Republic Tequila: A new outlook on tequila

Part 2 of my Interview with Republic Tequila COO, Ken MacKenzie

Tequila is a gracious scapegoat.  How many times have you falsely accused it as the culprit for your own indiscretions? Oh I’ve heard it many times, and I’ve done it a few times myself. “Sorry I punched you in the eye. It was the tequila.” “Honey, it wasn’t me kissing your sister. It was the tequila.” “I had no idea I could even drive a fork lift, let alone steal one loaded with Ready-Whip. It had to be the tequila.”

Tequila suffers all of these barbs, insults and abominations without the slightest complaint.

Here’s something to consider; if you wouldn’t treat tequila like the bullet train to Drunkville by slammin shots by the box car, you wouldn’t need it to be your fall guy. Tequila is a complex spirit with distinction and heritage. It deserves your respect and a new outlook on how you drink it.

Over the past decade, dozens of premium tequilas have hit the market. Now there are more than 1,000 registered brands, many of which are high quality sought by aficionados. A relatively new one is Republic Tequila, made in Jalisco, Mexico and marketed in Austin, TX. I wrote about Republic Tequila previously, and think it’s worth reviewing all three of its products.

Ken MacKenzie, COO of Republic Tequila, poured me a few snifters of tequila and gave me a run-down of how it’s made. Republic makes its tequila from 100% organic, estate grown Blue Weber agave at La Quemada distillery, using traditional methods with no funny business. He explained the process for making their Plata, Reposado and Añejo tequila lines.

There are 300 varieties of agave. Republic uses Blue Weber because it is controlled by the Mexican government. Every agave plant has a GPS chip implanted in it to monitor it during the entire decade or more of its maturation. That control means its quality won’t be compromised.

To prepare agave for fermentation you have to cook it either in natural ovens or in autoclaves, which are pressure cooker. The difference between the two methods is like the difference between baking a potato in a convection oven versus a microwave. What takes 36 hours in a natural oven can be done in 4 -6 hours in an autoclave. Like a microwave it’s faster, but it also makes it taste differently.

Sebastian Melendrez, Republic Tequila Master Distiller, takes a natural approach to fermentation too by introducing a natural strain of yeast derived from the agave. Sebastian lets it take its sweet time to ferment for 4 to 6 days and ferment without accelerants.  He then artfully distills it twice, eliminating the heads and tales to get to the core zone of distillate for pure tequila. Double distillation gets to real tequila. The more you distill it, the more you get away from the core ingredients.

Finally, Republic Tequila rests in open air steel tanks for five days. Why? To get a taste as pure and smooth as a Texas drawl. Now it’s ready for bottling as Plata in the distinctive Texas-shaped bottles.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3q4UK0l_S8[/youtube]

Let’s get to the tasting.

Republic Tequila Plata

Look Clear as your thoughts before you drink, with velvet viscosity and slow tears rolling down the snifter.
Smell Ken had me tip the glass to smell the complexity of the tequila in the bottom, middle and top of the glass. Each smelled discernably different. The bottom of the glass smelled of strong alcohol and pepper, the middle was rich with sweet and spiced agave and the top smelled of mild spring grass and lemon zest.
Taste Plata comes on with a rush of alcohol, followed by salty, sweet corn and agave. It has a hot, thick mouthfeel with a mid-length finish.
Price $35

Republic Tequila Reposado

To make the Reposado, the Plata tequila is aged for 8 months in American Oak. These are Jack Daniels barrels, charred medium, to bring the natural sugars to the surface. Jack only ages its whiskey for one cycle in a barrel, so there is plenty of life left in them to age other liquors. The barrels gives off some sweetness, vanilla and caramel flavors. By law, Reposado has to be aged for 2 months to 12 months. Republic Tequila chose 8 months because they find it is the right amount of time to let the agave flavors in the Plata to come through yet with additional complexity and flavor from aging.

Look Golden sun, like an aged Chardonnay, with the tight legs of a distance runner.
Smell When I smelled the bottom of the glass, I thought Ken had swapped the snifter for Cognac, because it was warm with caramel and oak. The middle smelled of sweet cherries and agave and the top smelled of gentle butter and caramelized brown sugar.
Taste The Reposado starts with a burst of pepper and eases into smoky agave, caramel and orange peel. It has a long finish of oak and mint.
Price $45

Republic Tequila Añejo

Republic Tequila lets the añejo see 20 months in American Oak Jack Daniels barrels. They don’t add any additional color with wood chips, so the color is natural and somewhat similar to the Reposado.

Look Late afternoon sun, orange tinged straw, warm and full. The thick viscosity showed in slow tears.
Smell The first whiff of the bottom of the liquor smelled of ripe bananas, cherries and vanilla. Mid glass was delicate and oaky followed by sweet chocolate on the top.
Taste The aging doesn’t mask the initial heat of alcohol, but it’s well balanced with pepper, orange peel and vanilla. It has smooth mouthfeel with a long finish with oak and bakers chocolate.
Price $49

With tequilas this good, it would be a waste to slam back shots surrounded by salt and lime sucking. These tequilas should be savored straight up in a snifter or mixed in a delicious cocktail. Ken is a big fan of sangrita. He enjoys the custom and the flavor of it with tequila. He also recommends simple cocktails like Añejo with Soda, Reposado with tonic and Plata with fruit juices. Republic Tequila makes a line of organic Spirit Blends and has several cocktail recipes on its website.

How do you like to drink your tequila?

Samples of Plata, Reposado and Anejo were provided by Republic Tequila for this review.

What are you drinking?

From Mistress to Wife: Jester King Brewery

Texas welcomes a new craft brewery to the neighborhood today with the opening party for Jester King Brewery. And a party it was. Traffic was backed-up more than 2.5 miles to get in. The 2,000 pint glasses ordered for the party ran out in the first hour and half. What do you expect? Texans love a party, and Texans love beer.

Have you ever dreamt of turning your hobby into your job? That’s just what Jeff Stuffings, owner of Jester King, did. He was gracious enough to spend a little time with me at the end of the opening bash to spin a yarn about the birth of his brewery. Jeff started home brewing back in aught three. He fell in love. He was obsessed. After a while, he couldn’t pay attention to his day job. His mistress soon became his wife.

Jeff found a 200 acre working ranch that needed a 6,500 square foot brewery to complete its own life goals, and soon Jester King had a home in the Texas hill country just outside of Austin. The brewery started operations with its first brew day on September 24, 2010 and began shipping kegs of beer to bars in Austin, Dallas and Houston in October.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltK__bPoF98[/youtube]

In a typical brew day, Jeff and his brother Michael produce 930 gallons, or 30 barrels, or 60 kegs of glorious beer. From the fermenter, the beer is kegged, bottled, or barrel aged.  Yeah, Jester King ages three of its five beers in oak barrels. They source barrels from George Dickel whiskey for Commercial Suicide and wine barrels for the farmhouse ales, Boxer’s Revenge and Das Wunderkind!.

The barrels are stored in a temperature controlled room to let the yeast do its best work. The same goes for the 750ml bottles of Black Metal Imperial Stout. This bad ass stout is bottle conditioned, with yeast and sugar added to the bottle for additional fermentation in the bottle. Size matters and these beers don’t come in a puny 12 oz bottle.

Speaking of bottles, the 130 cases of Black Metal is just the first round of bottles produced. It’s hand-bottled, which is pretty damned time consuming. It is available now in good beer stores around Texas. The next batch of beers in bottles will be in stores in late February.

Here’s what you can expect to taste when you get your hands on Jester King beers.

Wytchmaker Rye IPA

Look Tawny amber, hazy with a bone cream head.
Smell Like a bag of sticky weed in a pine forest. Fresh hops and juniper berries burst in the nose.
Taste The British army would order extra of this IPA. Grapefruit rind and pine sap mingle in smooth effervescence and linger for a long, bitter finish.

Black Metal Imperial Stout

Look Black espresso with a rich brown crema head that subsides quickly. Black Metal is as opaque as its name.
Smell A coffee shop a few hours after roasting. Warm coffee beans, chocolate and toasted malt.
Taste Breakfast or desert? Lush, creamy dark chocolate with French roast coffee spiked with tingly bubbles, finishing in a long oak and coffee bean finish.

Commercial Suicide Dark Mild

Look I was never good at telling the difference between burnt sienna or burnt umbra Crayolas, but this beer is one of those. Its dark brown veil is translucent enough to let light shine in through the edges.
Smell A lazy afternoon rolling in dry leaves and straw in the hot sun, with sweet malt and fresh baked bread on the breeze.
Taste Have you had a buddy’s home brew and you know it has potential, but it’s not completely balanced? That’s Commercial Suicide. The yeast is a bit too prominent and overcomes the mild citrus and toasted malt. It finishes quickly, making no excuses.

If you think the darkest, richest beer made in Texas is Shiner Bock, you are in for a treat. Jester King brings rich, hearty brews to the Texas craft brew fraternity. Jeff, I’m glad you gave up your first one to marry your mistress.

 

Unfortunately I got to the opening party late and was unable to try the beer at the brewery. Samples were provided free of charge by The Draught House Pub and Brewery.

What are you drinking?An interview with Jeff Stuffings, owner Jester King

The Best Damn Gin and Tonic: Haddingtons

Oh my god, there’s Bill Clinton. I have no idea how he did it, but he has teleported himself straight out of the Arkansas Governor’s mansion from 1978 to right f’ing now. He’s sitting at the table right behind you. No seriously! Don’t look now, but I’m pretty sure he’s here with Deborah Winger. And two other couples that are also from the past and in way too conservative suit and Windsor knotted tie get ups.

That’s a conversation I had with Beautiful Wife at Haddingtons, the new American tavern on west 6th street in Austin. She didn’t even turn around. Instead she challenged me to name two movies that Deborah Winger has been in. “Schindler’s List and Days of Thunder. Duuuuh!” Alright, so I don’t really know who Deborah Winger is for sure, but that chick had ‘80s hair and a dress that Deborah Winger could have worn in Top Gun.

What I do know is that less than two weeks after it opened, Haddingtons had a fat crowd in that blurry time between happy hour, dinner and get ready to go to an early event hour. We looked around and most people were sucking down signature cocktails or beer. The big digit wine list wasn’t getting many takers despite a respectable selection.

The cocktails are where it’s at. Bill Norris, the top mixologist at Haddingtons, has gained quite a bit of notoriety for his inspired drinks at Fino. Now at Haddintons he’s put together a good list of nine inventive house cocktails and six classic cocktails.

What do I mean by an “inventive house cocktail”? How’s this treat ya? The Duck Fat Sazerac is made with duck fat infused rye, Peychaud’s bitters and an absinthe rinse. It’s served cold and neat for a tidy $9. What the duck! That’s as decadent as anything you’ll find on Bourbon Street. Well, maybe not. Did I ever tell you about the time I. . .

The classic list has some of my favorite cocktails like the Moscow Mule made with vodka, house-made ginger beer, and fresh lime for $9. We chatted up our waiter to get suggestions for our drinks. He was a knowledgeable guy and gave us some good tips. Beautiful Wife ordered the Aviation, a concoction of gin, maraschino, lemon, crème de violet poured in a little Helsinki Martini glass for $10 crackers. She didn’t warm to it, so I got to drink it. Lucky bastard, I am.

After waiter boy’s description of the classic Gin and Haddingtons Tonic, I had to have it. They mix Citadelle Gin with homemade tonic. That’s right, they make their own tonic with quinine. Quinine is the stuff in tonic that gives it a bitter taste. Typically it is a white powder from the bark of the cinchona tree that grows in the Andes mountain range of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Juan Valdez’s brother personally stripped the bark for the Haddingtons quinine and because it’s fresh it gives off a slightly pinkish hue. This is no run of the mill highball. Here’s what you get.

Gin and Haddingtons Tonic

Look Sunset over the north Atlantic, salmon belly pink, slightly hazy and prominent cubed ice, garnished with a lime wedge.
Smell Kate Middleton after a bath; fresh ginger, grapefruit and lavender softly wafting as I bend closer for a deeper sniff.
Taste This tasted unlike any gin and tonic I’ve ever had. The fox hunt can wait. I’ll sit right here in my lodge a savor the mild grapefruit and lime zest mingling in a gentle effervescence before easing into a long pine sap finish that ends in a clean mint leaf close.
Price $9

Haddingtons is a cozy place, but deceptively large. There are two bars and nice nooks to slip into for private, lurid conversations over drinks that melt away your cares. The décor is supposed to invoke British-influenced turn of the century America, but it just feels like a London gastro-pub to me. Wide plank wood floors, dark wood wainscoting on the walls, enough stuffed, ceramic and painted pheasants to make any hunter salivate and stylish light fixtures all set a mood of an upscale, yet drunken Brit pub.

Oh, and we ate some food. It was decent. The service was fine. We’ll go back for those fantastic gin and tonics.

What are you drinking?

Mexican Heart, Texan Soul: Republic Tequila

Where you come from leaves an indelible mark on you. It shapes everything from our accent to how we look to the color of our letterman’s jacket. People put a lot of stock in where they are from.  It’s the same for the stuff we drink. Champagne can only be from Champagne, France. Cognac can only be from Cognac, France. Bourbon is from Kentucky. Wines all list their appellation and speak of the importance of terrior, that special something that only comes from the area, the soil and the climate where the wine was born.

The same is true for tequila. Back in 1978 Mexico established the Appellation of Origin Tequila, which delineates the location of production and sets the standards for how tequila is made. According to “Appellation de Origin Controllee” (AOC), tequila can only be made in Mexico. And by law, which is recognized world-wide, only blue agave booze made in Jalisco and a handful of adjacent counties in Mexico can be legally sold with the name tequila. Where you come from matters.

So how is it that there is 100 percent agave premium tequila, Republic Tequila, from Austin, Texas? I sat down with Ken MacKenzie, Partner and Chief Operating Officer of Republic Tequila to get the skinny. It turns out Republic is distilled in Mexico and marketed in the U.S. from its home base in Texas. There is a story behind it and it starts with love. Not love for tequila, but love for a girl.

While living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ken met a student from Mexico. The two hit it off and soon became inseparable. When she finished college, Ken followed that girl back to Guadalajara and decided to stay and marry her. Lucky for Ken, her uncle introduced him to the tequila business.

Do you remember your first experience with tequila, or at least a few of the circumstances surrounding it? Did you smother your hand in salt, slam back the shot and madly suck a lime to mask the fiery burn of rot-gut tequila? After soldiering through a few of those, did you profess your undying love to that pretty girl’s shoes before you puked on them? Yeah, that’s probably similar Ken’s first experience with tequila even though he didn’t say so. Imagine his surprise when he was introduced to the good stuff at the tequila distilleries in and around Jalisco. He fell in love again, but this time with tequila.

Ken immersed himself in the tequila business and soon began importing tequila to the U.S., helping Mexican distilleries navigate the distribution system in the states, and eventually owning his own brand.

Fast-forward several years. Ken was introduced to Texas businessman and marketing whiz, Tom Nall and to an idea for creating premium tequila in a distinctive Texas-shaped bottle. The two set out to start Republic Tequila with only that iconic bottle as a simple idea. They quickly built a business around it.

Ken put his tequila expertise to work and arranged to have Republic Tequila distilled at Cia Tequilera la Quemada, in Guadalajara, Mexico. The independent distillery came with three massively important qualities:

  1. The distillery makes certified organic tequila. This is no simple feat and it takes three years to qualify. The fields have to be certified that there are no herbicides or pesticides that affect the agave. This is extremely important because it that takes 8 to 12 years for an agave plant to reach maturity. The distillery itself has to be certified to prove that there are no foreign cleaning agents, yeasts or accelerants on premise. Because of the stringent criteria, certified organic tequilas are rare and hard to come by. It’s a clear sign that the sauce is made with higher standards which creates a more consistent tequila.
  2. La Quemada is a green distillery that recycles everything. The crushed agave fibers are woven in to rustic amate paper or used as bio fertilizer for feed. The waste alcohols are hazardous materials which go through a reverse osmosis process to reduce it to distilled water over a three week period. This is in contrast to some distilleries that still dump waste alcohol in the fields, leaving scorpions and lizards with horrendous hangovers.
  3. La Quemada is blessed to have Master Distiller Sebastian Melendrez at the helm. In his 22 years as a master distiller, he has worked his magic at Herradura before coming to La Quemada to make 4 Copas and Republic Tequila. He is a fourth generation agave grower and owns agave rich lands outside of Jalisco. This gives Republic a single source for low-land agave to make estate bottled tequila. In addition, the water used in production is sourced from an artesian well on the property.  Having a consistent source of raw materials, not having to buy agave from several states on the open market further adds to the consistency of the tequila.

Clearly, the birthplace matters for estate bottled Republic Tequila. So why the Texas bottle? With apologies to Jim Bowie and Davey Crocket, Texas and Mexico share a rich history and common heritage since the Republic of Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1836. Tequila is a rich part of the TX culture. As Ken explains it in this video, there are some things that Texans just know better than anyone else; steak, salsa and yes, tequila.

Tom is about as Texan as they come, from his hats to his boots. He knows that Texans are proud of their state. He has had his share of tequila all over the state and knew it was time for a new premium tequila with Mexican heart and Texan soul. That Texas shaped bottle full of liquid magic had to come to market.

It took 18 months to go from start-up to shipping the first bottle. What took so long? Believe it or not, they had challenges making that damn bottle. It was very difficult to manufacture the bottle with the distinctive panhandle. The first four companies Tom and Ken approached didn’t want anything to do with that funky bottle. The challenge presented big up front cost because no semi-automatic machine could do it. After a year they finally found a company that would hand-pour glass into Texas molds and the bottle came to life.

Where you are from matters. Tom and Ken know that people buy Republic Tequila for the Texas bottle the first time and for the Mexican tequila the second time.

What does it taste like? You’ll have to wait for me to write part two of this story. I’ll introduce you to the three lines of tequila. Stay tuned.

What are you drinking?

This Tin Woman Has Heart: Bombshell Blonde Ale

“I shall take the heart,” returned the Tin Woodman;
“for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.” – Wizard of Oz

Lots of people think beer in a can has no heart and brings paltry happiness. If you think of a can of beer, what is the first thing that comes to mind? You probably think of some crappy beer like Bud, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Keystone Light, or Milwaukee’s Best. This doesn’t have to be the case. There are wonderful craft beers available in cans.

Bottle snobs can stop reading here. I love to drink a good beer while boating, by the pool, on the golf course, camping or while riding my bike around town, but I don’t want to bring glass bottles on these outings because I know it’s inevitable that I’ll drop a bottle and it will result in shards of glass stuck in someone’s bare foot or bare something even more precious. I’m always on the lookout for good beer in a can.

Bombshell Blonde American Blonde Ale from Southern Star Brewing Company is just that. Southern Star is a new brewery, started in 2008 with a 10,000 square foot facility in Conroe Texas. They make four different brews including a “ProAm” that is exactly what you think it is – a beer made in association with a home brewer. Pretty cool stuff. Southern Star has a fairly limited distribution, so if you are lucky enough to live in a big city in Texas like Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio or  College Station or in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio or South Carolina, look for it in your favorite beer specialty shop.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

The logo on the can caught my eye in the beer shop.  A blond cowgirl in a mini-skirt straddling a Texas star emblazoned missile looking like a cowboy’s fantasy answer to Slim Pickens’ character Major T. J. “King” Kong in Dr. Strangelove. God if the wind would just blow that skirt up a little higher. Yeah, I had to buy the beer just for the label. Was it worth it? Hell yeah.

Look A golden blonde vixen with amber highlights, just like the hottie on the can. The beer is hazy with fine bubbles that loft into a light, off-white silky head about a finger-width deep.
Smell The scent of that darling cowgirl’s hair after a roll in the hay; sweet corn, malt, daffodils and toasted oats in a mild, pining breeze.
Taste I’d kiss this taste right off her lips. Carmel, French bread, malty with a very slight hit of hops in a creamy smooth ale. Its light enough to drink on a hot summer day and rich enough to accompany a meal.
Price $8 for a sixer

This canned beer is no Tin Woodman. She has heart, and by the looks of that low-cut blue blouse, she has a lot of heart. Give it a try.

What craft brew do you buy in a can? What are you drinking?

2010 IN REVIEW

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy Numbers

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 4,500 times in 2010. That’s about 11 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 58 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 73 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 29mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was November 30th with 139 views. The most popular post that day was Grown up drinks for grown up tastes: Péché Austin.

Where Did They Come From?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, austinbloggerawards.com, stumbleupon.com, and yelp.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for shotgun beer, beer shotgun, girl in martini glass, blanc pescador, and girl in a martini glass.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

3.  About What are You Drinking? June 2010; 5 comments
Thanks for reading “What are you drinking?” I hope you will continue to check in and give me feedback.
Cheers,
Matt

AUSTIN IS THE 4TH DRUNKEST CITY

The Daily Beast ranked the 40 drunkest cities in the U.S. and my lovely city, Austin, ranks #4. I’ll drink to that! Austinites drink 13.77 alcoholic drinks per month, which is actually more than the top three cities. I guess its not hard to imagine that this is a boozy city with the large population of college students, the abundance of good bars and the fine distillers like Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Deep Eddy Vodka, Republic Tequila, Dripping Springs Vodka, Treaty Oak Rum, Savvy Vodka and Graham’s Texas Tea. Who did I miss?

How many drinks do you drink in a month?