Tequila Aficionado Media covers North America’s premier agave spirits tasting event – Spirits of Mexico
Since a picture says a thousand words, Rick Thibault Levy, Tequila Aficionado’s correspondent to the 2013 Spirits of Mexico show, took plenty – along with some great video (video coming soon). For your viewing enjoyment, we present the 2013 Spirits of Mexico in San Diego, through Rick Levy’s lens. Enjoy!
1. The overflow crowd lines up for Spirits of Mexico
SPIRITS OF MEXICO FESTIVAL Crowns the 2013 WINNING SPIRITS
- For the First Time in the Festival’s History, Two Tequilas Tie for the Coveted ‘Best in Show’ Award –
2. More tequila aficionados queue up for Spirits of Mexico
The 10th-anniversary Spirits of Mexico Festival, North America’s premier agave spirits tasting event, returned to San Diego Sept. 17 to 21 and named the top agave spirits in the world. The week-long celebration attracted more than 2,000 tequila enthusiasts, featured more than 70 brands of tequila and presented more than 200 signature styles of spirits produced in Mexico including tequilas, mezcals and hand-crafted artisanal beers.
3. Checking out tequila bottles for the silent auction
The Best Western Hacienda Hotel in Old Town San Diego was the venue for the IWSC Group’s annual Spirits of Mexico Festival Tasting Competition that took place on Sept. 15 and 16.
5. Which one would you bid on?
Entries were judged on five key elements including appearance, aromatics, flavor, mouthfeel and finish, with a rating system totaling a maximum possible score of 100 points. The intensive blind-tasting schedule included more than 100 entries.
6. Grabbing a bite to eat from the food vendors
Winners of the Tasting Competition’s ‘Best in Class’ awards are as follows:
11. Superstar brand Suerte Tequila explains its tahona process and quality to fans
In the Tequila Extra Anejo category, gold honors went to Crotalo 7 Year, Herradura Selección Suprema, Malinalli and Number Juan.
12. Suerte Sunset
Desaire Joven Tobala took gold in the Mezcal category and Ocho Cientos Reposado took gold honors in the Sotol category.
13. The noble blue agave
The Tasting Competition was co-hosted by Robert Plotkin of BarMedia and Jack Robertiello of Drinks Ink.
Judges included Alfredo Gama of Wine Warehouse; Founder and Director of Creativa Sensorial Ana Maria Romero Mena; Grover Sanschagrin of Taste Tequila and Tequila Matchmaker; Mixologist and Tequila Expert Jen Queen; Certified Mezcalier Julie Harrington-Giffin of Agave Love; Master Mixologist Junior Merino “The Liquid Chef”; Levi Walker of Young’s Market; Thomas ‘Mac’ McFarland Gregory III of Starwood Hotels, and Zack Romaya of Old Town Liquor.
14. The sacrificial blue agave
On Friday, Sept. 20, Spirits of Mexico Festival Founder and Director Dori Bryant and Marketing Director Anna Grant hosted the Awards Ceremony and revealed the winners from this year’s competition.
15. A smile and a sample
“The unprecedented tie for Best in Show, the competition’s highest honor, stunned all,” said Bryant. “This is the first time that a tequila anejo as well as a mezcal took top marks.
“This highest honor recognizes the enduring artistry and craftsmanship of Tequila Herradura, as well as the sophistication and elegance of Mezcal Desaire,” continued Bryant. “We are pleased to congratulate both of these formidable brands.”
16. Carlos Camarena’s Excellia displays its gold medal
Comedian Jason Lawhead hosted the live auction benefitting the Sky Ranch Foundation, which featured rare spirits and other items from the private collections of many of the distillers.
17. Representatives of Karma tequila generate great vibes
The night was also honored by the city and county of San Diego, which provided proclamations naming Sept. 17 through 21, Spirits of Mexico Week in the county and city of San Diego.
18. Karma tequila takes the stage
Mayor Todd Gloria spoke about the importance of the festival to the region.
19. Tequila cupcakes for dessert from Harina Dulce
“San Diego is a unique cross-border and cross-cultural region – there is just no other place where two economies and two cultures come together into one critical entity like they do here,” said Mayor Gloria.
20. Tequila Uno and Fortaleza headline the silent auction at the Spirits of Mexico
“This festival breaks through and tears down cultural walls, fences, barriers in appreciation of one thing: the joy, passion and pride of truly exceptional agave-based spirits.”
21. Crotalo, Pura Vida and Suerte tequilas contribute to the silent auction at Spirits of Mexico
On Saturday, Sept. 21, the Main Tasting Event presented more than 200 styles of agave-based spirits. Guests also sampled traditional Mexican cuisine from Casa de Reyes, met with master distillers, mixologists, historians and other agave aficionados, attended educational seminars by Milagro Tequila and Olmeca Altos, and bid on hundreds of bottles at a silent auction.
22. Spirits of Mexico Founder, Dori Bryant, announces the 2013 medal winners
The Spirits of Mexico Festival, North America’s largest event dedicated to agave spirits, is presented by the IWSC Group, a leader in organizing wine and spirit competitions around the globe.
23. Tequila and mezcal brand owners proudly display their medals
According to the earliest historical documentation, on a hot and dusty August 7, 1873, the first registered exportation of tequila, three and a half barrels of vino mezcal, traveled by ox cart from the small town of Tequila, through El Paso del Norte, present day Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
It’s final destination was the oldest capital city of Santa Fe–39 years before New Mexico joined the Union!
Happy US Tequila History Day from Tequila Aficionado Media!
A rarely seen empty front gate at Anaheim Stadium.
The invitation read, “Step Up To the Plate With Camarena Tequila.” The location–Angel Stadium Diamond Club, Anaheim, CA. The time–Major League Baseball’s Opening Week. The activities would include a private stadium tour, Camarena Tequila tasting, an interactive tequila cocktail demonstration, and Southwest style bites.
Having grown up about 40 minutes east of Dodger Stadium, and a lifelong Dodger fan, I thought twice about accepting an invitation to the enemy’s camp. But, the Angels were out of town that week, so I really wouldn’t be cheating on my home team. And, after all, it was combining two of my favorite subjects…
Baseball and tequila.
Besides, when was the last time the Dodgers ever bought me a margarita?
I arrived early to Angel’s Stadium and after securing a prime parking spot reserved for Diamond Club ticket holders (wonder how much that costs?), and snapping a few shots of a rarely seen empty front gate, I was escorted to the Diamond Club.
Behind the heavy glass double doors sat the spritely hostess and account manager for Camarena Tequila and their Step Up to the Plate event, Kylie Barnett. She introduced herself with a firm handshake, handed me my press credentials and pointed me in the direction of the rows of tables formally set out with fresh red and white linens matching the Angels’ team colors.
It was an impressive spread with each place setting having all the bar utensils you’d ever need–a shaker, strainer, stirring spoon, muddler, fresh fruits and herbs–to concoct your own cocktails. And, on every table, were several pairs of Camarena blanco and reposado tequila bottles.
Once I snapped these shots, I was lured by a large patio that overlooked the box seats directly behind home plate. The baseball diamond itself was just beyond another set of heavy glass double doors.
Rows of tables formally set with Angels’ team colors.
That’s when the kid in me took over.
Pre-game Stats and Stories
I snapped more shots of the empty field and the seats. A lone bunting draped across a railing in the upper level stands above me flapped in the off shore breeze. Like a child reciting the statistics of his favorite player memorized from the back of a bubblegum baseball card, my mind raced through what I remembered of this upstart tequila.
Camarena was just a rookie in 2010, but made a huge splash as a Big League tequila prospect when it appeared on the streets of Los Angeles in the form of (are you ready for this?) a taco truck!
In those days, liquor sampling was against the law in California. So, how does a start up brand gain traction in the largest tequila market in the US?
It jumped on the popularity of these guerilla dining establishments on six wheels and dispensed free tacos infused with Camarena tequila from Santa Monica to the Sunset Strip throughout the summer.
The Camarena Tequila Taco Truck appears in Los Angeles.
Shrewdly using Facebook and Twitter, it boldly announced when and where the truck would appear. Usually, the locations were very near where hungry and thirsty patrons could purchase bottles of Camarena tequila.
A brilliant campaign, but later that year Camarena became the breakout brand no one expected.
It signed sponsorship deals with the Chivas USA soccer club, then the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and New Orleans Saints of the NFL. What seemed like only moments later, it secured partnerships with NBA venues for the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic.
If that wasn’t enough, the following year, it wrapped up agreements with the Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, and here at Anaheim Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
By design, with the element of surprise, Camarena Tequila had scored agreements in the most visible markets in sports and in the regions where the most tequila is consumed in the US.
Again, a brilliant game plan that lead to Camarena’s triple digit growth in a very short time.
In 2013, Camarena has paired down its sports sponsorships in Major League Baseball to concentrate on solidifying strategic alliances with five clubs. Two of them, the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies, have dedicated Camarena Tequila themed bars with specialty cocktails and food inside their stadiums.
Some of the invitees to the Step Up to the Plate event had filtered out onto the patio with plates of fresh tacos and ceviche. That was my cue to get some food before the stadium tour started.
The Designated Hitter
As I wandered back into the Diamond Club, I ran into a bearded and lanky young man who nervously paced back and forth talking to himself and looking at index cards like a batter trying to remember how the opposing team had pitched to him last season. He was Camarena Tequila’s hired gun for the evening, mixologist Joel Black, who would teach the rest of us how to expertly mix amazing Camarena cocktails.
Joel Black is no ordinary bartender. This journeyman mixologist not only has over ten years in the Big Leagues under his belt, but he is also a partner in Black LAB Ventures, a mixology catering and consulting firm servicing Southern California’s top restaurants, bars, brands, and events. His latest project is the newly opened Tinga in Santa Monica.
The Line Up
While the idea of the taco truck is still fun, there’s nothing like being served fresh shrimp ceviche inside the comfort of the Angel’s Stadium Diamond Club. Along with white fish, tomato, red onion, avocado, crisp cilantro and freshly cut jalapeños, this called for a sip of Camarena blanco tequila.
Further up the line was a master chef preparing fresh tacos made from carnitas to mahi mahi, served onto handmade tortillas. Topped off with made-that-day chips and salsa, and another sip of Camarena reposado, and everyone was good to go.
That’s when Kylie announced what was in store for us next.
After an entertaining and enlightening tour of the “Big A” as Anaheim Stadium is affectionately called, where we were taken from the clubhouse to the dugout, to the underground batting cages and even shown the corporate suites (where liquor giant Campari USA owns one, at $250,000 a pop), Joel Black took the stage back at the Diamond Club to extoll the virtues of one hundred percent agave tequila versus a well known mixto.
Joel did his best to educate the attendees of the Step Up To The Plate event with a short history of the sixth generation Camarena family responsible for its namesake tequila. The traditional processes (estate grown agave, oven baking, slow fermentation, extra care distillation) and short barrel aging of the reposado that helped in keeping Camarena’s Highland’s tequila flavor profile consistent.
Coupled with the family’s amazing history of agave growing (which predates baseball’s alleged invention by Abner Doubleday in 1839 by a year!) that includes such historic tequila making families as the Orendains and Cuervos, and Camarena’s current success was all but predestined.
Get Into The Game With Camarena Tequila
After Joel Black conducted the blind tasting of Camarena one hundred percent agave tequila against the famed mixto (can you guess who won?), he put us all into the line up as mixologists.
Starting with a simple Silver Paloma, a traditional tequila cocktail made with grapefruit soda, followed by the catchy Camarena Change-Up served in a classy martini glass, to the clean-up hitting Camarena Grand Slam, whose secret ingredients were muddled pineapple, cilantro and jalapeños, and the entire evening was a hit.
Pros like Joel Black may not be able to teach you how to throw a wicked curveball or a nasty slider, but you will be able to sling some pretty crafty cocktails to your friends at your next party.
My advice is when you get an invitation by Camarena Tequila to Step Up To The Plate, you take that dare and get into the game!
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We do not purchase all the spirits we review here. Some we receive from the brand owner, some we receive from the distributor, and some we receive through PR companies. Some spirits we purchase ourselves.