Originally Published February 20, 2001
Glamour and Magic at The 1st Annual New Mexico International Tequila Experience™
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By Mike Morales
Tequila Aficionado Magazine
Albuquerque is a city of many “firsts.”
After World War II, it was one of the first cities dedicated to nuclear research. It was also the first home of Bill Gates’ Microsoft empire. And on Friday, November 17, 2000, from 4:30pm to 8:30pm, the La Posada de Albuquerque, one of Conrad Hilton’s first original hotels, hosted the 1st Annual New Mexico International Tequila Experience ™.
On a crisp, fall afternoon, with the promise of a cold evening ahead, this historic hotel in downtown came alive with the warm laughter and conversations of close to three hundred blue jean-wearing, silver-tipped and turquoise-topped tequila aficionados.
One of my two partners, Jeff Young, Program Director of our sponsor, local radio station 101.3, The Bone, was in the atrium directing traffic and passing out the handy souvenir tasting guides. Supervising the efficiently trained staff of the La Posada was Food and Beverage Manager, Kirk Brooks.
Thanks in large part to the staffs of the two exclusive distributors for the event-Southern Wine & Spirits of New Mexico and New Mexico Wine Patrol-everyone from the “green horn” novice to the true blue “catador” found something to their liking.
The largest tequila tasting of its kind in the Southwest, La Posada’s mezzanine featured tequilas from Patron, D’Reyes, El Tesoro, Chinaco, Sauza, Corazon, and Don Alejo. But that’s not all…
Also featured were mezcals by the famous Del Maguey Single Village Mezcals from San Luis Del Rio to Minero. In addition, there were tequilas from the difficult to acquire Lapis Añejo, Chamucos, and Espolon.
Couple these fine tequilas and mezcals with the atmospheric architecture of the La Posada de Albuquerque-the exposed carved beams, Spanish-tile floors, tinwork, and wall murals-and the result was a truly magical evening. (Capture the magic for yourself by taking a virtual tour of La Posada!)
Maintaining the magic, and giving the International Tequila Experience an educational flair, fell on the very capable shoulders of two of the biggest names in the industry: Ron Cooper, founder and importer of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcals, and Lance Cutler, author of the wildly popular book The Tequila Lover’s Guide to Mexico and Mezcal. (This revised edition is rapidly becoming the “bible” of tequila and mezcal in the spirits industry. To get your copy, click on the book’s icon on the home page of this site!)
Not only were both gentlemen available throughout the evening-Lance at the main entry table with yours truly, and Ron holding court at the Del Maguey table supervising the pouring of clay “copitas” of mezcal-but in the spacious ballroom of the La Posada, each expertly held the ample crowd spellbound with their individual slide presentations.
Ron Cooper spoke first, showing slides of each of the villages where he oversees the making of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcals. From harvesting to the final product, every step was covered including the subtleties and ceremonial customs involved.
Then, Lance Cutler took the dais explaining in exact detail the process of tequila production and the different regions where some of our favorite brands come from. But from both gentlemen, the same message was immanently clear…Passion. Passion for the art of tequila production. Passion for the craftsmanship involved. And in Ron Cooper’s case a passion for the people who manufacture the product.
Throughout the evening, with not only the aide of Lance and Ron, but also the knowledgeable staff of the La Posada, Southern Wine, and Wine Patrol, that passion was transferred to the people in attendance.
In between tastings, or while the throng munched in the rear of the ballroom on the fine faire whipped up by the chefs at Conrad’s Downtown at La Posada-which ranged from chips and salsa to cheese and fruit to mussels and shrimp! I made my way along the mezzanine, meeting and greeting and asking for personal opinions.
Always with a smile on their faces, I was given the thumbs up or the okay sign. The personal reasons why they chose this silver tequila over that añejo. Friends excitedly telling each other to try this reposado over at that table. Husbands and wives playfully arguing about their preferences in the official tasting guide. Others acquired new favorites as they discovered labels that they had not been exposed to before. Some were serious, some were not…but it didn’t matter. The general consensus was that they would do it all over again next year. Some even asked if we could do it semi-annually! And one woman thanked my two partners and me for bringing back her nightlife!
As a first time organizer, these responses were deeply gratifying. So was the feeling that, even after all the hassles and hurdles that we went through in the last year to put on the International Tequila Experience, we really did do something right.
In the waning moments of the gala, a photographer approached Jeff, Kirk and myself and asked to take our picture. My other partner, John Samson (who was also the Special Projects Manager on duty that night at the hotel), was patrolling the atrium downstairs. I leaned over the mezzanine to call his attention, when I was suddenly struck by the beauty of the crowd below. The patrons had filtered into the Lobby Bar to order a cocktail or a margarita. Some were headed to Conrad’s for dinner. Others were mingling at tables around the fountain. The Friday night jazz band was about to begin their set, while some confused guests wondered why the atrium was so crowded. It occurred to me that this was what it must have been like when, during the hotel’s heyday in the late thirties and early forties, such Hollywood stars as Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck visited the La Posada.
Only one word could describe the 1st Annual New Mexico International Tequila Experience™