[Editor’s Note: On this day after 2018’s International Margarita Day festivities, Tequila Jockey,Jim Johnston, shares his fond recollections of margarita making inside Ireland’s renowned Dick Mack’s Pub & Brewhouse, while visiting relatives in 2017.]
No Country for Cocktails
Ireland is not a cocktail country.
Don’t get me wrong, I had several well made drinks during my visit, but, in most pubs you’re going to find a diverse tap and a shelf stocked with whiskey.
Historic Dick Mack’s has been serving up liquid refreshments since 1899. It has been in the same family and built a reputation as the classic example of an Irish pub. Besides a pristine tap, a brass fixture, polished daily with the pub’s name engraved on the front, there is a shelf from bar to ceiling full of Irish whiskeys.
In recent years, Dick Mack’s also has been awarded Munster province and Overall Irish whiskey bar of the year for 2014, 2015, and 2016. The pub also serves a fair amount of Dingle Gin from the distillery up the road.
I was told that most Americans drink the traditional Guinness draft, one of the light American lagers available, or they choose to taste some whiskeys from the impressive collection.
When I asked if there was any tequila in the house, Finn, grandson of Dick Mack himself, produced a bottle of what I typically keep on hand at home, Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado.
Ireland’s Cocktail Culture
What followed was a great discussion about the cocktail culture of Ireland, including the failed attempts of previous spirits brands to promote tequila on the island. Patron’s The Patronic (Patron tequila, tonic and lime) did not take off here.
Finn’s hope is that the acquisition of Bushmills by Cuervo flagship Proximo in 2014, would lead to a more modern, consumer savvy, tequila-esque promotion of the Irish whiskey label.
As we spoke I noticed a bottle of Cointreau hiding behind some whiskey, as well as some fresh lemon juice and quite a few limes waiting to be sliced.
We were staying with my two cousins in Dingle and it was they who, when they lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, introduced me to tequila and the simple art of the margarita.
The Simple Art of The Margarita
It was a particularly warm day for Ireland in late May, about 75 degrees. Perfect for enjoying margaritas.
I offered to give the Irish crew behind the bar a quick lesson in margarita making and they went about putting together the Irish version of the first really good margarita that I had ever had, the House Traditional, at the famed Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen in Santa Fe, where lemon juice is the citrus of choice.
We made margaritas, and the boys behind the bar agreed that they were a far better effort than the last attempt at tequila marketing that they had been exposed to.
I would venture back to Dick Mack’s several times that week but, knowing that I had a steady stream of tequila to taste when I came home, I stuck to the perfectly poured Guinness and local whiskey.
When I go back to Ireland, I may have a margarita waiting for me.
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It was the beginning of my vacation, a sweltering Friday afternoon, and the start of the monsoon season in Albuquerque. I had to fly to Southern California, with a three-hour layover in Phoenix. I hate to fly in rainy weather. The forecast for Sky Harbor was even more harrowing. Thunderstorms–and guaranteed turbulence.
Arriving on time at Albuquerque’s International Sunport, and surviving the annoying airport security routine–removing my tennis shoes, emptying my pockets, and then putting myself back together (I swear, one day airports will just have dressing rooms!)–I had an hour to spare before my flight. I had earned a shot of tequila.
After all, I was going back to visit my folks for their 47th wedding anniversary, and we all know what it’s like to visit family!
Sidling up to Winners Sports Bar on the A Concourse, I discovered the tequila choices were pitifully poor–Sauza Hornitos, or Jose Cuervo Especial–and so was the choice of seats. Forced to sit next to a young couple that had obviously just met, I swallowed hard and ordered a shot of Sauza Hornitos. Not the most preferred, but it’s still 100% de agave.
Ordinarily, I order my shots in a snifter. I had to settle for a rocks glass, and icy stares from the couple next to me who were drinking micro-brewed beers. Seems every time the uninitiated catch me ordering tequila, they watch to make sure that I won’t go postal. It’s almost as if their fuzzy memories of toga parties with Jose Cuervo Especial seep back into their consciousness and are projected onto me.
Or maybe, those are just my memories of Jose Cuervo.
After spending a half hour on my cell phone explaining to my mother when my flight would arrive at LAX, I ordered another Hornitos to calm my nerves, and the bill.
“Eight dollars?” I shuddered. “For Hornitos?” I shook my head. Everywhere else in Albuquerque, better quality tequilas are priced much lower.
What’s the price of Hornitos go to do with this? Follow me to Sky Harbor….
Release Your Inner Lizard!
After a one hour white knuckled flight from Albuquerque to Phoenix due to the predicted monsoon turbulence, and the absence of both complimentary sodas and snacks, I was ready for three hours of serenity with some food on the side.
I lugged my carry-ons and zeroed in on the closest fast food joints. Chinese food, pizza, sandwiches, fried chicken–none appealed to me. From the empty looks of these places, they didn’t appeal to anyone. Then, I heard the music.
Loud, pulsating music blasted from what I thought was the only nightclub in an airport in existence, the Taberna del Tequila. “Catchy name,” I smiled. It wasn’t until I was deep inside the Taberna that I realized where I was.
Jose Cuervo, that behemoth of tequila companies, has taken their marketing to the next level.
First, they purchased an island and called it Cuervo Nation with Anna Nicole Smith as its Ambassador. In the last couple of years, in partnership with HMSHost Foodand Beverage company, they have systematically opened their own chain of restaurant-tequila bars in several airports across the country. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Seattle-Tacoma, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne CountyAirport, among others, and Sky Harbor in Phoenix.
A meat market with a nightclub mentality, the only thing missing was a dance floor. Every table was occupied, and any available space at the bar was at a premium. The bar looked like a stage in a black velvet Elvis portrait from Tijuana, but there was no mistaking the star of the show–Jose Cuervo.
The back of the bar was black, with neon painted limes, saltshakers and shot glasses. The bar itself, surrounded by smokers, was lacquered with overlapping tequila labels from one end to the other. On either side, giant display bottles of Reserva de La Familia and Gran Centenarioblanco were elegantly displayed on shelves with empties of 1800 Añejo, Tradicional, and Agavero. Behind the bar, a four-paneled big screen television was showing a Diamondbacks’ home game.
On the walls, made to look like crumbling adobe church walls (like drinking at the Alamo!), were murals of their logos, from 1800 to Especial. On the far wall, spotlighted and larger than life, was the Gran Centenario angel. I quickly grabbed a waitress and ordered a reposado, no lime, no salt, in a snifter.
This time, I got the snifter!
What better place to introduce your products but in your own place? What better audience to introduce your products to, but to a sequestered one? Maybe there was something to this mega-marketing to travelers with long layovers?
“Show off!” said a buxom blond in her thirties. She sat at a nearby table with a younger man. Both had just met.
Behind them above the bar and the big screen TV, in large neon letters, was painted the slogan, “Release Your Inner Lizard.” Securing a corner of their table, I dropped my carry-ons and proceeded to make friends.
There’s something surreal about having a conversation with people who are ahead of you in the buzz department, particularly those who are traveling. I felt I was in the intergalactic cantina from Star Wars with aliens who had had too much to drink.
“So what do you do?” she slurred.
“I’m Han Solo,” I replied. “Captain of the Millennium Falcon. And you?”
(The kid next to her got it!)
Just then, the waitress brought me the bill. Ten dollars for a Gran Centenario reposado. Considering I had paid eight dollars in Albuquerque for a lesser quality tequila, the Taberna’s prices were more in line.
Life was good!
All Work & No Play is Totally Missing The Point!
So exclaimed the Taberna del Tequila’s menu.
Graced with a colorful collage of photos of mariachis and jimadores on the cover–presumably all taken at Cuervo’s La Rojeña distillery which we’ll discuss later on–the first half of the menu is conveniently designed without prices for any of their signature drinks, such as…
The Millionaire Margarita made with Gran Centenario reposado…The Striped Guavarita…and the classic Golden Popper made with Cuervo Gold, touted as the official initiation to the Cuervo Nation. (Anna Nicole, grab my toga!)
On the back cover were the credits to this Jose Cuervo Traveling Road Show. Tequileria Favorites describes each of this producer’s featured players, from Gran Centenario Añejo to Agavero.
Realizing I was hungry, and that Cuervo doesn’t cook, the remainder of the menu is taken over by The Blue Burrito Grill. They lease the kitchen and supply tasty Mexican food at reasonable prices.
Taking stock of my evening so far, I made new friends, enjoyed fine tequila, and was exposed to a hip, new version of a trendy tequila bar. I even had a great time!
The crowd at the Taberna del Tequila steadily disappeared to make their connecting flights. While I waited for my order of chicken soft tacos and a second snifter of Gran Centenario, here’s how some other customers anchored their relationships with Jose Cuervo–forever.
Within six minutes, five glasses crashed to the floor in different areas of the Taberna, a biker called the female night manager a bitch, and a red wine drinker tossed her cookies with no prior warning. Otherwise, it was a quiet Friday night in Phoenix.
Although a new concept in marketing, the Taberna del Tequila isn’t the only way Jose Cuervo is forging relationships with an emerging drinking public. In the following segment, I’ll explain how they’ve secured brand loyalty among established tequila aficionados using one of the oldest Mexican food restaurant chains in Southern California–El Torito.