On Friday, November 15, 2002, the “Largest Tequila Tasting of its kind in the Southwest” happened at the historic La Posada de Albuquerque in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I’ve often been accused of making astonishing comparisons to prove a point.
Where some like to compare “apples to apples,” I like to compare apples to oranges. Or, in this case, tequila to puppies. I will elaborate shortly, but I’ve discovered that such comparisons make for wonderful pieces.
I have a quirky sense of humor!
A Puppy’s Story
The Third Annual New Mexico International Tequila Experience™ played to a sell-out crowd. By far, it was the biggest attendance for an event of this type—ever! The response was overwhelming, as The Southwest Tequila Association, our newly formed company, knew it would be.
With the article “Life’s Too Short to Drink Cheap Tequila” appearing in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Digest Magazine in July 2002 (Which you can read in its entirety on our website at www.tequilaexperience.com. See also last year’s account of the 2001 show on Tequila Aficionado’s home page.), advance ticket sales from all across the state—and around the country–were brisk. Also, the backing of the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation (the new and recent owners of our biggest sponsor, radio station Smooth Jazz 105.1, The Horizon), guaranteed that we’d have our work cut out for us.
The public came out in droves! But…we were not as prepared as we had hoped!
Big Paws and Floppy Ears
Three years ago, about the time of our first event, I became the owner of two dogs…mutts actually. One is a Chow-black Lab mix, the other is a possible Dalmatian-Lab mix, although my fiancée, Mindy, believes he is more closely related to some sort of sheep dog.
Shots and Tequila (I’m withholding their true identities to protect their privacy!) both had all the cute attributes necessary to be fine pets. They played well together, they paper trained easily, and they slept quietly at night. In short, they were manageable, smart, and well behaved.
Then, somewhere along their young lives, they both went through a growing spurt. Their paws became bigger than their bodies. Their tails grew longer. They ran everywhere with reckless abandon knocking over furniture, small children, and even the neighbor’s mailbox onto his lawn!
Shots and Tequila were no longer pups. They were bounding their way into adulthood chewing on doors, digging holes in the backyard, and virtually destroying anything that was inflatable, made of leather, emitted squeaky noises or meowed. (Okay…so they only chased that last one!)
A growth spurt was exactly what had happened to the Tequila Experience!
At the outset, the early arrivals lined up alongside our registration table in front of the only pair of elevators in the hotel by 4pm—fully a half-hour prior to the event! Before we knew it, the line formed to the right, snaked down La Posada’s famous Lobby Bar, and around the corner to the left. At one point, tequila fans were actually standing outside the front entrance to the hotel! (Check out the photos at the end of this article if you don’t believe me!) Although there had been a snowstorm earlier in the week, that evening the weather was perfect for a night on the town.
Registration was slow, however, even with four of us working furiously to get everybody onto La Posada’s Mezzanine in a timely manner. Since our ticket presales are done on the Internet, we are basically a ticketless event. Folks simply present their printed receipts and we verify their confirmations on a VIP list. This process worked great for the first two shows, but proved sluggish this time around.
Luckily, the public was in good spirits and very understanding. Many were just thankful to be there that night. Unlike larger markets like Denver, Dallas, Chicago, or Los Angeles—where there’s always something to do—Albuquerque is not known for its nightlife. However, in 2002, the International Tequila Experience™ has firmly established itself as the event of the autumn in New Mexico! And the crowd let us know it by showing their support.
We Don’t Need No Stinking Leashes!
Shots and Tequila are both obedience school dropouts. They are not trained to be on a leash for any reasonable length of time.
Imagine two large dogs on short leashes dragging you by your heels to the dog park only a few blocks from your home…
…And you are not a runner…
…And you are not standing on a sled…
…And there isn’t any snow on the ground, yet….
Your neighbors shake their heads and hide their faces, embarrassed for you as you go tripping and sliding by their front lawns.
To save face, you shout commands at Shots and Tequila, but to yourself and your neighbors, you sound like you’re ordering drinks and then sending them back!
The tequila tasting on La Posada’s Mezzanine was not that rambunctious!
Last year, the tasting was held downstairs in what was once a second restaurant inside La Posada known as Eulalia’s. Although elegant, the general consensus by those that attended and served was that we should move it back upstairs to the Mezzanine since it was more spacious.
With the size of the crowd that night, space was still at a premium! But, by all reports—from the Bar Manager of the Lobby Bar, to La Posada’s servers, to the folks from Southern Wine & Spirits who poured that night—the crowd was thoughtful, friendly, and co-operative.
Which is more than I can say for Shots and Tequila!
…And They Call It Puppy Love
Those of you who have kept tabs on us know that the New Mexico International Tequila Experience™ is not the type of event that is sanctioned to give medals to the best tequilas or mescals. In fact, we’re the only show that gives what Jeff and I call the Tequila Ambassador Award to the person who embodies the Tequila Attitude. (More on this year’s winner later on.) We are essentially a show that attempts to instruct the consumer.
That night, people were lined up five and six deep at each table patiently waiting their turns to judge for themselves why they should stop buying expensive bottles of tequila for their looks alone.
…Or, to discover the secrets to producing better tequila.
…Or, to shatter tequila’s centuries-old myths for themselves.
…And to learn when to sip and when to shoot tequila.
In short, some wanted to be the envy of their friends…. To dare to become tequila experts! And we had just the right people to help them.
The journeymen representatives for our sponsors Southern Wine & Spirits of New Mexico, and Bacchus Wine Patrol, the official distribution companies of the International Tequila Experience™, were always at their best, reining in those who wanted to learn more about this reposado or that añejo. Their expertise is essential to our event, and this year’s crew included many veterans of the past two shows.
Also involved were representatives of some of the major spirits companies in the world like Johnnie Mann of St. Maarten (Patron), Brad Throneberry of Bacardi (Cazadores), and of course, last year’s Tequila Ambassador recipient, Ron Cooper, founder and importer of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcals.
On board for the first time was Tequila Penca Azul, and its Managing Partner, Carlos Jose Phillips. Due to the efforts of the International Tequila Experience ™ and Southern Wine & Spirits of New Mexico, distribution for Penca Azul was secured in the Southwestern United States. His high-end, limited production reposado was such a hit with the public that he literally ran out of product to taste! But, that didn’t stop Carlos from introducing as many people as possible to his revolutionary tequila.
Carlos, one of our guest speakers that night, not only demonstrated why Penca Azul is different from other reposados, but he gave us a virtual tour of the process involved in the production of fine tequila. His informative presentation, plus a handy instructional booklet (A Little Crazy History of Tequila) was absolutely a necessity for any tequila aficionado.
Having met Carlos due to last year’s show, and picking his brain about his views on the tequila industry over some zesty New Mexican cuisine, I got the feeling this three-year-old tequila company is in quite capable hands. To converse with Carlos about his marketing strategies for Penca Azul–which he developed by studying the rise and fall of Porfidio’s Martin Grassl, among others—is an education in the business of tequila. Mark my words: Carlos, and Penca Azul, will soon be a force to be reckoned with! (You can visit their website at www.pencazul.com for more information.)
Aside from Penca Azul, other favorites with the sipping public were D’Reyes’ almond-flavored tequila, Crema de Mezcal (Ron Cooper’s newest and tastiest addition to the Del Maguey line), and Don Julio Anejo.
Another guest speaker, Albuquerque’s Mexican Consulate, Juan Solana, took time out from his very busy schedule to educate the attendees on the various tequila producing regions of Mexico.
Albuquerque is without direct flights to major cities and resorts in Mexico, and Senor Solana is tirelessly attempting to interest major Mexican airlines to reestablish such flights out of Albuquerque International Sunport. New Mexico is the fourteenth largest Hispanic market in the country, and with Guadalajara as one of Albuquerque’s sister cities—the heart of tequila country—it’s a shame that agave fans cannot book direct flights from here.
If Senor Solana has his way, however, that will soon change…drastically!
Best Of Show
Shots and Tequila are far from being blue ribbon winners, but two awards were handed out at the Third Annual New Mexico International Tequila Experience™.
The first was to Ricardo Garcia, Warehouse Manager for Southern Wine & Spirits of New Mexico, for twenty-five years of service to the company. Ricardo happens to be the father of Martin Garcia, CEO of Virtual Ally one of the main sponsors of our show.
Virtual Ally has developed a phenomenal search engine for companies with or without an Internet presence based on a simple concept. If you are an Internet-based company like we are, or you’d like to be, don’t pass up the opportunity to be listed on their search engine, PinPoint Pages.com. (It’s FREE! Check them out at www.pinpointpages.com.)
In addition, the International Tequila Experience™ presented its second annual Tequila Ambassador Award to the person who Embodies the Tequila Attitude. This year’s winner was Ray Vaio, On Premise Supervisor for Southern Wine & Spirits.
For the last three years, Southern Wine & Spirits of New Mexico has been our loudest supporter. When Jeff and I envisioned putting on the “Largest Tequila Tasting of its kind in the Southwest,” we had no experience.
Zero. Zip. Nada.
Largely through the foresight of Southern Wine, and the Herculean efforts of Ray Vaio—our point man and cheerleader–the International Tequila Experience™ has become the most watched-for event in the state! Ray was also instrumental in helping us bring Penca Azul to the southwest, and ultimately, to our show. He is constantly searching for newer and fresher tequilas to help augment Southern Wine’s already powerful portfolio.
So, for his patience with Jeff and me (And for all the phone calls to him on his days off!), we bestowed the treasured—and extremely useful—engraved flask. A must-have for any serious tequila lover! That certainly describes Ray to a “t.”
Old Dog, New Tricks
Last year’s article on the 2001 Tequila Experience was somewhat long in the (hound’s) tooth. I tried revealing what it is like to have a carefully planned event come apart at the seams. My partners and I of The Southwestern Tequila Association (one of our new tricks) are by no means perfect. And the 2002 show was not without it’s mishaps and misfortunes.
So…roll up that newspaper and hit us on our cold, wet noses! Here’s a short list of what did and didn’t happen:
· The Souvenir Tasting Guides were produced well ahead of time, and all four hundred copies were snatched up! Unfortunately, we were about six hundred copies short. You do the math.
· Space was not the only thing at a premium that night. So was the free food and some of the tequila samples. We ran out of both!
· Not enough change in the till for those buying their entrances in cash that night. Trying to find a hotel manager to buy change every twenty minutes was nerve wracking!
· There were plenty of rooms at the La Posada three days before the event. On Friday, November 15th, the hotel was officially oversold. They ran out of rooms!
· Haggling over prices with a graphics company over the size of our logo for the commemorative Tequila Experience shot glasses; making three extra trips on the same day to the only store in town that sold color-coded self-adhesive wristbands which we hand out to attendees; and last minute handwritten comp lists from all the major sponsors of the show, rounded out our evening!
· …Oh, yeah…. And the extra long wait in line to get into the show! (Baaad dog!)
Although not everything was our fault, we’ll take the blame. Did we learn anything? Absolutely!
Next year’s show will be a breakthrough in streamlined improvement…guaranteed!
Releasing The Hounds
Mercifully, you are just a few feet from the dog park. Shots and Tequila realize they are among their kind and pull you the rest of the way. Just when your arms are going to be yanked from their sockets, the dogs stop in their tracks.
Landing on your back, you’re miraculously still holding onto their leashes. You crawl over to them and unclip their leashes from their collars. Off they go to frolic among their friends.
Parched, panting, and on all fours, you look out onto the grass ahead of you and pull out your Tequila Ambassador flask filled with your favorite reposado. Taking a sip, you smile relieved that you have released the hounds, and you admire their beauty as they run for the sheer fun of it.
Seeing the crowded lobby filled with smiling, happy patrons dancing to the pianist that the La Posada hired for that evening’s entertainment was truly satisfying. Sheer fun was playing out before us.
After the tasting, the throng spilled over into the sitting areas throughout the lobby, near the bar, and the restaurant—Conrad’s at La Posada—was standing room only! Nearly everyone who worked at the hotel, or who had visited before, commented to us that they had never seen the La Posada de Albuquerque so incredibly packed! Take a tour of one of Conrad Hilton’s first hotels at www.laposada-abq.com.
At the bar, Ron Cooper put his arm around me and asked, “Are you ready to use the entire upstairs and downstairs next year?”
“No,” I answered, shaking my head.
“Congratulations,” he continued. “Don’t you feel fulfilled?”
What I felt, I’ll admit, was numb!
Then, it occurred to me that when I return from the dog park with Shots and Tequila, after they’ve had a chance to run for a while, they are always much more manageable. Tired, but happy, and ready to go home, these fellows easily take to their leashes.
And on the walk home, they surely remember all the fun they had just had, and for only a moment, they consider how much fun it’ll be when they revisit with their friends next time.
So it was with us—The Southwest Tequila Association—as we left the La Posada for home that evening. New and exciting ideas for next year’s show were already bubbling up from inside. Improving upon a solid foundation to create even more unique and fascinating shows. That’s when we knew we were hooked!
Like the old saying goes: The third time’s the charm!
Co-organizer and partner, Mike Morales, heads White Moccasins Publishing Company specializing in copywriting and press releases based in Albuquerque, NM. For more pictures of “The Third Time’s the Charm,” and to get your Commemorative Tequila Experience shot glass, log on to www.tequilaexperience.com.