Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Clayton Szczech shares tequila from Mexico at Red Mesa Cantina tasting

RECOMMENDED READING


ST. PETERSBURG

Clayton Szczech's love affair with tequila started like many of ours, with some seriously low-end spirits.

"They were so rough I had to keep them in the freezer. But I was fascinated by how different they were. I was living in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz," he explained, adding wryly, "I did an independent master's program in tequila."

Last week, Szczech, founder of Experience Tequila, shared what he knows and drinks with about two dozen people gathered at Red Mesa Cantina. Szczech, who spends half the year in Mexico, is a self-described advocate, educator and interpreter of the liquor made from the blue agave plant.

With some 900 brands produced in five Mexican states, the bulk in Jalisco, near the central Pacific Coast, they are made in four general styles. A blanco is tequila that hasn't been aged and that has been bottled after the second distillation. It's clear, often fruity and spicy. Reposado, on the other hand, is stored in small oak barrels or vats for just up to a year. Pale gold, it will have a smoother taste and a balance between fruit and oak. Anejo is aged longer still, just up to three years, with sophistication much like a fine cognac. And extra anejo, a new category added in 2006, is deep brown and expensive, aged in oak for more than three years.

Starting with a pair of blancos — Casa Noble Crystal and Ocho Plata — Szczech led the group through a tasting of what he described as the oldest distilled beverage in the Americas, as well as the most stringently regulated.

"Examine it visually by giving the glass a little twirl," he exhorted, describing the organically grown Casa Noble as "a very funky tequila, whether you're feeling the funk or not."

Swirling, sniffing and tasting, the group tried to identify individual characteristics from the four aroma categories created in the fermentation process: fruit, herbal, spice and floral. Meanwhile, Red Mesa Cantina chef Chris Fernandez began sending out tequila-friendly nibbles: snapper ceviche and lime-marinated hunks of jicama, cuke and mango.

Next up was the Casa Noble reposado, aged almost a year in French oak: "There's still a little funkiness," Szczech said, "but strong vanilla and a little chocolate." By comparison, the Azuñia reposado, aged in American oak, started out sweet but was dry on the finish.

"Some tequilas are aged in old whiskey barrels. This is a secondary market for barrels and there are a lot of good reasons to use used barrels. New oak is assertive," Szczech explained. "You want that silver [another word for the blanco style] to be shining through."

After dispatching plates of Fernandez's little corn sopes topped with poblanos and rounds of crispy chorizo, the group attacked the final pair of anejo tequilas.

"You see a price jump to the anejos," explained Szczech. Evaporation is a factor with these longer-aged tequilas, that evaporated amount often called the angel's share. "With an extra anejo, easily a third of a barrel is lost to the angel."

The group perceived dark chocolate and hints of spice and earth on the Casa Noble anejo as well as that made by Corazón, a remarkable foil for a plate of cinnamon-dusted orange segments. Enthused by the group's response to the tequilas, Fernandez and Red Mesa Cantina owner Peter Veytia brought out one more sample from their lineup of more than 200 tequilas and their kissing cousin, mezcal.

"Made from a genetic ancestor of the blue agave, most mezcals are made in Oaxaca," Szczech noted. "They are produced in a more rustic, primitive style with a characteristic smoky flavor."

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

 
Comments
Five ideas for easy Thanksgiving appetizers

Five ideas for easy Thanksgiving appetizers

Thanksgiving can put a heavy burden on the host. We’ve assembled five appetizers that are quick and easy to prep. Some, like our risotto balls and goat-cheese figs, cater to vegetarian diets, so you can be sure to please all your guests. Even i...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Five ideas for cooking with fresh cranberries

Five ideas for cooking with fresh cranberries

Cranberry sauce has long been a fixture on the holiday table. According to the Chicago Tribune, Ocean Spray, the popular producer of cranberry sauce, cans about 70 million tins of the stuff a year, 85 percent of which gets sold between Thanksgiving a...
Published: 11/21/17
Tips for first-time Thanksgiving hosts (or really, any of us)

Tips for first-time Thanksgiving hosts (or really, any of us)

Take small bites.This may be the most crucial advice for Thanksgiving hosts who donít have years of cooking and coordinating experience to provide the confidence that comes with leading the charge on the yearís biggest cooking day.Itís the first thin...
Published: 11/20/17
American wines red, white and sparkling for your Thanksgiving table

American wines red, white and sparkling for your Thanksgiving table

Youíve dusted off Grandmaís good crystal for the Thanksgiving table. Or youíve pulled out all your mismatched stems to have enough for every place. Now what to pour?For this most American meal, based on foods native to America ó turkey, pumpkin, corn...
Published: 11/20/17
How to make a pie from scratch: filling ideas, decorating tips, crust recipes and more

How to make a pie from scratch: filling ideas, decorating tips, crust recipes and more

Perfect your crust. Try new filling recipes. Learn some decorating tricks. And prepare for the biggest pie day of the year: Thanksgiving. † From apple to thyme You’ve got the crust down. Now it’s time to choose a filling for your holid...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/20/17
Thanksgiving 101: Everything you need to prepare for the big cooking day

Thanksgiving 101: Everything you need to prepare for the big cooking day

From appetizers to pies and everything in between, we’re here to help you put together a low-stress Thanksgiving spread. Here are a few ideas, and be sure to check out our Thanksgiving special report for more tips on preparing for the big day. ...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/20/17
Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

There are probably a handful of essentials, things you must have on the Thanksgiving table lest some family members begin to riot. But I find there are often a couple of slots open for new things, chances to get weird or creative or, gasp, healthy. ...
Published: 11/17/17
How to make solid turkey gravy before Thanksgiving Day

How to make solid turkey gravy before Thanksgiving Day

As far as we’re concerned, anything you can make in advance of actual Thanksgiving Day is a good thing, and this make-ahead gravy fits the bill. Plus, Tucker Shaw of America’s Test Kitchen says it tastes just as good as if you made it wi...
Published: 11/17/17
How to plan your Thanksgiving menu

How to plan your Thanksgiving menu

Planning a really good menu is the stealth approach to being a really good cook. Here are some tips from the experts. New York Times Put some thought into the menu What leaves an impression is not only the dishes you can make, but also how they t...
Published: 11/17/17
Everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

Everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

The turkey is the unquestioned star of the Thanksgiving meal. It can be the most daunting part as well. But with a little planning and care, it doesn’t have to be. † Before you start • A decent roasting pan, one heavy enough that it wo...
Published: 11/16/17