Wednesday, May 13, 2009


The Sayulita Tequila Journal is no longer drinking on blogger - why? Because we got fancy...kinda.
You can now find all the same good times, drunk ramblings, bar tales, plus a cooler look and lots of new stuff at our new joint...


gabbi el drinko

Monday, May 11, 2009

My 5inco de Mayo

As 5inco de Mayo approached, we were deep in Swine Flu '09, with the whole of our little town Sayulita, and most of the rest of the country in the throes of closings, warnings and just plain media chaos. In our area (as well as many others) you found closed schools, malls, theaters, and yes... Bars and restaurants. This is a major issue in our town, for we thrive on tourism, and we found that tourists hate killer disease, don't know why, they just do. Suddenly all rental homes emptied, streets ran dry of the ugly traveller, and more importantly and most sadly, the 5inco de Mayo party at my fave Bar was canceled. Truly a let down for all involved, and anyone planning to visit Sayulita for a long deserved break and vacation.

Before all of this madness, Ed, Mark and I had met online a fellow Tequila enthusiast and great lady in the form of Diana Barrera, who runs a wonderful and educational Tequila website called She coincidentally had a trip planned to the town of Tequila and was going to be swinging through Sayulita. Even with bars closed under threat of high fines, Mark was kind enough to invite our small group to meet behind closed doors and prying government eyes, to celebrate in hiding like our own little prohibition. Breaking laws is delicious! Diana joined us with her friend Mike Strader, and we sat around our glasses, talking about the future world domination of Tequila, our love of the elixir whether life long or recent, and of course, we drank. These were no small shots, these were big glasses, excellent drinks, bigger smiles and good times. This is all thanks to Mark, who is a great host like no other. Diana really knows her Tequila, growing up in a family that appreciated this drink long before it was the trend of today, and can really talk the talk and walk the walk. Where in Mexico we get bottles straight from the source, in the U.S. you often get bottles that were made just for export, so we had a great time discussing bottles we had tried, that we each could not get in our resident countries, and then we discussed as we drank - our fave flavors and our overall love of the elixir. As Mark said, and I loosely quote"...Many of us stumble upon Tequila, often when there was a void to fill, and as alcohol often fills that void for many, Tequila filled mine..." - I think Mark speaks for many of us... definitely for me.

On to the drinking - Here was our menu for the day:

Gran Reserva Reposado 10 month aged - This is a lovely and warm drink, with hints of cinimmon. Rich in a taste that does not change from sip to sip, staying true to it's start through your entire glass. This is aged 10-11months and is produced from only 8-10year old Los Altos estate agaves. All this works in it's favor, and our flavor.

Leyenda del Milagro Blanco Limited Edition Artisenal - Oh sweet vanilla! This Tequila is aged no more than 59 days in french oak barrels, and comes in the most amazing hand blown glass bottle, that has to be seen in person appreciate. The agaves are hand picked from the highlands of Jalisco, rich in volcanic soil, key to its flavor. And that flavor is very earthy, floral and the vanilla I mentioned is a key to my like of it. Leans strong on it's reposado sisters in flavor, leaving you with a slight numbing burn. Good stuff.

Hotel California Reposado - This awesome Tequila is named for a hotel in Todos Santos, Baja that the Eagles supposedly wrote their song about (this is considered a total rumor denyed by Don Henley), so its got of Rock n Roll legend, and Mexico lore... my faves. A unique nose right of the start, I kinda fell in love with this bottle today. This has a strong citrus / orange scent, with bits of cedar mixed in. Not the deepest flavor, but sharply focused and complex - the citrus nose followed right into my pie hole, and I found the spicey orange flavor mellowed as it sat in my glass. I really enjoyed this!

Don Fulano Imperial 5 year - extremely long aged for Tequila (one of the longest restings), this top shelfer has a soft nose but big taste. A spicey, warm elegance and class, it reminds me of caramel and maple, but not overwhelmingly woodsy. Full flavored and 5 years old - great combo.

We ended the day with
Hotel California Blanco - As you know due to me saying it ad-naseum, I love white Tequila, and this bottle just makes my day. The word "California" means from the spanish "a mythical land, a paradise not found" - well, I found some paradise in this bottle. The nose, much like the reposado, is pure citrus, sharp and spicey. Lord, the flavor is so good - "orange fireball delight" I wrote down during this tasting - not the most technical description, but it was after an afternoon of heavy pours and glasses of pure ambrosia. This bottle will sit high on my shelf, and strongly in the back of my head til it eventually leads me to do something bad...

In the end, we had an awesome 5inco de Mayo party at our fave bar, Swine Flu or not. The city, town our country, nor hell or high water (and flu) could keep this from happening in one way or another - yet another example of Tequila bringing good people together, for the sake of sipping, tasting and living.

Mark Alberto Holt, our Host and Diana "AgaveGal" Barrera at the S.F.T. Tequila Bar, Sayulita Mexico - Cinco de Mayo 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

Vintage Tequila themed (and fueled) albums

Here are some awesome old Tequila and Mexico themed albums. My dad passed on to me not only his love of great music, but also his enjoyment of a great album cover. These are a few gems.

My fave cover of them all! A classic Tejano musician, with a knack for not only great covers but the accordion. Makes me want a drink and a record player.

This one is a classic 1966 Latin pop album. This is an Argentine guy, with an American name, idolizing Mexican music and directly ripping off Herb Albert. Gotta love it!

Great cover, great song track names on this one, including "Un Poquito Tequila" and "El Gringo"

These last 2 albums are by a Spanish/Argentine band called, of course, Tequila. They were formed in 1975, and rose to quite a bit of fame over the years.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Cult of the Blue Agave's Daughter (and why for once I hate bacon)

Swine Flu. Lord, am I sick of hearing about this bug. Surely no matter where in the world you are, you know about this supposed sickness that is endangering the world, and all we hold dear. The end of civilization, a pandemic in waiting... oh lord. The news is eating it up. Well, it is the devil, and this is why...this little bug not only has all the restaurants and bars closed in Sayulita - I know - GASP! indeed... the bars are closed (weeeep)... but now our great Cinco de Mayo party at my local bar is also canceled. Travesty, followed by disaster, wrapped in Bacon. Sounds delicious, but not this time. The pig tastes funny.

My personal beliefs regarding this little dilemma aside, I think we should all follow the rules of days past and future times, and cure our ailments with Alcohol (which has worked for me for years). Brandy has long been believed to work on sore throats among other things, and the Mexican people have forever believed in the curing properties of the Agave and it's favorite daughter, Tequila. Today I am starting a new cult (just when you were looking for one to join, no?) - the Cult of the Blue Agave's Daughter. We will pray to our highest sister Tequila at all moments of the day (or at least after noon), and ask her for her guidance in getting us to our highest spiritual mind and soul-set, and to help us reach the power and buzz to cure our every ailment and worry. Join me, brothers and sisters! Come one, come all and heal thyself!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Banderas News shout out

My haunt and drinking hole, The S.F.T. Tequila Bar got a great shout out on the Bahia de Banderas News, a local online paper for our Bay Area here in Mexico. There is a regal pic of main man Mark Alberto Holt, and they even name drop little old me and my Sayulita Tequila Journal at the bottom - I'll drink to that...Read it here!

Friday, April 24, 2009

5inco de Mayo in Sayulita + the Imbiber

I love to read what other drinkers have to
say, and to reflect my addiction to flavor, taste, and gosh darn... Alcohol, to theirs. I enjoy reading about drinking, I watch movies about people who love a good time under the influence, and I appreciate a dedication and documentation of it all. Online there are a bevy of awesome people taking time to share their loves as well, and they rule. Dan Dunn is one of them. He runs a great drinking and spirits site called the Imbiber , clearly enjoying his glass of whatever it may be - a man after my own heart! He is also the spirits writer for Playboy, so that's a ton of cool in my book, being a big fan of a nudie mag anyday. Recently he was kind enough to call out the Sayulita Tequila Journal as well as the S.F.T. Tequila Bar's upcoming 5inco de Mayo party - Check it out here!

If you are the kind of drinker that may like a bit of history with your alcohol, pour a short glass, rinse, repeat, and check this out. I didn't know alot about Mexico before moving here. I knew the basics, I speak spanish, being a pure blood Argentine (the creme of the crop as far as Latinos are concerned - really, ask anyone!) and my brother was married in Tijuana. Since living here, I find Mexico's rich history one of my favorite topics, no shit. What a country! Talk about stomped upon, fucked with, and taken to town. Like a kid in the street, who eventually fights back and kicks ass! No surprise they enjoy a good relaxing or celebratory drink! Anyway, today I learned more about the 5th of May, as a Gringo may say. Here it is, translated into Gab-speak (that's me). Cinco de Mayo is a regional holiday in my dear Mexico, primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla, with the rest of the country recognizing it only as a minor event each year (and finding much pleasure surely that the U.S. celebrates it heavily, often for the wrong reason...but more on that later..). The holiday we speak of celebrates the battle between Mexico and the French on May 5, 1862, and Mexico's unlikely yet extremely awesome triumph over the French, who kinda suck (Yay Mexico! Boo France!). This is known as the Battle of Puebla. Not an official holiday, it remains a significant battle for 2 major reasons. First, the Mexican army was outnumbered 2 x 1 by heavily armed French forces that had not been defeated in 50 years, and second it was the last time the "Americas" were invaded by outside forces. You just know there were significant amounts of Mexicans drinking Tequila to celebrate that day at Puebla, just like there will be in the U.S. this year during its many celebrations - Mexicans and Gringos alike. While it's significance is limited in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated heavily in the U.S. as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride (and a good reason for people to drink without really knowing why). Right on? Unfortunately, it is also a common misconception in the U.S. that it celebrates Mexico's Independence day, which is actually September 16, the most important Mexican holiday of all. So as you toss back some drinks in the ol' U.S. of A. next week, share some good info to your local know nothings!

Again, I always state there does not need to be a good reason for a good drink, but it's even tastier if you have one. Now on this great day, you know why to drink... Mexico beat up the French. They literally punched them in the face. Let's drink to that! For those of you in Mexico, come drink with us in Sayulita, such a great place to drink I moved here - Just as the Mexican army was outnumbered 2 x 1, word on the dusty streets of Sayulita that drinks will be 2 x 1. Sign me up for some excessive drinking. Plus Mariachi music, and a good Mexican spring day - all I can say is "what Swine Flu?" Tequila surely can kill the swine flu, if anything can. That's my medicine. Viva Mexico!

Align Center

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mezcal, Raicilla, Mexican Moonshine, and the (in)famous Worm

"It's Mezcal with me...Tequila, no, that is helpful and delightful, just like beer. Good for you. But If I ever start to drink Mezcal again, I'm afraid, yes, that would be the end..." - Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

Moonshine. Everclear. Bathtub Gin. Mezcal. Raicilla. Since the start of times, humans have been catching a good buzz, loving a good flavor (or questionable flavor, as we will soon discuss) and inevitably making their own home-brewed liquor to accomplish all of the above. Mexicans have a rich tradition of creating beauty out of the simple things around them, and have famously used the estimated 400 varieties of the Agave plant for many of their necessities - needles, thread, food, building materials, and so on - but most famous is the creation of Tequila, her mysterious sister Mezcal, and their dangerous-yet-sexy cousin Raicilla (be careful of her!). Though I love the big sister with all my heart, its the younger girls we get intimate with today.

My all time favorite Tequila-related imagery is the bottle art of the Gusano Rojo Mezcal Joven. The great iconic art (75 year anniversary going on now) of the worm working the agave fields always makes me happy and reminds me of animation, comics... and booze. A few of my favorite things, together and apart. Though I often drank Cuervo Gold growing up, to me the image on the bottle of Gusano Rojo, and the infamous Worm, wove a tale and imagery that to me said Mexico, Tequila (though it isn't) and heavy inebriation. More on Gusano Rojo later.

The word Mezcal was born from the Aztec language, meaning a potent Mexican spirit made from the Maguey plant - they got that right on the nose, the potent part. You coul
d say that Tequila, Mezcal, and Raicilla's first major difference is their home-towns, with Tequila only distilled in and around the northern state of Jalisco, Mezcal mostly created in the south, in the areas in and surrounding the state of Oaxaca (pronounced 'Wo-Ha-Ka'), and Raicilla born of regional Agaves in different parts of Mexico. Another important distinction is that while Tequila is now a huge business, with most distilleries run by big companies with bigger budgets, Mezcal and Raicilla are both still made by Oaxacan and other local villagers in genuine home-made, back room operations. While many of the Mezcals we tried today are bottled and approved by Mexican spirit standards, it is not legal to produce Raicilla for sale, so these are the true bottles of modern Mexican moonshine. These producers are still very artisinal and very small in comparison to the Big T companies, and the flavors from town to town are distinctive and original.

decided to pull together the inner circle of the Tequila Squad for a full blown Mezcal-a-rama. My fellow Mezcaleros: Mark Alberto Holt, owner of my beloved S.F.T. Tequila Bar, Ed Schwartz, "the Nose", his wife Bambi, plus a few good folks that stopped by through the trials. Mark laid out an excellent selection of his best, brightest, moonshiniest Mezcals and Raicillas, and awesomeness, education and hilarity insued. This is what we drank.

Monte Alban Mezcal Reposado con gusano (with worm) - Not 100% Agave, and it shows. Probably what Mezcaleros may call a classic, smokey flavor, and smokey it is, but besides that to me it has some of the worst characteristics. Ed asked out loud "Why do people drink this...?" or something equally awesome. Whatever his exact words, I got the drift, and felt similarly.

Mezcalero Mezcal Reposado "Regional de Oaxaca" con gusano
- Though also not 100% Agave, this is a far more palatable cup in comparison to the Monte Alban. A light, spicy nose leads to a flavor with hints of flowers (just can't call which) and strange fruit. I was surprised by my lack of repulsion, and found this overall enjoyable.

Gusano Rojo Mezcal Joven 100% Agave con gusano - A Classic Mezcal, both in reputation and classic Mexican imagery. As stated, I remember loving this bottle when I was very young, it's cartoon gusano rojo (red worm, y'all) working in the agave fields, happy as, well, a worm in Mezcal. Though I can attest to taking many a shot of G.R. in the wee desperate hours, lost to whatever my life was giving me, and no good Tequila around...Today, sitting here in the company of my motley yet elegant crew, it tastes down right refined. Smokey nose starts you off, and carries right through the tasting, start to finish. Lasts far (far) longer than your last sip, which is good if you enjoy it.
"Hints of Pear..." Ed.

Recuerdo de Oaxaca Mezcal Joven 100% de Agave con gusano
- The flavor was better than the smell, but barely by a nose (funny). It did get better with further drinks, but lots of bad things get better with time.
That nose does not move me" - Ed.
A nose like chemicals or coal" - Mark.
Ack." - Gab

do de Oaxaca Mezcal Joven 100% de Agave con multiple gusanos - This is awesome because it is the exact same Mezcal as above, same NOM # (the Official Mexican Standard of Tequila that is regulated by the Mexican Government applicable to all producers of the spirit) and same Lot #, the only difference being an updated bottle design, and that it comes with multiple worms. I found this a much better tasting, smoother bottle than the one with only one worm, and came to the decision that this may be the only thing in the world that tastes better with more worms in it. Right on.

Sisal Silver Extra Dry Blanco, Licor de Henequen 100% Agave
- Here I had found my best taste of the day, and worth the wait. Delightful and sweet from the gate, hints of citrus take you through nose and taste. This is a gentle Mezcal you could enjoy in any situation, and be far from vomiting. Find this and start a conversation around it.

Raicilla "El Tuito" Reposado 100%
Agave - A Raicilla distilled from regional Agaves, this really lives beyond its family home, starting with a great nose, and ending one of the best surprises of the day. Raicilla is not given a NOM # or recognized by means and standards as other Tequilas and Mezcals are, so it is legal to give away, but not to sell. The back of the bottle says "...this aphrodisiac elixir...should be taken in no less than 5 drinks per day and no more than 10 per day...". Nice prescription.

Raicilla in a blank plastic bottle
- very young and born and delivered right from a still - "Oh Shit." were my and everyone else's first words after our foray into this mexican moonshine. My pal Yogi who joined us around this time compared it to what he imagined "Hawkeye and Trapper John drank on M.A.S.H..." I loved that show, and the wisdom.

As the afternoon went on, we thoroughly discussed the best qualities of even a questionable flavor, while taking joy of the "rough edges" - with Mezcal being an acquired taste, overall I can say we all really acquired it. Mezcal I find is more earthy than Tequila, and has a smokey soul that most folks probably have the most trouble with. I personally also find it saltier, but also more floral in my preferred bottles. You must remember that the varied flavors come from the local villages each bottle is born from, the local water, wether it is created in a clay or copper pot... lots of variables, all key to it's local flavor. That is where it's true charm lies. For many, learning to love Mezcal may come via cocktails, which is a fine doorway into this magical world.

Tonight I sit at home, documenting these words, enjoying my evening with Andrea, now that the boy is recently to sleep. As I sip on some Gran Centenario Azul, I can't help but think that one thing is missing, isn't it?
The Worm. MY WORM. After all these years, I have never had the worm. Well, tonights the night, as they say. I pull out my bottle of Gusano Rojo I have around for posterity and art, and pop it open. Digging the worm out is not as easy as thought, but as I am known to, I figured it out. With my glass filled with the Mezcal it spent years in on my shelf, I tossed my friend into my mouth. Small burst, more of the same Mezcal of it's home, and generally no big suprise. A worm. I do feel awesome to have finally crossed that bridge, but at the same time depressed thaI have yet to start hallucinating. Now I am sad.

I leave this night having not only a fonder place in my dark dark (pitch black) heart for Mezcal and Raicilla, but a deeper appreciation for home made booze, especially in Mexico, an amazing country born of creativity and home-grown magic.

Los Mezcaleros de Sayulita: (L-R) Mark Alberto Holt, the Fiend, Ed and Bambi Schwartz

Friday, April 17, 2009

I wish I would have said that....

"I have taken out of Alcohol more than alcohol has taken out of me"

- famous drinker and world leader Winston Churchill 1874-1965

Monday, April 13, 2009

A sign from better times...

old Mexican Tequila poster, circa god-knows-when

A good day always ends up at the Bar...

I went for a walk today with my son, Maximo Lobo. Not only a great kid but an awesome drinking partner, even at 8 months. I know what you are thinking - "Best Dad ever". Totally, I don't want to sound snobby, but it's true. Anyway, our walk took us through town, stops at the bootleg DVD stand, a dust parade down Calle Pelicanos, and an ever important quick stop for a "Cielo Rojo". A favorite of mine any day, it's a Mexican traditional beer concoction, mixed with Tabasco, Worcester, Soy, lots of lime and salt, and finally, Clamato and ice. Lots of it. Awesome. This is a drink that not only keeps your beer cold in our hot little country, but adds all the joy of a Bloody Mary, and then some. Steak comes to mind - hot spicy carne asada. It is an acquired taste, but when acquired, hard to let go. With that, we wandered on, my little Ewok and I. Off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wizard of Tequila. It was a super sunny day in Sayulita, and as we walk around the plaza, the sounds of the occasional "Maximo!" in the background bring a smile to my face. The town around us knows my boy, and I look forward to him growing up in this spot in the world. As a gringo, you can live here for years and never totally feel like its your home, always the outsider. After 3 years, I have to say, it feels like home to me. Speaking of homes, let's go to the Bar.

When you show up to a bar, at 3pm with a drink already in your hand, you know its a good day. This was today, Gab and Son, Cielo Rojo in hand, visiting my fave bar in town. To our good luck, S.F.T.'s main man Mark Albert was there, and off we went. Today I drank well, but simply. We started out with Tequila De Los Gonzalez blanco, a pretty amazing white that Mark joined me for. It's always better to share a new taste, and Mark a good sounding board to enjoy Tequila with. This blanco made me never want to drink a reposado again. Strong nose, true agave flavor full of Vanilla and hot finish. Wonderful. There is a rich family history behind this bottle, which always adds another level to any good Tequila, as Mexico is all about history.

My treat of the day was a little bottle called Te Amo Blanco. You probably haven't heard much on this bottle, but it had a super gentle nose, simple flavor and great overall taste, all surely due to it's only 38% proof. My alcoholic self often yells a hearty "bah-humbug!" at anything not strong enough to burn your nose hairs, but I really liked this. Good price, good taste, good buzz. Find it and drink it.

Not only do I drink, but I document. S.F.T. has a burgening little gang, called the S.F.T. Tequila Squad, and we drink, write about our drinks, and maybe meet in a dark alley here and there... and drink more, Tequila that is. Mark provides his squad with great tracking diaries to keep up with their every Tequila, make notes, etc. I am lucky enough (or damned?) to have filled my first book, and Mark gifted me a Agave-bound Tequila bible to keep my drawings and ramblings about my latest conquest at the bar. So awesome. I have always dreamed of having a special glass at a bar I always drank at, when I get nice and old. Well, I have started a book that I hope to look back at years from now, when I am drinking at (or passed out in) my home town bar. Good times. More on the S.F.T. Tequila Squad soon.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Love your Bartender

If you are any kind of self respecting Drinker, you not only know your bartender's name, but you think so highly of him or her, that their name could be the name you give one of your future children, Boy or girl... Yes, the relationship with your Bartender is paramount to a good drinking experience, and more so with the success and return-ability of any great bar.

Those of my Tribe and designation have clocked enough hours at a Bar that much like a lover or good friend, it truly matters who your Bartender is, how he treats you, and what they represent themselves as. Whether it's Jeff at the Crow Bar, Annie at Fulton Street, or Craig at the Cactus Club, I'll never forget the great Bartenders in my life...and neither should you.

Enter Miguel. Born Miguel Sanchez Origel in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, I first met Miguel when I myself was Bartending at the long dead Sayulita Lounge, as he came in to borrow or share ingredients for where he was bartending, my now dear Sayulita Fish Taco. Miguel is the father of his 6 year old son Diego, and the kind of Dad any kid would love - he has been a bartender for 14 years, starting when he was 18 working in bars, moving into bartending after the first few years. We worked together shortly at the Lounge, and now he pours my poison at the S.F.T. Tequila Bar, and I couldn't be happier. A hardcore surfer since his early teens, he truly personifies the lifestyle that everyone wants... work hard, keep in funds, and surf every free minute you have. I don't surf, but with Miguel, it doesn't matter, he is gonna treat you like you DO surf, not like you DON'T surf, and tell you all about the waves in the most glorious fashion... and that in itself is the biggest compliment he gives you, and I can give him. He is the same good guy, it's us who are different. We have gotten chances to discuss much as he pours my Tequila, or as we share a glass, and the conversations over a drink is one of the true treats of a Tequila bar such as S.F.T. Though he used to drink Tequila as a younger man only to party and get wasted as many of us, he has developed a taste for the good stuff, and appreciates the subtle differences in the myriad variety of bottles.

Favorite Tequila: Casa Noble Reposado (pictured above in the blue bottle). "Suave, hints of chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla"

Worst Tequila memory: When he was young, he used to drink liter after liter of bad tequila, and extreme amounts of beer - this led to classic vomiting sessions lasting hours!

Best Tequila memory: At a family gathering for a wedding, in his home town of Aguas Calientes, in a local pueblo called Calvillo. The Tequila was a no-name Tequila for the wedding, but the fact that his family was all there, great food, Mariachis playing, the Tequila was an uplifting factor that had everyone bonding and sharing in the moment.

Thoughts on Sayulita: "Sayulita crece, pero yo cresco con ella" - "Sayulita grows, but I grow with her" - words to live by in our great little town!

Miguel is behind the Bar every single day but Sunday. No kidding. Come to Sayulita, stop by the S.F.T. Tequila Bar, have him pick out your poison, and tell 'em Gabbi sent you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ed Schwartz - a nose for the good stuff

My good friend Ed Schwartz is the kind of guy you want to sit and have a drink with. Luckily our friendship allows this and more. He is a long time Wine industry rep and enthusiast, and has now turned his attention to what Mexican's call "vino", our dear Tequila. Ed and his wife Bambi have become great friends and my son Maximo's 3rd set of grandparents, and are now locals in our town of Sayulita, Mexico. Ed is the PR guy for the S.F.T. Tequila Bar where I am often found, and has recently wrote a great story for the Nob Hill Gazette about Tequila, it's history, and a wonderful tasting we did with Mark at the Bar. Here is an excerpt (the picture above is Ed and I at my U.S. Citizenship ceremony in California last month):

Tequila—The Town & The Tastes
by Ed Schwartz

Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico—One hour west of Guadalajara, we are in tequila country, anchored by the town of Tequila. As we make the turn off Highway 15 and into this charming place, we are greeted by rows and rows of proud, blue agave plants, their spiky crowns pointing to the bright, hot sun. Once in the town, there is much to see, including a beautiful church, the new and tranquil José Cuervo visitors’ center, and, no surprise, dozens and dozens of shops selling a wide range of tequilas, the national spirit of Mexico.

The highlight of our visit was the beautiful tequila museum, which tells the history of the spirit in pictures, art, rare bottles, and ancient barrels and production equipment.
The process of making tequila is long and difficult. It begins when the blue agave plant (Agave Tequiliana Weber Azul) is ripe—usually when it’s eight years or older. The leaves are chopped away with great effort by an expert jimador; what is left is a very large bottom core. These cores are called piñas (pineapples, which they resemble) and can weigh from forty to two-hundred pounds. There are 136 species of agave, of which blue agave is just one.

There are many types of tequila; there are also very strict rules about what can be called tequila. By Mexican law, a spirit can only be called a tequila if it is made in the state of Jalisco and is comprised of no less than fifty-one percent blue agave.
The best tequilas are those that are one-hundred percent blue agave; they come in three types: blanco (also called plata or silver), reposado, and añejo. Other tequilas, which feature a lesser percentage of blue agave, come in blanco, oro, reposado, and añejo. Blanco is the traditional tequila, clear and strong. Gold (oro) tequila is mellowed by colorants and flavorings and is generally used in the wildly popular margarita cocktail, now the best-selling cocktail in the U.S. Reposado (rested) means that the spirit has rested in oak for two months to one year. Añejo, old, is aged for up to eight years; older tequilas can be called extra añejo.

Use of the agave plant—called maguey—has a long history in Mexico. Centuries before the Spanish conquest of Mexico, indigenous people were making an alcoholic drink from fermented agave called pulque. When the Spanish came, they distilled this brew into a more intense spirit. And, the leaves of the agave were used to make mats, clothing, rope, and a type of paper.

As time went by, many of the best of the distilled spirits were made in the state of Jalisco and eventually dubbed tequila. Agave spirits made elsewhere, and utilizing other species of agave, are commonly referred to as mezcal (a common phrase in the Mexican spirits world is “all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequila”). Additionally, just as Jalisco has done with tequila, other areas have dubbed their mezcal with a name to identify it with the region. For instance, in Sonora it’s bacanora and in Chihuahua it’s sotol.

A common misconception (which makes for a good bar bet, certain to win you a drink or two) is that agave is a cactus; it’s not. The agave is a succulent, related to the lily and amaryllis family.

Sales of tequila are hot, hot, hot (as are, increasingly, sales of mezcal), especially at the luxury end, where bottles start at $50. Case sales in the U.S. are around eleven million annually.

But all is not joy in the tequila industry. Ironically, the independent blue agave farmers are up against it financially. It is very hard to make a living when the grower gets only one crop every eight years or so and receives so little money for it. So, many are turning to where the “green” is, tearing out picturesque agave fields and planting corn for ethanol. Obviously, this is not good for the long-term health of the industry.

But there is joy in the present. Our little town of Sayulita, just north of Puerto Vallarta, is a mecca for tequila lovers thanks to the Sayulita Fish Taco Tequila Bar, on the town square. Here, tequila maven and good host Mark Alberto Holt has created a cozy and welcoming all-tequila bar next to the famous fish taco restaurant he owns with his wife. Mark has 220 tempting tequilas as well as vast knowledge of the spirit. Here are eight of his favorites, which he served to mi amigo and man about town Gabriel Villarrubia and me, Pancho Schwartz.

Don Fernando Tequila Blanco
—Double distilled. Starts off with a peppery nose; it’s clean and spicy with lots of complexity.
Don Eduardo Blanco—Subtle nose, but full and excellent taste. The pepper overtone is there but in thoughtful balance.
Corzo Tequila Reposado—Fine nose with a rich, complex taste; mellow throughout and a fine, long finish.
Clase Azul Reposado—This spirit comes in a large, blue, hand-painted porcelain bottle, and the tequila lives up to its fancy encapsulation. Almost a shy nose, but rich and full with sweet caramel notes and nice hints of lemon.
Don Julio 1942 Añejo—A superior expression with a sweetness and smoothness much resembling a very fine cognac. My choice of the group.
Don Fulano Añejo—Well aged, but retains its refreshing, peppery taste.
Casa Noble Añejo Special Reserve—Dark, brooding, rich, and warm; it shows its five years of wood aging in the taste. Very limited production.
Tres, Cuarto, y Cinco—Comes in a beautiful hand-blown glass bottle about eighteen inches high. Very rich, amber color; a huge taste with very assertive wood notes.
Ed Schwartz has been involved in many aspects of fine wine for 30 years and has worked with top wineries in California, Italy and France. His writings on wine, food and travel have appeared in the SF Chronicle, LA Times and Image magazine. His website is

Monday, March 23, 2009

White is the color of my true love's Tequila

Growing up in 1980's northern California, and being a good time rock-n-roll sort of fella, Tequila represented a number of things to my crew. It represented the truest way to get drunk - "liquid cocaine" we called it, no less. It represented the drinker at his roughest - the hardest of the hard, a toughie, a yardie...and it represented the color of kings...Gold, Cuervo gold. As those of my tribe learned right early on, you rarely felt like a king the day after, or if you were of those we called the "fallen", that night. Ah, the joys of youth. Luckily, as I matured as drinker and man, so did my appreciation and knowledge of a good Tequila. Gone were the days of Cuervo Gold (Though Cuervo is a wonderful brand with many great bottles to its name), and in were the joys of variety. Variety of flavors, brands, ages and tastes. Over time, as any Tequila drinker knows, we all develop our personal preferences in regards to what goes in our glass- and that usually changes a bit over time as well. What time in a bottle(s) has given me is a true love of White and Silver Tequilas - Blancos y Platas to the devoted. To talk of Blancos is to talk of the purity of youth, the original from of Tequila, the naked blue agave. Nothing added, barely rested (30 days max usually), often referred to as "Joven" or young, and most often fresh from the distillation process, if not kept a short time in stainless steel tanks. If Gold was the color of kings and conquistadors, then Plata is the clarity of the Agave. Though colorless, don't be fooled - in this form you will find the honest play of the pure flavors and magic of the Agave, as well as a sweetness those unfamiliar with Blancos are often surprised by.

"When we have the white tequila, straight from the still, we say it is like having a beautiful woman. Then you can dress it how you want it, you can use French white oak barrels instead of American oak, put it in sherry barrels . . . You try to be consistent but there are no two equal tequilas. So we are dealing with something alive." - Miguel Cideno Cruz, plant manager of Tequila Herradura

When I got over my mistaken beliefs that Blancos were a "lesser" Tequila, I was a kid in a liquid candy store, exclusively living in a White world for some time. After a bit of this and a bit of that, I found my glass the day I drank for the first time Sauza's Tres Generaciones Plata. The bottle always has a hold on me, clear with a light touch of blue, it looks vintage and classic, and stinking of Mexico, another love of mine. A triple distilled Tequila, made from only 100% fully ripened, estate grown Agave, my poison here has an intense, pure flavor, that early on tasted like something I could not even call Tequila. Of course, that was my newness to the Blancos and Platas - most of us come into this world thinking we know what Tequila should taste like, but hopefully all learn we will never truly know its final flavor.... I digress - It has an amazingly strong nose, almost pushing you out of the glass, and a hot, spicy taste that leaves taking a deep breath before diving in for another sip. It hits your belly warm, and its buzz had me hooked early, like a teenager's first... well, anything. With a bold edge, its flavor remains sweet and exciting. For a guy who spends days and nights at a bar known for its 230+ bottles of Tequila (Sayulita's own SFT Tequila Bar, of course!), it is no surprise that this is my fall-back when I just want a no risk, top shelf, solid glass of Tequila. Some of my most significant nights have been spent with a bottle of 3G, and they all ended wonderfully, in no small part due to its magic.

Recently I was given a bottle of Corzo Silver. Born of the Cazadores family of Tequilas, you really wouldn't know this by the bottle or the Tequila inside. First glance brings thoughts of Mexico city, sharp corners, modern vistas, and an elegance that draws you in. Not being the biggest fan of Cazadores Blanco, I was glad this was a very different kid born to a big family. Lacking some of the "gas" that I love in 3G, that love was equaled by hints of soft Vanilla and citrus spice touches. A warm finish, and low oily taste has put this high on my shelf as a favorite white to celebrate with. At close to double the price of my beloved 3G, it is definitely an elegant drink for fancy nights.

Fancy nights - surely not what I would have labeled my earliest experimentation with Tequila, nor the mornings after. Though I am not that young or that white anymore - thank the liquor gods that watch over me - my Tequila most nights is.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Welcome to the Tequila Journal...

My name is Gabbi Villarrubia, and I like to drink. Like is a soft word in a hard world to describe my love of drinking, and even though my world is far from hard, I like to soften the edges with a drink. Often. Though I would comfortably say I like all sorts of drinks and elixirs... mixed, shaken, stirred, shot, frozen, white, brown or black and tan... the queen of my dream bar is our Mexican princess, Tequila.

My love suits my life, since I live in a place well suited for my tastes...Mexico. Not just Mexico, mind you, but Sayulita, Mexico. I live here with my wife and partner in freedom, Andrea, and our son, Maximo Lobo, and if you care to know more, visit our world at Our town is small, but dynamic and international, and our scene is one of joviality and family. Sun and surf is the name of the game, but for those of us not born to ride waves, we ride highs of another sort. We drink. I drink. And I drink at the SFT Tequila bar - a place for a guy like me to celebrate the joys of life, and the wonder of a great glass of Tequila. This bar has a short history, but an amazing future, and I feel lucky to have this kind of place to hang my hat. I enjoy drinking tequila and studying its amazing varieties to such an extent, and have met so many others with the same love, that I have decided to write about it. I like to write about things I drink, things I read about, people I meet at the bar, and the widom of those around me - all through the rose or rage red glasses of a Tequila glass. I hope you dig the ramblings that are born from all the above.

This is my journal, these are my words, and this is my life. Take it for what it is - best served with a glass of Tequila.

Wisdom from behind the bar

I don't just drink at my favorite bar, I listen... Mark talks. Here is some recent wisdom I learn and live by...

"With all the rush-rush in life, I have gone on a new campaign. "Sipping for a longer Life"
By slowing down, it lets a person relax for a moment and regain ones self. It's a fact that we are on this stinkin' planet for a very short time. Maybe it's not about how much we can get done, but the quality of what we have done. Sip and ponder - The SFT Tequilapeutic lifestyle. Charging the Hunger, Sipping for life."

Mark Alberto, the man behind the bar, my guru, mentor, the man.
SFT Tequila Bar