We continue our Margarita Madness month with some focused tequila research.
Do you love tequila? More importantly, does it love you? Most of us have a relationship—good or bad—with this mysterious spirit from South of the Border. If you don’t, then allow me to introduce you:
- Tequila – Distilled from the agave plant. Can only be called “tequila” if it’s made in Jalisco, Mexico or limited regions in four other states.
- Mezcal – Also distilled from agave, but made everywhere; each region has its own methods. Most producers use traditional processes, like roasting the agave heart in below-ground pits and grinding it with a stone wheel turned by donkeys. Has a smokier flavor than tequila.
- Blanco (or silver) tequila – Unaged, bottled after distilling.
- Reposado – Aged at least two months but no more than a year in oak.
- Añejo – Aged at least a year, but not more than three years in oak.
- Extra Añejo – Aged a minimum of three years in small oak barrels.
Enough of the educating; now on to the drinking!
I recently got the chance to check out the brand-spanking new Cantina Bar at the Silver Reef Casino. Bar manager Mary Fernau was happy to show off the gorgeous space, all icy blue and backed up with an impressive “cube wall” that displays 81 different tequilas and mescals. They are arranged by family, with the extra añejos (some at $75 a shot) at the top.
Mary did all the research and chose each brand featured at the bar. “I had a great time putting this bar together,” she said. “For the bartenders, I created a reference binder with the correct pronunciation and meaning behind the name, where it’s made and when it was founded, so they can share that information our customers.”
It was great to talk to Mary about her beautiful bar, but we had tasting on our minds. Our barkeep, Ryan, fixed us right up. For me, a margarita upgraded with Kah Blanco, plus muddled fruit; for my partner in crime, a Cadillac margarita with Ilegal mezcal and a float of Grand Marnier.
While we sipped our drinks, we smelled (but didn’t taste) a few interesting infused tequilas, including Tanteo Jalapeño and Tanteo Cocoa. The latter would make a lovely after-dinner sipper. We also took in some of the tequila wisdom etched into the mirrors behind the bar:
“You know when the tequila is talking. It has a very distinctive voice.”
“I am well aware I’m not everyone’s cup of tea…I’d rather be someone’s shot of tequila.”
And my favorite:
The mezcal Cadillac had a nice balance of smokey sweetness, citrusy tartness and salty, um, saltiness. My Kah (Mayan for “life”) margarita was pretty perfect. Kah tequilas come in eye-popping skull-shaped bottles, hand-painted in Dia de Los Muertos style by local villagers. The top-shelf Extra Añejo bottle is covered with 700 Swarovski crystals.
After we sampled some house-made chips, guacamole and salsas, we had some dinner, and then Ryan mixed us each a Zacatini, made with El Zacatecano mescal, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and pomegranate juice. Delicious! Side note: former Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez owns part of El Zacatecano, along with hair man Gene Juarez.
The Cantina Bar is an ideal destination if you’re in the mood for tequila, some awesome Mexican food, gambling—or all three. Remember you can book a room at the Silver Reef hotel if the tequila starts talking too much (or too loudly).
Silver Reef Casino and Cantina Bar, 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale WA 360-383-0777
Silver Reef on Facebook
Jalapeños restaurants are known for some of Bellingham’s best Mexican food: big platters of nachos, housemade salsas and yummy fajitas. Okay, I’m lying. Yes, they have all that great food, but Jalapeños is actually nearly world famous for their Big Mama margaritas! They’re big (of course), potent and during happy hour (11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. every day and again after 9:00 p.m.), they’re nicely priced.
Jalapeños also now offers a wide variety of tequilas. I counted over 75 on their premium menu, but that was while I was enjoying a margarita, so who knows? Let’s just say it’s between 50 and 200.
With locations in Old Town Bellingham, Fairhaven and Barkley Village, you’re probably not more than a stone’s throw away from your fix. We stopped by the Old Town location, where Christine was mixing drinks.
For me, it was a La Clasica, made with El Jimador Blanco tequila, muddled lime, soda water, and sweet and sour mix. Served straight up with a salted rim from a 20-ounce shaker—enough for seconds and then some.
For mi amor, she mixed up a Milagro, usually made with Milagro silver tequila. But since he’s now a big mezcal fan, she poured that into his shaker, along with Cointreau and fresh muddled lime. This was also served straight in a salt-rimmed glass. Then our server brought us chips and salsa and we melted into the booth for a while, savoring our drinks and snacks.
The mezcal became mi amor nuevo (“my new love,” in case you can’t remember 9th grade Spanish class). A little sweet and a little smokey, it seemed to me a margarita for grown ups. La Clasica was a little more subdued, and the first few sips tasted off in some way I couldn’t put my finger on. Then I squirted my lime slice into it, and it brightened right up. “You will happily order another,” said the tequila. “Next time,” said my brain.
Our friends at Jalapeños even offer a skinny margarita with half the calories (but only in “Big Mama” size, which may defeat the purpose), a Millionaire Margarita made with Cuervo Reserva de la Familia and Grand Marnier Centenaire (special edition) for $45.00, and a Lovers’ Margarita with Aphrodisiac Agavero Tequila, Jimador Reposado, cranberry and fresh lime juice. It’s served in a Big Mama glass with two straws. Or you can order a Big Papa, but keep in mind the aphrodisiacal qualities of tequila decrease in direct proportion to the size of the drink.
Jalapeños, 2945 Newmarket Place, 501 W. Holly St., 1007 Harris Ave, Bellingham, WA
Sunday – Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 a.m.
Jalapeños on Facebook
When you’re thinking, “Agave have some tequila!” in Bellingham or a bit north, you can learn all you’ll ever want to know in the very best way—by tasting all the top-rated tequilas and mezcals available at the Cantina Bar and Jalapeños. Not in one visit, of course.