As a wine writer, going to a tequila tasting — while irresistibly enticing — felt a bit daunting. Was I supposed to swirl? Sniff? Spit? How was I going to avoid getting too intoxicated to take notes?
But I still jumped at the opportunity to attend the second annual Santa Barbara Tequila Harvest on August 16; as I’ve discovered with wine, the more I learn, the more I enjoy, and thus the better I imbibe. Having embraced tequila long ago as my go-to spirit yet admittedly knowing very little about it, it was time to take a deeper sip of the agave offering.
Owner Brent Bottelsen of the Tennis Club of Santa Barbara provided the ideal Riviera-backed, tree-encompassed space to host the event. Agave Avenue founders Ernesto Rodriguez and Albert Martinez put on a lively afternoon in the refreshing venue, complete with perfect food and music pairings, including a live mariachi band. What’s more, the impressively generous event handed over every penny of its proceeds to the Santa Barbara Dance Institute which, to be honest, seems entirely appropriate given tequila’s ability to get people unabashedly onto the dance floor.
After learning the five steps to properly tasting tequila — which are, briefly: smell tequila, wet lips with tequila, cleanse palate with tiny sip of tequila, hold small sip of tequila on back of tongue before swallowing, put bigger sip of tequila on middle top of tongue before swallowing — I started making my rounds.
Don Ramon had a five-times-distilled, ultra light Blanco that — with an absence of heavy metals — swears no hangover. Likewise, pourers at Don Antonio Aguilar promised me a clear head as I delightfully swigged their Reposado. Adolfo Murillo, owner and maker of Alquimia, topped off an educational tasting with his full-flavored yet silky smooth extra Anejo, aged in barrel for a minimum of three years, and I deemed a cocktail “gorgeous” for the first time after sipping Mi Casa’s Blanco, Elderflower liqueur, and lime confection.
With offerings on the more delicate side, Quita Penas earned my title of “most enjoyable.” Meanwhile brand 1921 became my favorite flight across the board, especially with their irresistible Tequila Cream, a bottled blend of Blanco, Mexican cream, cinnamon, vanilla, and coffee. As for non-alcoholic honorable mentions, vendor Sangrita showcased a perfect partner for tequila: their deliciously spicy, citrus, and savory chaser/mixer. Furthermore, I had never known salt could taste so distinctively delicious until Sal de Mar stopped me in my tracks with the oft-overlooked condiment, hailing fresh from the Sea of Cortez.
Though decidedly different from a wine tasting, the 2011 Santa Barbara Tequila Harvest has certainly become a highlight of my summer, and features everything the city’s all about in the warmer months: gastronomic adventures, sunny evenings, and creative entertainment.
Most notably, the tequila pourers weren’t kidding; on August 17, I woke up hangover-free.