Tequila Hostage Crisis 2003

Rochelle and I just returned from 11 days touring the tequila region. We went with a group of like-minded tequila enthusiasts, and were lead by the manager of the bar at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant. In the five official days of the tour we visited eight different tequila fabricas, were treated to the finest hospitality Rochelle and I have ever enjoyed, and drank an average of two bottles of tequila per person per day. My liver hurts.

Rochelle and I just returned from 11 days in the state of Jalisco in Mexico, touring the tequila region. We went with a group of like-minded tequila enthusiasts, and were lead (I use the term loosely) by the manager of the bar at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, the best place to drink tequila in the United States.

The entire group of us referred to the trip as the Tequila Hostage Crisis 2003, because of the fluid nature of our schedule, and because it was a train that once you got on, you couldn’t get off. In the five official days of the tour we visited eight different tequila fabricas, were treated to the finest hospitality Rochelle and I have ever enjoyed, and drank an average of two bottles of tequila per person per day. (And yes, someone did end up in the hospital — but no one officially part of the tour.)

In addition to wonderful hospitality, all places we visited were amazingly generosity, in the form of gifts of tequila, or amazing prices on their products, or both. As a result, Rochelle and I ended up dragging home 35 bottles of tequila (and two bottles of Cuban “Puerto Rican” rum), packed into six different pieces of baggage (only two of which were checked), with zero breakage. Although we spent “only” US$500-600 on bottled tequila, the U.S. retail value of what we brought home is easily US$3000. Our five best bottles alone are worth more than a grand — if you can find them.

I’ll post more soon (in particular, I want to revisit my all you need to know post below), but for now I need a lot of sleep, and a lot of water and cranberry juice.

My liver hurts.

Everything You Need to Know About Ordering Tequila

Rochelle and I have our Ph.D.s in tequila. Rochelle is even a Ninja Master. And by the end of the month, we’ll both be Demi-Gods. If I was going to distill down the things I’ve learned, I would pass along these three pieces of tequila wisdom.

Rochelle and I have our Ph.D.s in tequila. Rochelle is even a Ninja Master. And by the end of the month, we’ll both be Demi-Gods. If I was going to distill down the things I’ve learned, I would pass along these three pieces of wisdom about selecting tequila to drink:

  1. If it isn’t 100% agave, it’s shit.
    By law, for a spirit to be called tequila, it must be at least 51% by volume made from fermented and distilled agave plants. The other 49% can be liquor made from any other sugar source, and is usually sugar cane. It’s that 49% that gives you the hella awful hangover — and it doesn’t make the tequila taste better, either.

    This adulterated “tequila” is called mixto. Any tequila that is 100% agave will say so on the bottle, prominently, because it’s a mark of quality. It tastes better, and it feels better the morning after. (Note: You need to see “100% agave” on the bottle, with your own eyes. Many bartenders don’t know, or “know” wrong. We’ve actually been told “All tequilas are 100% agave. Trust me, I’m Mexican, I know.”)

    Those $2 tequila shooters the guys are doing at the next table over? The ones that are going to make them want to die the next morning? Mixto crap. And 999 times out of a thousand, it’s going to be Cuervo Gold, possibly the worst tequila that legally bears the name. Which brings us to…

  2. Avoid Jose Cuervo brand tequilas (unless you know what you’re doing).
    Jose Cuervo makes some very fine tequilas, in particular, their Reserva de Familia, and everything in the Gran Centenario line. But by sales volume, the vast majority of their tequila is mixto crap (see #1 above). It’s a rare bar that has the good stuff, and a very rare bar that doesn’t have the bad stuff.

    Worse, there’s standard and “premium” products under their brand. Cuervo Gold, you already know is mixto crap. Especial? Mixto crap. Cuervo 1800? Expensive mixto crap. You ask for a premium tequila, and a lot of bartenders are going to push 1800 at you. Your wallet’s lighter, but you’re still drinkin’ crap. Cuervo is ubiquitous and confusing, and therefore dangerous. Which brings us to…

  3. When in doubt, ask for Herradura.
    Herradura is the world’s largest brand of exclusively 100% agave tequilas. That is, Herradura is the largest brand of tequila that doesn’t have any mixto crap. While not as widely distributed as Cuervo, you can find Herradura in any bar with a decent tequila selection. If you order Herradura, you will always be drinking good tequila.

Now, this isn’t everything you might like to know about tequila, but it is enough to keep you from unknowingly ordering bad tequila ever again. If you want to learn more, come drink with us at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, the premier tequila bar on earth.

We’re in the NY Times

Rochelle and I were mentioned, and Rochelle quoted, in this Sunday’s New York Times.

Rochelle and I were mentioned, and Rochelle quoted, in this Sunday’s New York Times. The article is about couples registering for wine when they’re getting married, which we did, and recommend. Go read the article for more details.

Rochelle’s marking an item off her “to do before I die” list, and we were both happy that we weren’t the couple with the largest age range mentioned in the article (we’re 4 years apart, while the biggest gap was 11 years).

Where the Promo Parties Went, Part 2

When Rochelle proposed we go out Thursday, I asked her, given she is planning a summer picnic for 100 people and has a school assignment due, both on Saturday, if she should be going out drinking. She said it was OK, but we absolutely could not go anywhere else after. So of course, when the guy sitting on the bar stool next to me told us about The Glenlivet party that was starting in 30 minutes, we decided to crash that one, too.

When Rochelle proposed we go out Thursday, I asked her, given she is planning a summer picnic for 100 people and has a school assignment due, both on Saturday, if she should be going out drinking. She said it was OK, but we absolutely could not go anywhere else after.

So of course, when the guy sitting on the bar stool next to me told us about The Glenlivet party that was starting in 30 minutes, we decided to crash that one, too. (Thank god I decided to bathe yesterday!)

We finished our drinks, paid our tab, and zipped across town. Finding a parking space was remarkably easy, but in spite of that, we were still 20 minutes late.

No problem! The program has already started, just go in and find yourselves seats. We won’t hold you up here with any registration crap, since then you’d miss the wonderful information our speaker is imparting! Woohoo!

The program was actually a vertical tasting of four Glenlivet Scotches, very cool. It was clearly a promotional program for The Glenlivet. I’m sure they’re doing dozens of these around the country, hoping to raise awareness for Scotch and The Glenlivet.

Rochelle and I have been to a few of these kinds of parties (a few times we were even invited). Done well, people leave feeling like they learned something cool, that they can now be the expert on this subject in their social circle. Ideally, they turn into enthusiasts and evangelists for the product. (God knows we have on the subject of tequila, so we know this does work.)

In other words, there is both thought and purpose behinds these kinds of promotional events — unlike so many of the dot.bomb parties that were thrown. People are still getting drunk on Marketing’s dollar, but Marketing can explain clearly what they plan to get out of it, and in all likelihood, can point to improved regional numbers afterwards.

Now we just need to figure out how to learn about these types of parties in a predictable, repeatable way, instead of by randomly talking to strangers in bars.

Where the Promo Parties Went, Part 1

Yesterday at 3pm Rochelle asked me if I wanted to go out, to a party she had seen posted on Chowhound.com, at a local bar, Butter. The Food Network was going to be there, shooting footage of Butter’s unique approach to bar food, and there would be free food samples and giveaway goodies. Most importantly, there would be 25¢ pints of beer, and $2 cosmos. I was in like Flint, as they say.

Yesterday at 3pm Rochelle asked me if I wanted to go out, to a party she had seen posted on Chowhound.com, at a local bar, Butter. She included the description of the event, which explained that the Food Network was going to be there, shooting footage of Butter’s unique approach to bar food, and there would be free food samples and giveaway goodies. Most importantly, there would be 25¢ pints of beer, and $2 cosmos. I was in like Flint, as they say.

I got there before Rochelle, and watched the Food Network crew of three methodically lighting and shooting individual servings of Butter’s food, which Butter calls “White Trash Bistro cuisine.” I.e., Spaghetti-O’s, corn dogs, Frito pie, Tater Tots. That sort of thing.

Now, Rochelle and I both have a high appreciation for the possibilities of that kind of food. In the right hands, re-imagined, it could be amazing. Indeed, one of our favorite dishes at Memphis Minnie’s is the Frito pie, because it’s Bob’s own chili on the Fritos, and Bob’s chili is amazingly good.

Alas, Butter is literally opening cans of Spaghetti-O’s, and canned chili, and bags of Tater Tots, etc., and heating ’em up before serving. Worse, they’re mostly using a microwave to heat them up. Microwaved Tater Tots are not good. Only the corn dogs were decent, and even those would have been better if they’d been deep fried, the way god intended.

Fortunately, you have enough 25¢ beers and you stop worrying about the food. The beer was Pabst, but at 25¢, it’s hard to complain. And the bartenders were all friendly and fun, we had a good time talking to Frank in particular.

The best part, to us, was the giveaways. We each got a baseball cap with the bar logo on it. Truly, I have reached the pinnacle of head attire, now that I have a hat that says “butter” on it. Everything’s better with butter, so I plan to wear the cap everywhere.

Ninja!

Rochelle is closing in on her Ninja degree in tequila, which is the optional degree that comes after the Ph.D. The Ninja degree is when you (a) have your Ph.D., and then (b) drink (yet another) 35 tequilas, neat — i.e., in a snifter, straight, not in a margarita or other cocktail. You don’t need a Ninja to become a Demigod, and indeed, fewer than a dozen people have achieved all four levels.

Rochelle is closing in on her Ninja degree in tequila, which is the optional degree that comes after the Ph.D. The Ninja degree is when you (a) have your Ph.D., and then (b) drink (yet another) 35 tequilas, neat — i.e., in a snifter, straight, not in a margarita or other cocktail. You don’t need to be a Ninja to become a Demigod, and indeed, fewer than a dozen people have achieved all four levels.

While we both got our Ph.D.s at the same time, Rochelle’s Ninja degree is coming about a year before mine will, as I just can’t drink more than one in a sitting. I have bad memories of bad tequila from my early 20s, that there’s just no doing away with.

At any rate, Rochelle will be graduating this Sunday. With our planned trip to Tequila, Mexico in late October, Rochelle is slated to become the latest person to achieve all four levels in the Tommy’s Blue Agave Club.

Woohoo! I’m proud of my baby!

Costa Rica, LA Photos Online

Photos of our trips to Costa Rica (end of May) and Los Angeles (last weekend) are now online.

Photos of our trips to Costa Rica (end of May) and Los Angeles (last weekend) are now online. There’s commentary along with the photos, or at least a few of them. Rochelle is writing more, to be published very soon.

A word about loading the photos. It’s slow, because there are no thumbnails, so each page loads every photo at full size, and because it’s all loading over my DSL line, which runs at 192Kbps for uploads. But once the page loads, clicking on individual photos should be very quick, almost instantaneous.

Ph.D. Exams Completed With Flying Colors

As I described prior to our vacation, Rochelle and I have been working hard on our Ph.D. (in tequila), and had planned to take our final exam this past Sunday (June 1st). I’m pleased to report that we passed with flying colors, in spite of a serious handicap.

As I described prior to our vacation, Rochelle and I have been working hard on our Ph.D. (in tequila), and had planned to take our final exam this past Sunday (June 1st). I’m pleased to report that we passed with flying colors.

The exam is a serious one — maybe not as tough as a real Ph.D. orals exam, but certainly equivalent of a college undergraduate final exam. 70 questions, multiple choice, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank; you must finish in 20 minutes, taking it at the bar, with the other patrons chanting at you.

Many of the questions are trick questions, and require you to know, for example, the difference between Herradura Silver and Herradura Blanco (at most distilleries, they are one and the same). No one has ever scored a 100% on the exam, and only one person has missed only one question. I missed two questions, and Rochelle missed three.

We studied hard for this exam. We bought two very good books on tequila, and read both (and you should see Rochelle’s color-coded page tabs!). Julio provides study material, and Rochelle and I each created a set of flash cards to study it. Although we didn’t do as much studying while we were on vacation as we had planned, it was basically all we did on Saturday and Sunday prior to taking the exam. We knew our flash cards cold, and the couple of the questions that were not in the study materials were either in the book, or had so annoyed our friend David (who took the text a couple months ago) that he kept repeating them, over and over, whenever he talked about his Ph.D. (Quick, what was the original logo for Patrón tequila?)

We did end up taking the exam with a handicap. You only qualify to take the exam when you’ve completed your Ph.D. tasting card, which requires you to sample 35 100% blue agave tequilas while at Tommy’s (and you cannot sample more than three in a single visit). Before our vacation I was two visits away from finishing, and Rochelle was one. We had intended to go once before our trip, so that Rochelle could be done, and I would only have to have two tequilas before taking the test.

Well, we never made it there, and an hour before we headed to Tommy’s for the exam, we realized that Rochelle needed to drink two cocktails before taking her exam — and I had to drink five. That’s 10 ounces of tequila, folks.

Fortunately, we had three hours at the bar before we took the test, and Julio let me start the exam once my fifth cocktail was poured (so I had only drunk four), but even so, I was not even close to sober. So I suppose the fact that I didn’t remember the town where Chinaco tequila is made can be excused.

A Comedy of Errors

Rochelle and I have great fun with each other while on vacations, but we don’t always travel well together. Our trip to Costa Rica was a textbook example. The passport problem was just the beginning of our troubles.

Rochelle and I have great fun with each other while on vacations, but we don’t always travel well together. Our trip to Costa Rica was a textbook example. The passport problem was just the beginning of our troubles.

We actually, for the first time ever, were completely packed well before our departure time. This was critical, because we’d made dinner plans with friends, to go visit RNM across the street (great food, spotty service). We’d intended to send them off with an hour of time left before leaving, but we were having a such a good time that we suddenly freaked out when we realized we had only 20 minutes to get ready and leave.

Among the many things we accidently left behind were Rochelle’s new flip-flops, really nice ones with loofa-style surface for massaging your feet as you walk. And we left some critical travel supplies (booze and sleeping pills), which meant our plane time was torture. Like democracy, air travel sucks, but it’s better than all the alternatives — especially if you can consistently knock yourself out.

I also didn’t get to pet all of my kitties before leaving, at least not the way I like to before taking off for a week. The taxi out to the airport is where I always think, maybe I should just stay home.

There aren’t very many direct flights to Costa Rica, so we were flying by way of Houston, where we had hoped to hook up with Rochelle’s brother for breakfast. But Code Orange got in the way of him being able to meet us, and we weren’t able to make contact by mobile phone to make alternate plans, so we just headed to our gate. Fortunately there was a bar literally right next to our gate, and the biscuits and gravy from the Popeye’s 100 yards away was astonishingly good. I think that says oceans about the food they serve on planes.

Two things did work out well for us. Our friend David was able to connect with us in Houston, and continue with us to Costa Rica (he was with us the entire trip, except the SF<–>Houston legs). And our flight timing, starting at 1am on Friday and getting us into Costa Rica at noon, was brilliant, because we were able to grab our rental car, race out to the hotel, throw our stuff in our room, and proceed directly to the pool and chill out. Once the waiter brought us drinks, we were almost completely recovered from our travel traumas.

Paying the Stupidity Tax

Rochelle and I have a thing we call the “stupidity tax.” It’s where you pay more money than you should, for a really dumb reason. My most common stupidity tax is forgetting to send in rebate forms. Last week I paid the stupidity tax three times.

Rochelle and I have a thing we call the “stupidity tax.” It’s where you pay more money than you should, for a really dumb reason. My most common stupidity tax is forgetting to send in rebate forms.

Last week I paid the stupidity tax three times:

  • Paid my car registration three days too late. ($12)
  • Waited until too close to our vacation to order from Amazon.com, and had to pay for expedited shipping. ($13)
  • Let Rochelle go to the MADE IN FRANCE open warehouse and moving sale unsupervised. ($300)

At least I get to eat the cheese from the last one.

Graduate Education

As many of you know, Rochelle and I have been involved in graduate studies for a couple years now, and we’re finally coming to the end of the program. We’ve been doing a lot of coursework, including extended exercises at home that are not required to graduate, but are required for complete mastery. Rochelle has just one class session left, while I have two, and then it’s just final exams for us.

As many of you know, Rochelle and I have been involved in graduate studies for a couple years now, and we’re finally coming to the end of the program. We’ve been doing a lot of coursework, including extended exercises at home that are not required to graduate, but are required for complete mastery. Rochelle has just one class session left, while I have two, and then it’s just final exams for us.

We’re about to go on a short vacation, and are taking all our study materials with us. We’ll get home, and two days later take exams. Then we’ll get our Ph.D.s, and become eligible for field work with our favorite professor! If you can believe it, there’s actually a waiting list for volunteers for his trips, so it’ll probably be next year before we can head down to Mexico with him and do some original research.

There’s a short description of our program available online, if you’re interested in more details. Yes, it’s a Ph.D. in booze. What did you think we would be studying???