It seems that more often than not, the first question that someone will ask me upon learning that I write this blog is “What’s your favorite tequila?” For some people, that may be an easy question to answer, but not for me. In my case, that question just opens the door to a long conversation. While I certainly have my favorites, picking just one would be an almost impossible task. My answer depends on the mood I’m in, who I’m with, and how I’m drinking it. It’s these variables that make so many different tequilas worthy of being poured at any given time. With that in mind, I found the idea of judging a handful of Texas-based tequila brands very intriguing. While “Tequila” can only be produced in certain designated parts of Mexico, a number of tequila brands are headquartered in Texas and in January 2010, Mike Cortez, founder of BiteMeHouston.com, invited many of these companies to a taste-off. He wanted to find out which brand would reign as the top Texas tequila and dubbed the event the Texas Tequila Throwdown. Ten brands accepted the invitation that first year and judging was done by guests randomly selected through a drawing. Based on the success of the event, another throwdown was organized for 2011. For the 2011 Texas Tequila Throwdown, eleven tequila brands threw their hats in the ring, from respected industry icon Tequila 1921 to relative newcomer Pura Vida, and the judging was done this year by members of the local liquor, food and media industries; that included chefs, writers and mixologists.
WIth this as the backdrop, I was thrilled and honored to receive an invitation to be a judge on one of the ten-member panels. I jumped at the offer, even though it meant making a long three-hour drive from my home to Houston, and a seemingly longer return trip home late that night with my designated driver. If you’ve read my very first post, you know that I don’t consider myself a tequila expert, just an enthusiast trying to learn more everyday, so the opportunity to participate as a judge was ideal for me to experience how comfortable I was at ranking these tequilas in a setting that was serious, but not stuffy, together with like-minded individuals judging alongside me. This indeed was a great chance to not only test the waters, but test myself at the same time.
The event itself was actually a giant fundraiser – this year benefiting the Houston Food Bank – and drew several hundred people through the course of the three hours and most importantly, filled four large boxes with food. For the tequila enthusiast, the benefits of an event like this are numerous. Besides getting to sample over 33 different tequilas from 11 brands, as well as El Perico’s agave spirit, many of the owners, founders and leaders of these brands were at their tables pouring drinks and answering questions. There is no better way to get a question answered than to talk directly to the source!
The judging was conducted throughout the event and I was tagged to be on the reposado panel, which was perfect for me since that is probably the expression that I drink the least amount of. The most difficult part of the evening was visiting the tables and not partaking in any of the samples until my duties as a judge were complete. Once the blanco judging was finished, the reposado group was moved in and glasses of “sample 1” were handed out, followed thereafter by samples two, three, and so on. We were instructed to rate each individual sample on appearance, aroma, and taste, using a ten-point scale. Throughout the process, I kept notes on each sample in my own notebook in addition to the official scorecard. I wanted to be able to refer back to those notes to compare my ratings of each sample to the tequila brands they represented once they were made known several days later.
Once all of the blind judging was completed, the results were announced with Ambhar Tequila winning both the blanco and añejo categories, and Toro de Lidia winning the reposado category. I was glad that I’d kept my notes so that I could compare my personal scores with how the brands ultimately finished in my category. Upon reviewing my scores, I had a tie for first place between Toro de Lidia and Dulce Vida. When taking only the taste scores into consideration, El Gran Jubileo also made that list.
Being involved in this process taught me a few things. Most importantly, I need to trust my instincts and palate more. My overall rankings generally fell in line with the final results. That said, my lowest-ranked brand in taste ended up in my top third overall due to having great color and an above average aroma. I drink a tequila for its taste and because of that, I should have given the taste score component more overall weight, in comparison to the other categories, to more accurately reflect this. If I had done that as a judge, the overall reposado winner would not have changed, but my personal rankings surely would have. Appearance and aroma, in particular, are certainly important and help make the complete tequila drinking experience what it is, but to give them equal weight with the taste of a tequila is not a true reflection of why I drink it.
The real winners of the evening were the people who attended the event and the Houston Food Bank. I throw myself into that group as well, because for me to have been given the chance to blind taste 11 brands in such a forum was an incredible experience. I’d like to think that given the same 11 samples I would rate them the same today as I did that night, but in reality, I’m sure that there would be some juggling of my rankings simply because it’s a different day, a different mood and a different environment.
So what is your favorite tequila?