Last Saturday, a small army of dedicated drinkers gathered in the parking lot of the Phinney Community Center with the goal of getting seriously fucked up. Or so plenty of outsiders would think, because what else would you do at a tequila festival?
Now in its 4th year, the annual NW Tequila Festival features distillers, large and small, from all over Mexico’s tequila-producing region and helps to benefit the Benevolent Guild charity. And while inebriation may have been a by-product of the event, the goal was to educate and inspire people who might otherwise only view tequila as something to be shot with lime and salt. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Booths filled with blancos (un-aged), reposados (aged for a few months), anejos (aged for approximately a year), and even extra-anejos (aged 3 or more years), allowed people to taste the subtle differences and nuances that tequila can present. From the fruity, sweetness of Tequila Celestial’s Reposado to the whiskey-like smokiness of the very popular Don Pilar Extra-Anejo (named for the Mexican spaghetti-western movie star owner), the festival presented an opportunity to understand the differences between dozens of tequilas and mezcals.
Sure, there were the outliers. I saw a couple of middle-aged men running around with fists of tasting tickets like sugar-riddled 10 year-olds at an arcade, ready to cash in. I even heard a couple ‘WOO!’ girls. But the majority of attendees had realized that tequila, like all spirits, can be made good enough to savor, to sip, to enjoy slowly.
It’s an acquired taste that’s certainly growing. Jackie Moffet, who organizes the annual event, said that attendance has grown nearly 50% each year, with interest growing specifically toward aged tequilas and mezcals. “The education level in the industry just in the past three years seems to be accelerating at a phenomenal rate. I remember when most people in the industry could just remember that Tequila was from Mexico. Now to have an in-depth conversation about specific production processes on a variety of brands seems common.”
Increased knowledge and appreciation for tequila is also attracting area bartenders and cocktail artisans to experiment more with tequila and mezcal, or focus on it completely like at Capitol Hill’s Mezcaleria Oaxaca. To honor their efforts, the Festival hosts a competition among local bartenders for best tequila cocktail. This year, that winner was Amanda Reed, formerly General Manager of Tavern Law, and now on the road to starting the beverage program at an as yet un-named bar set to open in Pioneer Square. Her winning cocktail, ‘The Wonderous Life of Mango’, was a spicy-sweet, labor intensive creation that thoroughly impressed local judges, including spirit savant, A.J. Rathbun. Let’s hope cocktails like hers and festivals like Moffets only continue to prosper, because smarter drinking is in everyone’s best interests.
You can find Amanda Reed’s recipe for ‘The Wonderous Life of Mango’ below.
The Wonderous Life of Mango
2 oz Don Julio Reposado
1 oz mango-red bell pepper syrup*
3/4 oz Tempus Fugit Kina L'Aero d'Or
3 dashes of Scrappy's Lime Bitters
3 dashes of Scrappy's Celery Bitters
Partial rim of tajin-worm chilli salt mix
Garnished with a red bell pepper slice
*Mango-red pepper syrup
2 parts blended mango
1 part red bell pepper juice
2 parts water
1 part sugar