writer and Reviewer. His steady gigs include roles as contributing editor for Nation’s Restaurant News (the U.S. restaurant industry’s largest publication), restaurant critic and feature writer for Louisville magazine, feature writer for Edible Louisville and Seafood Business magazines, Kentucky traveland dining contributor for Southern Living, and dining blogger for Insider Louisville. He also writes marketing, PR, web copy and ghostwrites for numerous private clients. You can visit Steve online atwww.stevecoomes.com.