Sunday, May 27, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Clayton Szczech shares tequila from Mexico at Red Mesa Cantina tasting

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
Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

SAFETY HARBOR — Denis Phillips cracks a pop-top and pulls a can that looks a lot like him to his lips."It’s got that citrusy feel to it," he says. "Which is a Florida thing. That’s not bad." Indeed, there’s a grapefruit finish to Rule #7 Hurricane Sa...
Published: 05/25/18
Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmon’s was a meeting place

Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmon’s was a meeting place

It’s where former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams had lunch with current Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.It’s where University of South Florida fans often gathered to watch the program’s biggest road games.It’s where folks showed up in...
Published: 05/24/18
Bar review: Things are hopping at new Swan Brewing in Lakeland

Bar review: Things are hopping at new Swan Brewing in Lakeland

Lakeland’s a little out of the way, but I’m always eager to check out the bar scene there when passing through or attending an event. Every place I’ve visited just seems so pleasant.I regret missing the boat on the city’s first brewery, Lakeland Brew...
Published: 05/24/18
tbt* local craft beer of the week: Dark Harbor Mocha Stout, Sea Drift Ales & Lagers

tbt* local craft beer of the week: Dark Harbor Mocha Stout, Sea Drift Ales & Lagers

The saga of Barley Mow Brewing Company and its eventual offshoot/successor Sea Drift Ales & Lagers is a complicated one. The most interesting part is how the latter came to be as a result of brewery-distributor tensions, in which Barley Mow pulled an...
Published: 05/24/18
Lee Roy Selmon’s original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon’s original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon’s, the restaurant that paid homage to the community icon who rose to fame as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and grew to become a popular civic leader, will shutter the doors of its original location on Tampa’s Boy Scout Boulevard in June.Employ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughter’s Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

OPEN NOW: BAHAMA BUCK’S Feel a shiver? Just in time for Florida’s sultry summer, Bahama Buck’s opened this week in Trinity with an avalanche of sno. The 2,346-square-foot island-inspired shop opened at 8815 Mitchell Blvd. with more...
Published: 05/23/18
Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watch’s new Orlando location

Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watch’s new Orlando location

ORLANDO — The popular breakfast and brunch chain First Watch will be opening a new restaurant in Orlando that will add cocktails, beer and wine to the menu. The new concept restaurant, set to open on Memorial Day at 1448 N Alafaya Trail, will be 1,00...
Published: 05/23/18
Transform your weeknight cooking with this kitchen tool

Transform your weeknight cooking with this kitchen tool

Once upon a time, way back in the annals of home cooking, there was an era before sheet-pan suppers.In that dark age, even well-equipped kitchens did not have so much as a single professional sheet pan, let alone the two or three deemed indispensable...
Published: 05/23/18
Up your homemade smoothie game with these tips

Up your homemade smoothie game with these tips

You could head to your neighborhood juice shop and order a $7 or $8 smoothie. Blending your own, however, is not only easier on your wallet, but you can customize to your heart’s content and make several batches at a time.Whether you’re making a nutr...
Published: 05/23/18