Cinco de Mayo celebrations are just around the corner, and Sacramento has its tequila bases covered.
Made from the blue agave plant, tequila is a beverage whose journey to the table is not a speedy one. The agave plant must grow in the soil for 10 years, enduring drought, wind and pests, and, once harvested, must mature for an additional five years.
But thanks to area restaurants, Sacramento won’t have to wait quite so long for a taste of the sweet spirit.
In the coming week, there are plenty of opportunities in Sacramento to grab a margarita, check out a tequila tasting or indulge in the pairing of traditional Mexican cuisine and fine tequila.
For the chance to sample boutique tequilas from family-operated distilleries in Mexico, Zócalo on Capital Ave is the place to be Monday night for its annual tequila festival.
Joe Anthony Savala, tequila aficionado at Zocalo, will host the event. The festival will feature seven brands of tequila made in distilleries in Mexico.
The featured tequila list includes: 7Leguas, Herencia Mexicana, Fortaleza, El Tesoro, Herradura, Corzo and Cazadores.
Zócalo’s team of tequila connoisseurs travels to Mexico each year to visit distilleries, taste their products and bring the tequila brands back to the States to share with Sacramento.
Many of the distilleries they visit have been family-run operations for 60 years, Savala said.
He said he hopes to offer an alternative to the mass-produced “big boys” of the tequila industry, who add things like sugar and caramel to their tequilas, by showcasing only 100-percent agave tequilas made by families in Mexico who spend a great deal of time and effort on their products.
His mission is to educate people not only about the tequila itself, but also about where it comes from and the story behind the family that produces it.
You can tell if tequila has been poorly made when there is a “green” taste to it, which indicates the agave plant was harvested prematurely, Savala said.
Another indicator of a poorly executed product is an oily taste and feel, the result of the addition of glycerin, an agent that gives the tequila a “smooth feel.”
Those mass-produced varieties won’t find their way to Savala’s bar. Zócalo features only sip-worthy tequilas.
“I cringe when I see people getting out the lime and the salt to drink tequila,” he said. “You use those when you don’t want to taste the tequila.”
Monday night, guests will receive a “tasting passport badge,” have the chance to sample all seven of the featured brands, meet representatives from each distillery and be guided through the tasting by Savala.
Half of the restaurant will be closed off for tequila tasters, and guitarist Edson will provide the evening’s entertainment with some Spanish pop-rock. There will be roving appetizers at the event to keep guests sated between samples.
The event begins at 6 p.m. and costs $25.
And if you can’t make it to the Tequila Festival on Monday, you can still learn about fine tequilas of Mexico on the first Monday of every month at the restaurant’s tequila tasting dinner, also hosted by Savalo.
During the tastings, which have been happening since Zócalo opened its doors seven years ago, Savala engages guests in comparison tasting. For instance, he may provide tasters with a sample of the original family-made Patrón and have them compare the taste to that of modern-day Patrón, which is produced by beauty supply big-wig Paul Mitchel.
Attendees of the tequila dinner learn proper tasting technique, which hinges on what Savala calls “the only vehicle to taste tequila,” a special champagne flute-like glass by a company called Reidel.
“You smell from the top of the glass, and open your mouth to let the alcohol vapors move through your mouth,” he said.
For $25 a person, you can partake in Joe’s tequila lessons, sample some of the finest tequilas Mexico has to offer and enjoy a three-course meal.
The meal, which consists of an appetizer, main course and dessert, gives Zócalo’s Chef Ryan “a chance to really express himself and try things off the regular menu,” and promises to be an effort in creativity, Savala said.
But don’t expect a lot of heat during the Monday night meal.
“I’m not a fan of pairing tequila with hot foods, because the alcohol in tequila really gets ignited by spice,” Savala said.
GRANGE RESTAURANT AND BAR
If you are interested in sampling unique and eccentric cocktails, you might want to spend your Cinco de Mayo at Grange Restaurant and Bar at 926 J Street. The restaurant is offering a four-course meal paired with four hand-crafted tequila cocktails, courtesy of the event’s bartenders, Ryan Seng and Jose Aguilar.
The cocktails will be crafted using a Reposado tequila called Joie de Vivre from the Casa Herradura distillery in Mexico.
“It’s the kind of quality we wanted to partner with to express our passion for tequila,” Troy Christian, director of food and beverage at Grange, said about the Casa Herradura brand.
Grange’s tequila team visited the distillery in Guadalajara, Mexico, and sampled several tequilas before settling on Joie de Vivre, a variety that Christian described as “well-rounded, not hot, with notes of vanilla and cinnamon.”
The 180 acre Casa Herradura compound has been making fine tequila for more than 100 years, Christian said. The families who make the tequila have lived and worked within the compound’s walls for as many as five generations.
“The entire process from the field to the bottling is done at this location, and so the attention to detail is of the highest standard,” he said.
The night’s menu, crafted by Chef Brad Cecchi, was inspired by the “robust” flavor of the tequila. The meal, which will include Baracoa de Borrego and Snapper Ceviche Vera Cruzano, will be kicked off with a shot of Joie de Vivre in order to allow guests to “enjoy it in its purest form,” Christian said.
The night’s cocktails have been tailored to complement the flavors of each dish, like the Tomatillo tequila, made from Tomatillo juice, ceviche juice and lemon, which will be served with Caldo del Mar.
And don’t forget dessert: churros con Rompope paired with Wedo tequila, made with Kahlua and Horchata.
The dinner begins at 5:30 and will cost $65 a person.
TEQUILA MUSEO MAYAHUEL
Lovers of organic products should head over to Tequila Museo Mayahuel at 1200 K Street Tuesday night to enjoy the Mayahuel Organic Margarita, prepared with fresh agave and a wedge of lime on ice, before diving into the restaurant’s four-course tequila dinner.
The tequila dinner is being held as part of Mayahuel’s week-long grand opening and Cinco de Mayo celebration.
The star of the evening and base for the featured margarita will be USDA Organic-Certified Casa Noble brand tequila.
The Casa Noble distillery earned the hard-won organic certification by using natural compost rather than fertilizer in its agave fields, using insects and birds to get rid of pests, rather than pesticides, and hand-weeding crops rather than using chemical herbicides.
Guests will sample several expressions of Casa Noble and learn the best ways to pair the tequila with the flavors of Mexican cuisine, said Alex Trujilo,
artist at Mayahuel and event organizer.
Chef Ramiro Alarcon will be crafting dishes to fit perfectly with the night’s featured tequila.
The first course will engage the pallet with six varieties of Mexican appetizers. Next, the creamy spiciness of the evening’s soup dish, Crema de Chile Poblana, paired with the sweet agave of Casa Noble tequila, offers taste buds a multi-layered flavor experience. The meal will end with a yet-to-be-announced dessert finale.
The event kicks off with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m.
The cocktails offered will be “a mix of items from the menu,” Trujillo said.
Trujilo said he hopes the night is just the beginning for the revitalization of K Street, where Tequila Museo Mayahuel is the newest addition.
Trujillo calls the bar, lounge, museum and restaurant in one the “ultimate tequila experience.”
Mayahuel’s dinner will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased ahead of time at the restaurant.
CENTRO COCINA MEXICANA
If you are looking for after-work refreshment, Centro Cocina Mexicana, located at 2730 J Street, has just what you need. The restaurant offers $5 margaritas daily during happy hour, and $4 margaritas all day on Mondays.
House margaritas combine Sauza Blanco tequila, triple sec and fresh-squeezed lime juice and are served in a martini glass with a half-salted rim.
In addition to offering affordable margaritas, Centro invites guests to save a dollar on drinks made with Azunia tequila, thanks to the tequila of the month special. You can look forward to Corralejo brand as the special for the month of May, bar manager Joel York said.
For late-night tequila lovers, Centro also offers half-off its entire tequila selection from 11 p.m. – 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Of the bar’s 180 tequila varieties, York recommends trying the Fortaleza or the Centenario.
Enjoying your tequila selection with any grilled item from Centro’s menu is sure to please, York said. His personal favorite is a pairing of Maestro Dobel tequila with Camarones y Calamares a la Parilla, Centro’s grilled shrimp and squid plate.
Editorial Note: A correction has been made to this story after it was published. The incorrect information has been struck out and the correct information has been added.