Fuel ‘n Fuddle, Sharp Edge, D’s Six Pax & Dogz; Pittsburgh is a playground for the aspiring beer connoisseur. But what about those of us who prefer the hard stuff? Where can we sample a similarly broad offering of booze? Learn all there is to know about a particular spirit? Show off the sophistication and nuance of our palate? (Because, let’s face it — all connoisseurs are in it, to some degree, in order to compare notes with each other.)
You probably know a place or two where you can try a bunch of whiskeys — but if you want something a little less common, a little more approachable, and a lot more fun, we recommend learning about tequila. And in Pittsburgh, there’s really only one place you should consider: Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina. To illustrate our point, this year we’ve decided to work our way through Verde’s entire tequila & mezcal menu and tell you all about it.
Now, if you’ve been to the magical wonderland known as College, tequila might conjure up memories of Cuervo shots (or worse yet, the Vladimir of tequilas, Montezuma). But there’s so much more to tequila than salt and limes with a side of barroom floor. How much more? This much more:
That is Verde’s wall of tequila. Scratch that. That’s half of Verde’s wall of tequila. The wall actually goes a full shelf higher, and extends out on both sides. In total, there are over 200 varieties (or expressions, if you’re a fancy-pants) of tequila and mezcal in their five-shelf library, coming from over five dozen different producers (think brands).
If that seems a little overwhelming…well, yes, it is overwhelming. But not with the right educator — and Verde is all about the education. Each and every person behind the bar is extremely knowledgeable, and if you’re interested in learning, they’re excited to share. Plus, you can learn more about every expression Verde offers (as well as track your progress through their selection) by using the Verde interactive menu, powered by GrailTM. They keep an iPad at the bar so you can access it with ease.
The interactive menu has a really informative “Tequila 101” section, which we recommend reading if you want to learn more about how the spirit is produced, where it comes from, and other interesting tidbits. But here are the Cliff’s Notes version of what you need to know.
Technically, tequila is a subset of the spirit mezcal. Mezcal is made from the agave plant and produced in Mexico; for your mezcal to be called tequila, though, it must be made specifically from the blue agave, and has to have been produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which is where the city of Tequila is located (or in one of a few select areas in the surrounding states). The distinction is sort of like the difference between champagne and sparkling wine.
Both tequilas and mezcals are classified by the length of time they’re aged. The three expressions you’ll find in a flight of tequila are Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo.
At Verde, this is what a flight looks like. On the left end of this paddle is sangrita, which is like a sweet, sour, spicy palate-cleanser; the other three are your tequilas.
On the right end, you’ve got Blanco. Blanco is the baby of the bunch — aged no more than two months, a Blanco tequila gives you the rawest expression of how that particular brand was produced. (You might also see Blanco referred to as Silver, White, Platinum, or Plata. If you’re drinking a mezcal, the equivalent to Blanco would be Joven.)
Moving left, you’ve got Reposado, which means that the spirit has been aged up to a year in oak. That softens the roughness you might find in a Blanco/Joven, while increasing the complexity of the flavors.
Then, closest to the sangrita, you’ve got the oldster of the group, Añejo. That expression has been oak-aged for over one year and carries more characteristics of whatever the oak might have been used to store previously (often whiskey or cognac).
In some cases, a tequila producer might also make an Extra-Añejo, which is a newer designation that means the tequila has been aged for at least three years, rather than one year. There is a difference between a regular Añejo and an Extra, sure…but many argue that this classification mainly exists to market to the whiskey crowd. Still, we say if you have the extra cash on hand, they can be pretty damned exquisite.
We were lucky enough to have Verde’s owner, Jeff, offer us a taste of this Extra-Añejo after we told him our crazy Tequila Tour plan. It was fantastic but out of our normal price range — because believe it or not, blogging has not yet rendered us millionaires (or even thousandaires).
At this point, you might be thinking, “‘Ey! You went on about Blanco, Repo, and Añejo…but what about my Cuervo Gold, n’at?” In which case, 1) Thanks for visiting, Pittsburgh Dad! and 2) to answer your question, “Gold” is just Blanco tequila that’s had coloring and other junk added to it. Friends don’t let friends drink it.
Speaking of drinking…due to the sheer volume of booze we’ll be consuming in pursuit of our goal, we’ve decided to break our Verde tequila tour into five separate achievements — one for each shelf’s-worth of options. Tomorrow, we’ll post Act I. At the end of the year, once we’ve written Act V, you can tell us whether it turned out to be a comedy or a tragedy! Check back tomorrow for a bit less talk, and a lot more of this:
To be continued!