Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits

[From September 11 to October 2, 2016, Tequila Aficionado Media, sponsored by 34 expressions representing 21 brands, embarked on a monumental RV road show dubbed, The Heartland Tour.  In these next passages, we recount the historic–and epic–highlights.  Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant provided us with no payment, but the food was well worth it!  *FTC Disclosure: Brands appearing on the Tequila Aficionado Dia de Los Muertos & Heartland Tour had to be vetted as Brand of Promise Nominees and paid a nominal fee to be on the tour.] 

Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xc

Back To Felipe’s

Tequila Aficionado’s Heartland Tour started off with a bang from the get-go.

We had visited Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant in 2014, and fell in love with the food, the owners–the Lujano family–and their history as stalwart members of the Wichita business community for almost fifty years.

Once again, for the third year in a row, they have been voted Wichita’s Favorite Mexican restaurant by the Wichita Eagle newspaper.

Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xc

Working Together

This time around, we made a special whistle-stop at Felipe’s to meet with Adam Clary, Craft Spirits Specialist for Standard Beverage Corporation, and several selected staff members.

Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xcStandard Beverage Corporation, one of the more well respected distributors in Kansas, has a firm reputation of forging solid relationships with the customers they serve, including Felipe’s.

Felipe’s is known for their innovation in Mexican cuisine, and for a keen feeling for what will keep their customers coming back for more.

The Lujano family also has a deep love and affinity for all things agave, especially craft tequilas and mezcals that aren’t available in their home state.

Kansas:  A Hotbed For Agave Spirits

Our timing through Kansas during the Heartland Tour had the makings of an Agave Perfect Storm.Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xc

We simply wheeled in our stash of agave goodness to share between Felipe’s lunch and dinner hours, and let everyone go to town.

Almost immediately, there were oohs and ahhs from both camps.

The Lujano family and the Standard Beverage staff acted like catadores who had just spent the entire day blind judging tequilas for a serious competition, and then cut loose on their favorites during the after party.

Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xc

Knowing that Adam had a great appreciation for craft spirits in general, I still anticipated that I would need to translate some of the nuances of agave to some of the attendees.

I expected that most would gravitate to the aged expressions that we had laid out for them, especially considering we were touring through a part of the country that is heavily influenced by darker spirits, namely bourbon and whisky.

Surprise, surprise!

Such was not the case.

Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xcIn an astonishing move, the group made a beeline for every unaged expression belonging to our sponsoring brands.

Tasting the Goods

On a personal note, whenever I participate in tastings or demonstrations, I search for specific clues from the audience to alert me to whether I’m dealing with a well-informed crowd or a roomful of newbies.

Usually, it’s a cross section of both.

Unlike public tastings and dinner events we’ve conducted in the past, or staff training at restaurants or distributors, no instruction was necessary for the chosen and invited staff of Standard Beverage.Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xc

Any tequilero or mezcalero worth his or her worm salt will tell you that the character and integrity of their brand can be measured by the quality of their unaged expression.  Most will never shy away from a chance to pit just their blanco tequila or joven mezcal against any other competing brand.

The folks of Standard Beverage understood this.

Without exception, each staff member followed Adam Clary’s lead in sampling the unaged versions of our sponsoring brands, first.  Only when they were satisfied with what they were experiencing from each tequila or mezcal did they proceed in sampling the rest of the lines.

Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xc

The effort it takes to understand agave spirits, especially in a region where it is not the average go-to sip, is a quality sorely missing from small-to-medium distribution houses these days.

It’s a testament to the training received by the staff and management of Standard Beverage, and to the courage and enthusiasm displayed by the Lujano family by asking for and acquiring more and better agave spirits.

It was such a joy, and a relief, to simply share stellar agave spirits as one would do with family and friends.

Isn’t that what it’s all about, any way?

Kansas Is A Hotbed For Agave Spirits http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4xc

How to Taste Tequila Like a Catador…

…Or, at least, how to act like one

Color, legs and tears, taste tequila
Color, legs and tears.

There are two official schools in Mexico that train people to be certified catadores (tequila tasters).  One is actually a faction of the original school established in 2000 and known as the Academia Mexicana del Tequila (Mexican Tequila Academy).

After a bitter falling out between the founders, another school was initiated in 2006 known as the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Vino y Mezcal.

Below are the official guidelines of tequila tasting as set forth by the Mexican Tequila Academy and translated from their website here.

1.)  Durante todo el proceso de cata, no debe haber communicación entre los catadores.

(During the entire tasting, there should be no communication among the tasters

Covered tequila samples, taste tequila
Covered tequila samples.

[judges]).

2)  Recuerde que un gesto o cualquier otra actitud de aprobación o desaprobación, puede influir en la opinión de los otros participantes. Su opinión, sea cual fuere, debe ser reflejada en la cédula de cata, y si tuviera opiniones o comentarios extra-calificación, es importante que utilice el reverso de la cédula correspondiente a la muestra que está evaluando.

(Keep in mind that any gesture of approval or disapproval can influence the opinion of the other judges.  Whatever your opinion, it should be reflected on the scoring sheet and if you have opinions or extra comments (ratings), it’s important to use the reverse side of the scoring sheet of the sample you are evaluating.)

3.)  Antes y durante el transcurrir de la cata no es conveniente fumar, ya que el tabaco disminuye la capacidad de percepción sensorial y sus apreciaciones podrían estar afectadas y el humo afectará a los otros catadores.

(Before and during the course of the tasting, it is not convenient to smoke since tobacco diminishes one’s sensorial capacities and perceptions.  Your assessments may be affected and the smoke will affect the other tasters [judges].)

4.)  Se recomienda que el día del catado se evite el uso de lociones o perfumes.

Agave, up close, taste tequila
Agave, up close.

(It is recommended that on the day of the tasting that you avoid the use of lotions or perfumes.)

5.)  De preferencia el día de la cata se debe tomar un desayuno ligero, entre las 8:00 y las 9:00 hrs. si la cata se inicia a las 11:00.

(It is preferred that on the day of the tasting that you have a light breakfast at 8 or 9 AM if the tasting is to start at 11AM.)

6.)  Antes de iniciar el catado, ponga en su boca un pequeño sorbo de un destilado neutro (se recomienda vodka simple) páselo por toda la boca y finalmente elimínelo, este ejercicio hará que su boca quede limpia de sabores extraños o anteriores y la preparará para una mejor percepción.

(Before the inception of the tasting, place a small sip of a neutral [grain] spirit (plain vodka is recommended), swish it around in your mouth and spit it out.  This practice cleanses your mouth of strange or previous flavors and prepares

Vodka, soda crackers, water and scoring sheets.
Vodka, soda crackers, water and scoring sheets.

you for a better perception [evaluation]).

7.)  Antes de calificar el sabor de la primera muestra, se recomienda poner en la boca un primer sorbo y moverlo por toda ella, eliminarlo y con un segundo sorbo emitir su calificación sobre el sabor.

(Before scoring the first sample on its flavor, it is recommended to take the first sip and swish it inside your entire mouth and spit it out.  With the second sip, express (record) your score on the flavor.)

8.)  Tómese el tiempo necesario para evaluar cada muestra, no lo haga apresuradamente, y sobre todo concéntrese en la muestra en turno. ¡CONCENTRACIÓN ES EL NOMBRE DEL JUEGO!

(Take the time necessary to evaluate each sample.  Don’t be in a hurry, and above all, concentrate on the current sample.  CONCENTRATION IS THE NAME OF THE GAME!)

9.)  Recuerde que es su percepción y opinión, sobre la muestra en turno, la que vale y no el qué o cómo pudiere parecerle a otra persona.

(Remember that it’s your perception and opinion over the current sample that counts and not how someone else might perceive it.)

10.)  No intente hacer comparaciones; no tiene que conectar la muestra en turno con alguna marca en particular; realice su evaluación como si cada una de las muestras fuera única. Cada una de las muestras tendrá sus propias características, positivas o negativas, sus cualidades, atributos y esos son los que deben contar para usted, de acuerdo con los parámetros de la categoría y clase de la muestra, ya que esto es finalmente lo que se busca.

(Do not attempt to make comparisons.  Do not connect the current sample to a particular brand.  Carry out your evaluations as if each sample were unique.  Each one of the samples will have its own characteristics, positive or negative, its own qualities and attributes, and those are what you should depend (rely) upon in accordance with the parameters of the category and type of the

Scoring tequila samples.
Scoring tequila samples.

sample as that is ultimately what is looked for.)

11.)  Es importante que al pasar de una a otra muestra, elimine el sabor de la anterior con un poco de galleta sin sal y agua.

(It is important that after each sample, you cleanse its flavor [from your palate] with a bit of plain soda cracker and water.)

12.)  Elimine el sorbo de cada muestra evaluada, al final de la cata podrá beber de las muestras que prefiera.

(Eliminate the sip of each sample evaluated.  At the end of the cata (tasting) you’ll be able to drink from the samples you preferred.)

13.)  Es de vital importancia que para evaluar cada categoría y clase de tequila, tome en consideración el parámetro o perfil correspondiente, esas deben ser sus referencias al calificar la categoría y clase.  Al reverso de la ficha, encontrará perfiles generales para la categoría 100% de agave y cada clase.  Al reverso de la cédula encontrará estos perfiles generals.

(It is vitally important that to evaluate each category and type of tequila that you take into consideration the corresponding parameter or profile.  Those should be your references to score the category and type.  On the reverse side of the scoring card you’ll find general descriptions for the category of 100% de agave [tequila] and each type.  On the reverse side of your identification card, you will [also] find these general descriptions.)

14.)  Es indispensable que antes de iniciar el catado, anote en todas sus cédulas su nombre. Y una vez que emita sus calificaciones para cada muestra, realice la suma de puntos total, anotando este resultado en el lugar destinado para ello y que registre esta calificación en su hoja personal de control.

(It is indispensable that before the tasting, you write your names on all of the scoring sheets.  Once you’ve graded each sample, total up the points and write the sum in the space provided and register this evaluation on your personal control sheet.)

15.)  Circule la calificación para cada concepto de evaluación (visual, olfativo, sabor), no palomee, no cruce ni tache los números de la calificación.

(Circle the grade for each component of evaluation (visual, olfaction, flavor).  Do not deliberately “fudge,” cross out or eliminate numbers from the score.)

16.)  Las copas con las muestras, han sido ordenadas de izquierda a derecha en

Covered samples
Covered samples

dos líneas: de la 1 a la 5 y atrás de la 6 a la 10. En esa misma secuencia deberá realizarse la cata, destapando exclusivamente la copa de la muestra que va a evaluar y volviéndola a tapar al pasar a la siguiente.

(The glasses with the samples are in order from left to right in two lines:  from 1 to 5, and in back from 6 to 10.  The tasting should be done in the same sequence, uncovering only the glass of the sample you are evaluating, and then recovering it before moving on to the next one.)

17.)  En general recuerde la capacitación que sobre catado ha recibido. 

(In general, remember the tequila tasting training you have received.)

Considere que su evaluación de cada muestra es en extremo valiosa y que con sus calificaciones estará afectando positiva o negativamente a esa muestra y por tanto a una marca en particular que se expende en el mercado, por lo que se debe realizar con extrema imparcialidad y absoluta honestidad.

(Consider that your evaluation of each sample is extremely valuable.  Your scores will affect, either positively or negatively, that sample and therefore, a particular brand coming onto the retail market.  It should be carried out with extreme impartiality and absolute honesty.)