Comfort Zones

I’d be the first to admit that my knowledge of tequilas is mainly limited to the stuff I did in shot form back in college in the tradition of salt on the hand and lick (to kill the taste), toss back the shot (grimace), bite the lime (to kill the taste).

I haven’t spent much time revisiting the drink except in the occasional margarita, even if some of those were made with excellent tequila and a variety of juices besides lime. I had a smoky pomegranate version at some point, and the fact that I can’t remember where is an indication of just how good that cocktail was (I want to say it was in Los Angeles? Maybe London?).

Fresh, handmade tortilla chips in a variety of flavors. Addictive. All photos: PKR

Fresh, handmade tortilla chips in a variety of flavors. Addictive.
All photos: PKR

Here’s a suggestion that margaritas assume the new role as the drink of New Year’s Eve, and while I can’t say I’ll be exchanging my champagne flute for a margarita glass at the stroke of midnight, it’s a legitimate proposal.

On a recent trip to Baja California, I had the pleasure of getting outside my comfort zone and into some really good tequila, the kind of stuff that isn’t easy to find outside the country.

My father happens to live near Ensenada, and if he’s as much of a whisky fan as I am, he’s also become something of a tequila aficiodano.

Religious candles, shoe polish and insect spray, an unexpected combination of cylinders.

Religious candles and shoe polish, an unexpected combination of cylinders.

 

One of the tequilas he pulled from the shelf was the Herradura Ultra, a newish addition to the Herradura premium line that is a mixture of añejo (aged 1-3 years) and extra añejo (aged over 3 years). In the case of the Ultra, a 25-month-old añejo is mixed with premium extra añejo that’s been aged in bourbon barrels for up to four years in American White Oak barrels.

 

herradura-tequila-ultra-01

The common brown hues are filtered out, some pure agave nectar is added, and the result is a clear drink with a crystalline taste that rings like a bell. It’s got a lovely oakiness, with sweet hints of vanilla, almond and fruit. Meant to be chilled and then served neat, just the way I like the best spirits.

This stuff is so smooth, it has almost no resemblance with the stuff I knew from way back when. Salt on the hand and a lime? Banish the thought!

I was smitten.

Tequila Herradura, as the Grupo Industrial Herradura is generally known, was founded in 1870 in Amatitán, Jalisco, Mexico. The distillery is now owned by U.S. run Brown-Forman, but Herradura continues its traditional production from growing the agave to the finished product, and the spirit is still made from agave hearts roasted in clay ovens, then fermented with wild yeast.

Clown cupcakes, perfect for anyone trying to combat coulrophobia, fear of clowns.

Clown cupcakes, perfect for anyone trying to combat coulrophobia, fear of clowns. Also perfect for anyone trying to induce coulrophobia in others.

We bought two bottles at a supermarket in Enseneda to bring home to France, a place that had a range of tequilas comparable to the whisky shelves in good European supermarkets and which opened my eyes to everything I must be missing. I’m sorry to say that we won’t be drinking our imports all to quickly, because at the time of this writing, Herradura Ultra isn’t yet available in Europe.

You might be wondering why this post doesn’t have any images of the tequila itself in our glasses, or the tequila shelves.

An inexplicable cake and cupcake set featuring what I suppose a Santa's belt cake and elf cap cupcakes. At least, that's my interpretation. There's nothing like going into a large foreign supermarket to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to food assumptions.

An inexplicable cake and cupcake set featuring what I suppose a Santa’s belt cake and elf cap cupcakes. At least, that’s my interpretation.
There’s nothing like going into a large foreign supermarket to get out of your comfort zone when it comes to food assumptions.

Those images, which I had dutifully recorded in anticipation of this post, were lost along with my phone when I dropped it into the Pacific Ocean on an early morning walk. I was dodging an unexpected wave that swamped the shore and took my phone back out to sea with it when it retreated. The images here were from our other camera.

One thing I won’t be dodging in the future is premium tequila.

The phone-thieving and ever unrepentant Pacific.

The phone-thieving and ever unrepentant Pacific.

 

 

 

Simple, Slow, Good

We harvested the last of the mirabelles today under heavy skies and to the sound of rolling thunder, the first raindrops already falling as we packed away the ladder and hurried inside with the last couple of kilos of yellow plums.

There’s something so simple and satisfying about making old-fashioned jams and cordials, a word that has a distinctly Victorian ring to my ears. Or at least, it’s simple and satisfying once the pots have all been put away and the kitchen is clean.

We were in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, and I was talking to one of the fellows behind the bar at The Library in the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

A vodka cocktail from The Library.

A vodka cocktail from The Library.

It’s a dimly lit place of deep leather seats and candles, with thick stacks of books piled up as table supports. The kind of place that invites spending more time than foreseen, and maybe a few unplanned confessions

After we’d tried the first couple of surprising cocktails, I had to go over and see what this guy was up to. I’ve never had such a bright pomegranate vodka martini; the margarita was spiked with unexpected cilantro and green chili.

As it turned out, the countertop looked more like a salad bar than a standard bar for booze. Fresh fruits, everything from pears and pomegranates to bell peppers and chills. Not to mention a wide variety of fresh herbs in bunches. Any juice for a drink is crushed or squeezed on the spot, the herbs mashed with a mortar and pestle.

A not-so-great picture, taken in very low light, of a small part of the bar counter.

A not-so-great picture, taken in very low light, of a small part of the bar counter.

Impressive.

What I liked even more was the time taken to really pay attention to each concoction, including the strawberry/balsamic vinegar/vodka creation I had (top picture), topped with a foam of elderflower St. Germain liqueur.

Sure, it all takes longer, just like cooking up and straining mirabelles for a couple of liters of sunny golden cordial. Still, so satisfying, a real pleasure.