Sweating the Small Stuff: Three handcrafted tequilas for the Fifth of May (or, you know, Cinco de Mayo)

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Contrary to popular opinion (or the Spanglish version of Mexican history), Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day. That event falls roughly four months from now—September 16 to be exact. In actuality, Cinco de Mayo serves as the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, a 150-year-old military victory wherein bedraggled Mexican troops defeated imperial French forces. A good reason to celebrate to be sure—in Pueblo, there is a museum and a historical site dedicated to the battle—but not technically an act of independence. (Let’s call it a battlefield upset that has inspired nearly two centuries worth of patriotic fervor.) 

Yet here in the United States we’ve inexplicably co-opted Cinco de Mayo as a raison d’être for spending a long evening in chain restaurants (Chili’s, anyone?), swilling margaritas poured from plastic jugs, guzzling “Mexican” beer made by massive American corporations or worse yet, shooting tequila made in gigantic factories (or all three!).

I promise you that there’s nothing less authentic than industrial tequila. The reason being that industrial producers use massive machines to wring every last drop of liquid from the fruit central to tequila—agave. Consequently, flavor is an afterthought. To me, small estates produce the best tequila because they give it the attention it deserves—harvesting the agave by hand, cooking it in a clay oven and milling it with stone. Tequila crafted in such a manner expresses the nature of the agave plant and the soil from which it grew, resulting in a fruitier, brighter and natural taste. 

I love three family-owned, small-batch tequilas in particular. Fruit-forward 7 Leguas Blanco [tequilasieteleguas.com.mx] ($39) combines pineapple and black pepper aromas with a bright, intense agave flavor. Perfectly balanced Tequila Ocho Reposado [www.ochotequila.com] ($50) allows the agave to shine thanks to months of oak-barrel aging. And Fortaleza Añejo [tequilafortaleza.com] ($70) eschews tropical fruit flavors in favor of caramel, toasted baking spices and vanilla, which age together in oak barrels for the better part of three years.

Each of them works for any occasion—whether it’s Mexican Independence Day or not. 

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. 

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