Episode 105 - The Tequila Dictionary

Episode 105 - The Tequila Dictionary.jpg

What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Welcome to Episode 105 of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!

This time around, we chat with Eric Zandona, director of Spirits Information at the American Distilling Institute and author of several spirited books, including The Bourbon Bible, and an exciting new publication entitled, The Tequila Dictionary.

Some of the subjects we discuss with Eric Zandona include:

Eric Zandona Tequila Dictionary 2.jpg
  • What it’s like to create a reference book (like a dictionary or encyclopedia) in the spirits world, and how The Tequila Dictionary can be used as a tool by agave enthusiasts.

  • How tequila and mezcal are different. We give you the big-picture overview, and then look into some historical trends and trace these spirits back through the decades.

  • Which label terms and quality indicators you can use to make informed tequila and mezcal purchases next time you take a trip to the liquor store.

  • How technology and commercial interests have prompted a number of changes in the way agave spirits are manufactured and then consumed here in the U.S.

  • What emerging trends we can expect from tequila, mezcal, and agave cocktails in the coming years.

  • And much, much more.

You can learn more about Eric and his work by visiting ezdrinking.com, you can follow him @ezdrinking on Instagram and Twitter, and you can purchase your copy of The Tequila Dictionary wherever books are sold.

This is the third and final installment of our series on contemporary trends in agave spirits. So if you enjoy this interview, you may also want to check out our recent episodes with Max and Eli of the Baltimore Spirits Company and RB Wolfensberger of Gray Wolf Craft Distilling.

Featured Cocktail: The Margarita

This episode’s featured cocktail is the all-powerful Margarita. Undoubtedly the queen of the tequila cocktail landscape, this tart, refreshing mixed drink has a reputation for being many things. You can find it on almost every chain restaurant or hotel bar menu. You can order a pitcher full of it at most Mexican restaurants. But the question remains: what separates a good margarita from a disappointing one.

To answer that question, let’s look at the ingredients. If you’d like to make yourself a really nice Margarita, you’ll need:

  • 2 oz of Tequila

  • 1 oz fresh lime juice

  • ¾ oz orange liqueur

Combine these ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously until it’s cold as heck, and then strain into a stemmed cocktail glass or a rocks glass. The traditional garnish for a Margarita is a lime wheel and a salt rim, so if you think your Margarita could benefit from a little salinity, definitely go for it.

Combine these ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously until it’s cold as heck, and then strain into a stemmed cocktail glass or a rocks glass. The traditional garnish for a Margarita is a lime wheel and a salt rim, so if you think your Margarita could benefit from a little salinity, definitely go for it.

Combine these ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously until it’s cold as heck, and then strain into a stemmed cocktail glass or a rocks glass. The traditional garnish for a Margarita is a lime wheel and a salt rim, so if you think your Margarita could benefit from a little salinity, definitely go for it.

We like the Margarita for the same reason we like a classic daiquiri: these simple, refreshing drinks really let the spirit shine through. In the Margarita’s case, this means you can have a lot of fun using different types of tequila, like a silver vs. a reposado or anejo. Also, there’s a lot of variation between different orange liqueurs, whether you’re talking about triple sec, cointreau, or Grand Marnier.

So here’s our challenge to you: next time you go out for Margarita supplies, really think about what you like about this drink. Think about what types of flavors you’d like to shine through, and then pick up the specific products that you can use to make your “house margarita.” With a little practice, you’ll have something your friends and family will request again and again - and the fun part is that you’ve put your own fingerprint on one of the worlds most important cocktails.

Show Notes

Being that The Tequila Dictionary is a reference book, we thought it might be fun to list some of the terms we focus on during this wide-ranging discussion. Below, you’ll find some of these words, as well as the implications for mezcal and tequila production, consumption, and culture.

Tahona

A tahona is a large stone wheel used to crush the roasted agave hearts (or piñas) and separate the sweet juices from the pulp. This is an old, inefficient, time-honored process, and according to Zandona, the use of a tahona in the production process can often be an indication of a quality distillate.

Mixto

Mixto is a type of tequila that can be produced using a minimum of 51% blue agave, with the remainder of the volume coming from corn or some other generic grain spirit. These spirits are often the culprits of intense hangovers.

100% de Agave

Unlike mixto tequila, if you see 100% de agave on a label, you can have confidence that your spirit was distilled using only blue agave. This is another quality indicator, and based on market trends, Americans are beginning to put more of their money toward 100% de agave products.

Horno

A horno is a traditional oven used to roast agave. This is the oldest and most traditional method, and is often associated with the highest quality products.

Autoclave

An autoclave is essentially a giant pressure cooker, which is more efficient at extracting agave sugars than a horno. Usually autoclave-made tequilas are less expensive than traditional ones.

Diffuser

Diffuser-made tequilas are generally considered the lowest quality, and this is partially because they don’t benefit from the heat that breaks down starches in hornos and autoclaves. LIke any industry, brands like to highlight their quality components, so you won’t hear too many tequila makers bragging about their diffusers.

NOM

The NOM is the official standard of Mexican tequila, regulated by the Tequila Regulatory Council (TRC). If a bottle claims to be “Tequila,” it should also have a NOM Number. You can enter any NOM Number in this database to learn more about where a particular tequila is made.

Lightning Round

Favorite Cocktail

The Manhattan. I appreciate complex cocktails, but three-ingredient cocktails like the Manhattan are in my wheelhouse at home.

If You Were a Cocktail Ingredient, What Would You Be?

Amaro - somewhat bitter, somewhat sweet kind of fits my personality.

Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present

Sitting at the bar with Jerry Thomas bartending, or sharing a drink with Mark Twain.

Advice for Aspiring Agave Enthusiasts

Find a bar that’s willing to give you sample pours before committing to an entire bottle.

Vetted Venues for Exploring Tequila and Mezcal