ANDALE! ANDALE! ARRIBA-ARRIBA-----YII HAA, TEQUILA!!
Summer is just around the corner so it's time to sniff the air for the sweet and tart smells of limes, agave nectar and tequila which combined create the simple, perfect margarita.
Tequila's history is long and rich. Its roots date back to pre-Hispanic Mexico, about 2000 years ago, when the natives fermented sap from the local maguey (muh-GAY) plants. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they discovered that cooking the agave made it much sweeter and more tasty and they named the drink Mezcal.
Tequila is technically a Mezcal, but all Mezcals are not Tequila. By Mexican law, Tequila can be produced only in specifically designated geographic areas, primarily in the state of Jalisco in west-central Mexico; the spirit takes its name from the town of Tequila. Tequila must be produced from 100 percent agave, otherwise it is classified as a mixto which must be 51 percent blue agave. Mezcals on the other hand can be made from several different types of agave and they are known locally as maguey.
Tequilas are further segmented based on aging. Blanco or silver is clear and not aged or aged no more than 60 days in stainless steel tanks. Joven or gold is unaged silver that has been colored and flavored with caramel . Reposado, meaning rested, is the first definitive level of aging and is rested in oak barrels for two to 12 months. Anejo meaning mature, applies to tequilas aged at least one year in oak barrels. Anejo tends to be darker, smoother and more complex. Extra anejo is rested in oak barrels for at least three years.
It takes eight to ten years for an agave plant to mature enough to be used to make tequila and each plant can only be used once. It’s amazing there are so many bottles in stores. The plant resembles a cactus, but is actually a member of the lily family. There are more than 200 species of agave in Mexico. The heart of the plant and the source of tequila is called the piña and is similar in appearance to a pineapple. A mature piña can weight up to 200 pounds, but most are 25 to 100 pounds.
The men who plant, maintain and harvest the agave are called jimadors; they are honored with a tequila named El Jimador. The processes they use remain manual to this day and are based on tribal knowledge of how the plants should be cultivated, passed down from generation to generation. The harvest starts when the jimador cuts the agave out of the ground with a tool called a coa and starts trimming the 20-plus leaves that protect the pina. For tequila, the pinas are then quartered and slowly baked in steam ovens or oversized pressure cookers until all of the starch turns into sugar. For Mezcal, they are baked in underground ovens heated with wood charcoal. Then they are crushed, traditionally with a stone wheel drawn around a circular trough by a mule, and shredded to extract the sweet juice called aguamiel (honey water). The aguamiel is then fermented and distilled and finally aged into a mystic, flavorful spirit and bottled.
And we can't forget about the “worm.” Tequila is never bottled with a worm, but some lower-end Mezcals still have a worm in the bottle. They are actually Agave Snout Weevil's that grow within the agave plant. Some people believe that back in 1940, a man named Jacobo Paiz discovered that the worm changed the taste of the spirit so several producers put the worm in to enhance the flavor. (makes you wonder doesn't it). Another story states the worm designated the spirit as high proof because the worm was preserved. The worms are considered a delicacy to some people and can be found on restaurant menus. Have one with your next taco dinner!
The All Natural Simple Margarita recipe:
1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz pure agave nectar
3/4 oz spring water
1.5 oz 100% agave Tequila
Orange juice or orange liqueur optional
Shake with ice and enjoy!
Fruit Infusions 101
By Ellen L. Capitosti
The first strawberries of the year are here and, oh – so incredibly fragrant! Just go to your nearest market, plunge your nose into the strawberry display, and see if you don’t wholeheartedly agree. Is there a way to possibly preserve this delicious and delicate fragrance? Even better, is there a way to bottle that stuff and turn it into something delightfully drinkable throughout the Springtime? The answer to both of these questions is: yes! Infusing fresh fruits in alcohol is a technique almost as old as liquor itself, used to preserve fruits. The leftover flavored liquor was found to be an added bonus. This liquor can have many uses. Just imagine - cherries infused in Bourbon, then the liquid is added to cream to be whipped into a decadent whipped cream to top more fresh fruit atop Belgian Waffles!
Another bonus to living in this tropical paradise is the fact that many of us either have citrus, or other exotic fruit trees and bushes as close as our own backyard. Or perhaps you have a good friend, co-worker, or kindly neighbor with a bumper crop of exotics – like Carambola, or Star Fruit – on their hands, and no idea of how to use them all before they sadly expire. Voila - you can now offer another idea for turning them into a useful product – Infusion! Espresso Vodka injected into strawberries which are then dipped into chocolate and allowed to harden are a particularly luscious way to enjoy your daily, albeit tipsy, fruit. They also make an elegant and sweet statement at the end of a meal. Espresso Vodka can be made by infusing vodka with espresso beans lightly broken in a mortar and pestle (or place in a zipper bag, close the bag, and gently whack with a meat mallet til lightly broken). Most fruit infusions are made using vodka, although feel free to use any liquor that pairs well with the chosen fruit (such as the Bourbon infused with cherries, as mentioned above). Whatever liquor you chose, it need not be a top shelf liquor, but as the old wine adage goes (“don’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink”), the same can be said of infusing: Don’t infuse with something you wouldn’t drink.
To make an infusion is a very basic and simple process. The only items needed are:
canning jars with lids and bands
vodka of your choice (recommend 80 proof and NOT rye vodka)
fruit, herbs, or espresso beans of your choice
Wash fruit and slice. If using strawberries, they need to be hulled and sliced in large slices. If using citrus, zest with a large zester, being careful to avoid zesting the bitter white pith (only the colored part of the skin is used). If using anything with a skin (kiwi, peaches, tomatoes, or melon), remove the skin. Peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, etc… can be blanched to make skin removal easier. Cut in large chunks and a basic ratio is: 2 Cups Fruit to 2-3 Cups vodka. When using espresso beans, ¼ Cup espresso beans to 2 Cups vodka. Keep in mind, this is just a guideline, more fruit will just impart a stronger flavor. Seal tightly with the canning lids and rings, shake well and put in a cool dark place for 1-2 weeks Stronger flavors take more time, while less bold flavors will take less time. Shake and taste at the end of the first week to see if the flavors meet your needs. If not, continue to shake and taste daily until the desired flavor is reached. Once it is absolutely delicious, strain through a coffee filter and place flavored liquor in a clean bottle and seal. Use in your favorite mixed drinks, or with club soda as a refreshing spritzer. .
Ellie Capitosti, Owner of Tosti's Spirits and Fine Wine in St Petersburg, Florida writes 'The Beverage Beat' for the Island Reporter, a St Pete Beach Newspaper. Here are some past articles.
Contribute to Tosti's Blog. Email us your Wine, Beer or Spirits Article
HOT SUMMER COCKTAILS TO KEEP YOU COOL
There are those who believe any cocktail is refreshing and suitable for summer and in most cases it’s all what quenches your thirst on a hot summer day. But, when you are grilling, or feasting on clams or kicking back in the sand or your pool, some combinations of ingredients do quench your thirst better than others. Below are some easy-to-build refreshing cocktails that will make your summer a little cooler and relaxed.
The Aperol Spritz
(Campari makes Aperol, but it is lighter and fruiter)
2 oz Procecco (Italain Sparkling Wine)
1.5 oz Aperol
A splash of Soda Water or Seltz
This spritzer is a great way to start a meal because the Aperol is low in alcohol and is light and refreshing.
By Ellen L. Capitosti
Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the finest 3 year old Thoroughbred horses from around the world, the second Saturday in May – what do these all have in common? They are synonymous with The Kentucky Derby! Also identified with this part of Kentucky is Bourbon – the brown liquor also known as “Whiskey”. Whiskey was first distilled in Kentucky in the 1700’s, when the area now known as Bourbon County was still a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was difficult for farmers to traverse the mountains with their harvests, and they found that one way they could easily contain and utilize their loose grain was to distill it into whiskey. It also gave them another viable commodity to trade or sell – the beginning of distilleries in Kentucky.
After some time, the “Bourbon” Whiskey gained a certain amount of cachet for its quality and flavor, derived from the cool mountain streams that are its base. By law, bourbon must be:
Produced in the USA
Made of a grain mix of at least 51% corn
Distilled at less than 160 proof (80% ABV)
No additives allowed (except water to reduce proof where necessary)
Aged in new, charred white oak barrels
Aged for a minimum of two years*
*to be called straight bourbon
Kentucky Bourbon is a unique, American made whiskey that can only be officially deemed as such if it is distilled in Kentucky. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson made it official; Bourbon became known as “America’s Official Native Spirit”. The grain traditionally associated with Bourbon is Rye, however, some distillers have incorporated different grains into their products. Maker’s Mark is a distiller who utilizes a non-traditional grain – Soft Red Winter Wheat. The use of this grain allows the Bourbon to sit on the forward palate of the tongue, providing the drinker with a different taste experience.
There are also many different methods of distillation. Although the basic process remains unchanged for ages, there are a few lesser known methods that offer new options for the inquisitive taster. One of these is Cask Strength, which is when the distillate is reduced to 125 proof, by the addition of water only, then ensconced in a wooden cask and allowed to rest. During this process, the water evaporates further and, when uncasked, it offers all the flavor and punch of full octane. This allows the taster to gently add water and enjoy the different subtleties while diluting the strength from fire to mellow. Bottled in Bond is another method, and one that most closely resembles Single Malt Scotch. A Bottled in Bond (BIB) guarantees that the whiskey was at least four years old, made at one distillery during one distillation season by one distiller, and is certified at 100 proof.
Mint Juleps and Bourbon go hand in hand. The official Mint Julep of The Kentucky Derby is made from Early Times. Country singer (and cooking show host) Trisha Yearwood offers a contemporary twist with a Cherry Mint Julep recipe:
1 ounce maraschino cherry juice
Small handful fresh mint leaves
4 ounces bourbon
Ginger ale, for topping
Maraschino cherries, for garnish
Split the maraschino cherry juice and mint leaves between two rocks or julep glasses and muddle together. Add a scoop of ice to each. Divide the bourbon and add to each glass with a splash of ginger ale. Garnish with a cherry
So on the first Saturday in May, invite some friends over, pick your favorite horse to cheer, and whip up a batch of Mint Juleps with which to toast the next Triple Crown hopeful!
4 Mar 2014; http://kybourbontrail.com/history/
4 Mar 2014; http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/trisha-yearwood/cherry-mint-julep.html
4 Mar 2014; http://www.jimbeam.com/about-bourbon/bourbon-ingredients
4 Mar 2014; http://www.earlytimes.com/derby/mint_julep.aspx
5 Mar 2914: https://www.makersmark.com/sections/109-flavor
5 Mar 2014: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/drinking/spirits/bourbon?page=all