Category Archives: Ryan Kelley

Tamales, Tequila, and Casa Noble Tequila Rocks! Cocktail Competition

By Ryan Kelley | 05.09.11

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure to serve on the judging panel for the Tequila Rocks competition at A Taste of Tequila and Tamales by the Bay, an “a-maize-ing” event benefitting the Benchmark Institute (a training and performance development organization dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of legal services to low-income communities). The competition, sponsored by Casa Noble Tequila, saw some of the Bay Area’s hottest mixologists face-off to create the best original Casa Noble tequila cocktail. I was privileged to be in the company of co-judges H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner and barman at Elixir in San Francisco, and Bay Area food and drink writer Virginia Miller.

The competition began at 1pm, when four of the 14 contestants took the stage in front of a crowd of thirsty onlookers. Contestants were provided with Casa Noble Tequila – the required base ingredient – but had to arrive with all other ingredients, equipment, and glassware for presentation. In a mere five minutes, each mixologists prepared three drinks – one for each judge. While the panel sampled each cocktail, each contestant prepared a pitcher so the (now drooling) audience could sample each cocktail. An hour later and another group of contestants took the stage.

After four rounds, H., Virginia, and I added up our scores and deliberated for several minutes. With our winners in hand, we took the stage to present the results. In first place was Brian Means, a bartender at Chow, with his “Council of Four.” Means mixed Casa Noble reposado with Amontillado sherry, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, homemade lemongrass syrup and lemon bitters. It was presented in a coupe glass and garnished with dehydrated Meyer lemon wheels and edible flowers stuck onto it by agave nectar. It was a beautiful cocktail in both taste and presentation. Second place was won by Michael Callahan (who recently won the 42Below Cocktail World Cup) with Jay Crabb snagging the third place prize.

One of the primary characteristics I look for in a cocktail is that it showcases the base liquor, complementing the flavor instead of masking it with other ingredients. This is a mistake I taste too often, and I wonder why anyone would use a “top-shelf” liquor in a cocktail if you’re not going to respect the juice? It was good to see that each of the three winners (and most of the contestants) were successful at this, carefully selecting the right flavors to accompany Casa Noble’s rich flavors.

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Nearly all the entries incorporated fresh homemade ingredients. This wasn’t too much of a surprise, given the growing popularity of craft cocktails across the country. What I didn’t expect was the creativity of the garnishes – from the inventiveness and beauty of Brian’s floating flowers and Michael’s superb mezcal-infused apple crisps to the fresh and sculpture-like quality of Jay’s Picositos-dusted jicama slices, cilantro sprig and radish slice.

As a whole, the event was spectacular. The setting inside the beautiful three-story Galleria at the San Francisco Design Center was bright and airy, and there was, of course, plenty of tamales and tequila (and mezcal) to sample. Also on-hand were vendors selling crafts and jewelry vendors, cooking demonstrations by Chef Steve Cortez, and several informative presentations from industry insiders (including Tequila Aficionado Executive Editor Mike Morales, Tequila tour guide Clayton Szczech, and Charbay master distiller Marko Karakasevic).

I would like to thank all the contestants, my fellow judges, Tequila Rocks MC Ashley Miller from Tres,

and all the volunteers, vendors, and participants of this successfully event. Finally, I would like to give a huge ‘thank you’ and abrazo fuerte to event organizer Marta Mora, who did an exceptional job in bringing us all together for this annual event. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Mix the wining cocktails at home! The first, second, and third place Tequila Rocks cocktail recipes can be found here!

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Hecho Dares to Pair Tequila and Sushi in San Francisco

By Ryan Kelley | 04.28.11
Highly Recommended

The pairing of tequila and sushi is a relatively new concept, but not without precedent. It was pioneered by establishments such as Sushi-Teq in Boston, Richard Sandoval’s Zengo chain, the New York and Las Vegas Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grills and Nick-San in Los Cabos and Mexico City. The trend continues to grow in San Francisco with the opening of Hecho, restauranteur Joseph Manzare’s (part owner of Tres, formerly Tres Agaves) latest venture and the first sushi-tequila bar on the West Coast.

In a space adjacent – and connected to – the Galleria Park Hotel in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, Hecho serves up a variety of small plates, sushi rolls, nigiri sushi, grilled meat and vegetable skewers, as well as a few other seafood and meat dishes alongside a wide selection of tequila and sake. Hecho’s interior is beautiful, dominated by light woods accented by colors from Japanese posters and other images. At first glance it looks like your typical, casual but high-quality sushi joint. And then you notice the tequila bar, where Gilberto Mendoza is ready to greet you and pour you a glass of one of the 80+ tequilas displayed prominently on the back wall. It’s a modest collection compared with the Bay Area’s Mexican-centric tequila bars, but what Hecho lacks in volume is made up for by the well-thought-out represenation characterized by a diversity of terroir and flavor. Most of the popular 100% agave brands have a space on the wall: Herradura, Partida, Siete Leguas, Patron, Corralejo, Casa Noble, and a handful of others. They share shelf space with a few lesser-known brands, like Tres Agaves and Pueblo Viejo, the restaurant’s house tequila.

casa noble blanco, tequila, tequila aficionadocasa noble reposado, tequila, tequila aficionadocasa noble anejo, tequila, tequila aficionado

 

Mendoza comes to Hecho by way of Tres Agaves, where he worked for four years prior. His passion for tequila is infectious, and he loves to share his knowledge and experience with guests in between pours. It’s strictly the basics when it comes to cocktails. Hecho makes a well-balanced margarita that’s made with tequila, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice, as well as traditional interpretations of the paloma and the tequila sunrise.

The tequila bar flows seamlessly into the sushi bar, which sports a several foot long clear glass case filled with bright-colored pieces of fish. It took me a moment to wrap my head around this juxtaposition, and makes it clear that Hecho will be destroying boundaries and redefining traditional food and spirit pairing. There are also redefined boundaries for patrons; seats are available at the tequila bar,the sushi bar, at tables downstairs as well as upstairs. There’s a private room for groups and meetings, and you can even sit at a bar in the kitchen, overlooking the activity on the first floor and at the tequila and sushi bars.

The sushi offerings reflect a traditional, simple Tokyo-style menu with nigiri sushi (small clump of rice with a piece of fish on top) and makimono rolls (filling of rice and fish rolled into dried seaweed). We sampled the tuna roll, a roll with chopped yellowtail and scallion, and the sea bass nigiri. All were simple and attractive, and the taste was exquisite and remarkably fresh, as if the fish just jumped onto the table.

There are no fancy, western-style rolls at Hecho. California, Philadelphia, Dynamite, or similar rolls filled with cream cheese, tempura, smoked salmon, etc. are nowhere to be found. The Hecho roll is a notable exception, a truly inspired, original “inside-out roll” (rice and toasted sesame seeds are on the outside, with the seaweed and fish on the inside) created by Executive Chef Masaki Sasaki. It is just as beautiful on the palate as it is on the plate. Do not visit Hecho without giving it a try.

For those who shy away from sushi, there are the Yakimono (grilled) items that include a variety of meat (chicken, beef, pork), vegetable (asparagus, mushroom, okra, yam), and seafood (scallop, yellowtail, tuna) skewers. The meats we sampled were tender, flavorful and fully-cooked, and the vegetables maintain a fresh crunch while still benefiting from the few minutes on the hot grill.

Tequila paired surprisingly well with everything, but only after  we decided upon the right combination. Nigiri and makimono rolls paired best with blanco tequila – the house blanco (Pueblo Viejo) is a solid choice, but the variety of flavors offered on the sushi menu beg for exploring other brands. We tried reposado tequila with the sushi, but it had a tendency to overpower the subtlely of flavor inherent in sushi. Instead, the reposados are best reserved for the grilled items. A good guideline is that the whiter the meat/vegetable, the younger the tequila.

Prices at Hecho are affordable but not cheap – you’re in Downtown San Francisco and you pay for that. Fortunately, the quality of food is extremely good. Hecho has some of the best, most fresh-tasting sushi you will ever experience. The service was also incredibly strong, especially for a restaurant that has only been open for a few weeks. Our server, Maile (pronounced Miley), provided top-notch, friendly service and she was knowledgeable about the food and tequila selections, although her specialty happens to be sake.

The diverse tequila selection, unique and high-quality food, and superb service all add up to a strong recommendation. Hecho is an innovative addition to the ever-expanding world of tequila bars, and it will be exciting to see this one thrive and grow.

Hecho
185 Sutter St. (at Kearny St.)
San Francisco, CA 94108
Phone: (415) 835-6400
Online: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Yelp | Google Maps
Menu: No official menu is available online, but here’s a complete overview of the food menu as of April 2011 from Grub Street San Francisco.
Items sampled (April 16, 2011):

Tequila and Cocktails

Hecho Margarita (Pueblo Viejo blanco, agave nectar, lime juice) – $10 /cocktail
Pueblo Viejo blanco – $8 /glass
Pueblo Viejo reposado – $10 /glass

Sushi (Nigiri and Makimono rolls)

Tekka (tuna roll) – $7 /roll
Suzuki (sea bass) – $3 /piece
Negi Hamachi (Chopped Yellowtail and scallion roll) – $7 /roll

Yakimono (Grilled items)

Shishito (Japanese peppers) – $3 /plate of 6 peppers
Maguro maki (Hecho roll) – $8 /roll
Momo (Chicken thigh skewer) – $6 /skewer
Wagyu (Beef skewer) – market price

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Don Pilar Tequila Blanco

don pilar tequila blanco
By Ryan Kelley | 04.15.11
Highly Recommended

Overview

  • NOM 1443 – Grupo Industrial Tequilero de los Altos de Jalisco, S.A. de C.V.
  • Agave comes from ranches owned by Jose Pilar Contreras (“Don Pilar”) near the town of San Jose de Gracia in the highlands of Jalisco.
  • Cooked in autoclaves for 24 hours; left to cool for an additional 24 hours.
  • Fermented using the “Mozart method” (baroque music played during 7 to 10-day fermentation process).
  • Affordably priced at $28-$33 a bottle.
  • Kosher certified.
  • Tasted April 2011 using a Riedel tequila glass.

Tasting NotesDon Pilar Tequila Blanco

Sitting in my Riedel glass, Don Pilar blanco seems to sparkle. The body seems slightly thicker than other tequilas. Closing my eyes to assess the aroma, I am instantly transported to a tropical island, as pineapple and subtle mango dominate the nose. It’s backed with a lightly floral baked agave and offers just a hint of peppercorn. Matching the refreshing scent, this blanco is clean and crisp on the palate. It has a slightly oily entry that coats the tongue evenly with sweet, subtle agave flavor. If someone were to ask me what a highlands tequila tastes like, Don Pilar Blanco is a great example: fruity and floral. Unlike some highlands tequilas, however, it isn’t too sweet. The sweetness isn’t tempered by bitterness, but is instead grounded with some nice earthy tones, specifically green bell pepper. Don Pilar Blanco boasts a wonderfully creamy finish with an orange zest aftertaste.

Cocktail Note and Recipe: While Don Pilar Blanco is a perfect sipper for blanco fans – it’s crisp character just begs to be sipped on a hot day – the affordable price point and full body makes it an excellent blanco for cocktails. (You had better not pollute this tequila with anything but fresh, natural ingredients!) The flavors of Don Pilar inspired me to create this  (it doesn’t have a name, I just call it my Don Pilar Margarita):

  • 2 oz Don Pilar blanco
  • 1/4 oz Agave Nectar (I used the Tres Agaves brand)
  • 1/4 oz Combier
  • 1 freshly squeezed lime
  • squeeze of orange
  • orange peel
  1. Twist a small strip of orange peel over a martini glass and drop it inside the glass.
  2. Combine all other ingredients into a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice.
  3. Give it a good 10 shakes – not too hard or fast unless you want your cocktail watery – and strain into the glass.

Rating: 9.0 – Highly Recommended

More about Tequila Don Pilar

Taking a different path than most tequila brands, Tequila Don Pilar was until recently only available as an affordable añejo. It quickly became a well-respected and popular brand, especially in Northern California (where the añejo can be found in area Costco stores for $28.99, elsewhere for $35-$45.) Don Pilar, a former field worker turned restraunteur and entrepreneur, takes a hands-on approach to his tequila, supervising harvesting and production. A portrait of Don Pilar at his current age appears on the añejo bottles, and a young portrait appears on the new blanco.

The tequila is truly a family business. Don Pilar’s son, Juan, is the brand ambassador for the tequila. He tells me that the agave all comes from his father’s ranches near the town of San Jose de Gracia, which Juan tells me “is in the highlands [of Jalisco], 6,000 feet above sea level, in the middle of the ‘Golden Triangle’ of tequila production—between the towns of Arandas, Atotonilco and Tepatitlan.” Each agave used in the tequila is hand-selected. “It must be 8-to-10 years old,” says Juan. “Young or diseased plants are not used. We also take the extra step of removing the plant’s bitter roots – cogollos.”

Another distinguishing factor about Don Pilar is that it is fermented using the “Mozart Method,” a technique based upon the research of Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese scientist who focuses on the healing qualities of water. Juan explains that in the Mozart Method, “Baroque music, specifically Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons,’ is played during the fermentation process to optimize the sugar conversion. The basic theory or rationale is that yeast, being a living organism, reacts to audio stimuli, and the fermentation process improves even more so with a highly-cultured, sophisticated work of art like the ‘Four Seasons.'”

Visit Don Pilar on the web or connect with the brand on Facebook and Twitter.

If you can’t find Don Pilar Blanco in your area, it is also available for purchase online.

Disclosure statement:This item was solicited for review. Products are reviewed with objectivity and professionalism wherever and however they were acquired.

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Tequila 29 Two Nine Blanco

tequila 29 blanco
By Ryan Kelley | 03.21.11
Highly Recommended

Overview

  • NOM 1499 – Casa Tequilera de Arandas, S.A. de C.V. in the highlands of Arandas. (This distillery is also home to Mejor Tequila, Jurado Tequila, and 3 Amigos Tequila.)
  • ABV is 38% (76 proof) but will be sold in the U.S. at 40% (80 proof).
  • Agave is grown in Arandas and owned by the brand. The brand does not buy agave from multiple sources or other regions.
  • Tasted March 2011 using a Riedel tequila glass.

Tasting NotesTequila 29

Clean and clear in the glass with a medium body. It has a great grassy smell that is a nice lead-in to the sweet smell of cooked agave. There are very faint scents of bell pepper, citrus, and peppercorn. The juice is thin and slightly oily on entry with a strong citrus and honey character. There’s a little dance of lemongrass followed by buttery, grassy-agave that’s accented with a slight bitterness. It has a decent finish – creamy and grassy, with strong citrus (grapefruit-like) aftertaste.

Cocktail Note: Tequila 29 is a terrific mixer, but be careful not to hide the grassy character with too many mixers. This is a very margarita-friendly tequila, but also perfectly acceptable as a sipper.

Rating: 8.0 – Highly Recommended

More about Tequila 29 Two Nine

Tequila 29 Two Nine is, according to their Facebook page, the work of young Mexican entrepreneurs who want to deliver “the new face of a modern, cosmopolitan, elegant and youthful Mexico,” and “give the world a better image of Mexico.” The name is supposed to evoke the word “tonight,” but with so many other tequilas with numbers (901, 1942, 1921, etc.), the association is somewhat of a stretch. Nevertheless, there is a modern highlands flavor here combined with elegance in style and taste that carries over into the brand logo, marketing, and wine-like bottle shape.

Brand owner Alberto Rubio admits, “We don’t claim that we have the years and decades of experience and family tradition, not at all.” To make up for this, Rubio and his colleagues turned to one of the industry’s leading tasting experts, Tequila Master and Sommelier Ana María Romero to develop the right flavor and aroma for their brand. Rubio adds, “We have a different perspective; we want to show something different, original and new for all the people that have a young spirit.” Perhaps it is not a coincidence that there is no añejo in this lineup?

The brand’s slogan is, “We Want to Change the Rules of the Game.” Sold exclusively in Mexico (Cancun, Monterrey, Aguascalientes, Guadalajara and Los Cabos) as of publication, but seeking distribution in the U.S., we can’t say Tequila 29 is a game-changer yet. The brand is generating a lot of buzz via the Internet. “We strongly believe in the power of social media such as Twitter and Facebook,” Rubio says, and the brands goal is to build and maintain a solid relationship with costumers and tequila aficionados until it can expand throughout North America and Europe.

Connect with Tequila 29 Two Nine on Twitter and Facebook. More information can also be found online at www.casaxplendor.com.

Disclosure statement: This item was solicited for review. Products are reviewed with objectivity and professionalism wherever and however they were acquired.

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Tequila 29 Two Nine Reposado

tequila 29 reposadoBy Ryan Kelley | 03.21.11
Highly Recommended

Overview

  • NOM 1499 – Casa Tequilera de Arandas, S.A. de C.V. in the highlands of Arandas. (This distillery is also home to Mejor Tequila, Jurado Tequila, and 3 Amigos Tequila.)
  • ABV is 38% (76 proof) but will be sold in the U.S. at 40% (80 proof).
  • Agave is grown in Arandas and owned by the brand. The brand does not buy agave from multiple sources or other regions.
  • Aged for eight months in half-toasted French white oak casks from Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
  • Tasted March 2011 using a Riedel tequila glass.

Tasting Notes

Tequila 29 Two Nine reposado is a wonderful hue – like deep golden foil – it even seems to shine. There’s a wonderful consistency of aroma between the blanco and reposado; you can really detect that grassy and sweet agave aroma noted in the blanco, but in the reposado there are well-balanced scents of butter, vanilla, and light caramel. There is a hint of wood in the nose as well, making the overall aroma reminiscent of mild maple syrup. Like the blanco, the reposado is thin upon entry. The oak is a little aggressive at first sip, but it soon gives way to a full, but not strong, flavor of vanilla-accented agave. It reserves its finest moment for the finish, which is strikingly warm (considering the ABV/proof) and has a long aftertaste with battling citrus, butter, and honey.

Rating: 8.5 – Highly Recommended

Tequila 29 More about Tequila 29 Two Nine

Tequila 29 Two Nine is, according to their Facebook page, the work of young Mexican entrepreneurs who want to deliver “the new face of a modern, cosmopolitan, elegant and youthful Mexico,” and “give the world a better image of Mexico.” The name is supposed to evoke the word “tonight,” but with so many other tequilas with numbers (901, 1942, 1921, etc.), the association is somewhat of a stretch. Nevertheless, there is a modern highlands flavor here combined with elegance in style and taste that carries over into the brand logo, marketing, and wine-like bottle shape.

Brand owner Alberto Rubio admits, “We don’t claim that we have the years and decades of experience and family tradition, not at all.” To make up for this, Rubio and his colleagues turned to one of the industry’s leading tasting experts, Tequila Master and Sommelier Ana María Romero to develop the right flavor and aroma for their brand. Rubio adds, “We have a different perspective; we want to show something different, original and new for all the people that have a young spirit.” Perhaps it is not a coincidence that there is no añejo in this lineup?

The brand’s slogan is, “We Want to Change the Rules of the Game.” Sold exclusively in Mexico (Cancun, Monterrey, Aguascalientes, Guadalajara and Los Cabos) as of publication, but seeking distribution in the U.S., we can’t say Tequila 29 is a game-changer yet. The brand is generating a lot of buzz via the Internet. “We strongly believe in the power of social media such as Twitter and Facebook,” Rubio says, and the brands goal is to build and maintain a solid relationship with costumers and tequila aficionados until it can expand throughout North America and Europe.

Connect with Tequila 29 Two Nine on Twitter and Facebook. More information can also be found online at www.casaxplendor.com.

Disclosure statement: This item was solicited for review. Products are reviewed with objectivity and professionalism wherever and however they were acquired.

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