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Mexico’s iconic drink gets warm reception at mexican consulate of KC

You can take your tequila by the shot, if you want, and keep your salt and lime within easy reach.

Or, you could pour it into a taller, narrow goblet. Hold it up to the light and swirl it around. Move it under your nose and breathe in its aroma. Then sip it and savor it.

That’s how Grisel Vargas guided a roomful of about 60 people through a tequila-tasting workshop at the Mexican Consulate of Kansas City on April 15. She’s the public relations manager for Mexico’s National Chamber of the Tequila Industry, based in Guadalajara.

Vargas and Cesar Gonzalez Ruiz, the chamber’s treasurer, made presentations about tequila at the event, which was offered as a showcase of what is widely considered to be Mexico’s most iconic product, distilled from the agave plant starting in the 16th century. They also represented the chamber and hosted another tequila-tasting session at an event at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on April 16, titled “Comida: A World of Latin Flavors.” It featured food and drink from about a dozen Latin-American countries and Spain.

Mexican Consul Alicia Kerber spoke at the event about tequila’s importance in Mexican culture.

“Nothing makes us more proud than promoting a product which has become a distinctive product of Mexico – our tequila – a product that is linked to our traditions, our culture and our history, and has become an internationally recognized product that can be only produced by Mexico,” Kerber said. “So, be afraid when you see a tequila made in China or (elsewhere); that will never happen.”

Tequila combines “the traditional methods of the pre-Hispanic cultures with the new methods that the Spanish brought to Mexico,” Ruiz said. “For this reason, tequila can be considered as a symbol of the encounter of two cultures. As well, today tequila is a symbol of Mexican pride. Tequila is one of the best Mexican ambassadors in the world. If you talk about tequila, you’re talking about Mexico. I think tequila, mariachi and food are the three most important products that we are recognized (for) by the world.”

According to statistics Ruiz provided to Kansas City Hispanic News, the Mexican government authorizes 143 distilleries to make tequila. In 2014, these producers made 242.4 million liters of tequila and exported 172.5 million liters worldwide. Of that export volume, 134.6 million liters went to the United States, or 78 percent of Mexico’s total tequila exports last year. Tequila constitutes 6.3 percent of all spirits sold in the U.S.

Ruiz described tequila’s five classes: blanco or silver, which is not aged or aged less than two months; reposado, aged more than two months; añejo, aged more than a year; extra añejo, aged more than three years; and joven or gold, a mix of blanco, reposado or añejo.

Tequilas that are aged for less time than others aren’t necessarily of lower quality but have different characteristics, Vargas said. The whole process of distilling tequila determines its ultimate quality. Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council certifies the product, and Vargas advised the group to look for a “CRT” stamp on the bottle to ensure good quality.

“It’s a gift that we want to share with you, and we are passionate about that,” Vargas said. “Each one of (the Mexican municipalities that grow agave) is different. Not all of Mexico is the same.”

For the past 70 years, Vargas said, the trend has moved toward sweeter tequilas, influenced by iron and copper in the soil where the agave grows.

“Now we’re going to the fun part,” she said as she segued into the tasting portion of the evening.

The common method of drinking tequila, from a shot glass and followed by salt and lime chasers, comes from a time when tequila had more of the agave’s natural oils and a more bitter taste, which the salt and lime counteracted, Vargas said. In contrast, drinking tequila from a narrow goblet lets the drinker more fully experience its aroma, and sipping it enables a finer appreciation of the complexity of its flavor.

“If you’re having a great product in your hand in front of you, what do you want to do?” Vargas said. “You want to sip it. You want to enjoy it. You want to feel comfortable with it. You have to feel it’s part of you.”

As Vargas led the group through the process of smelling the tequila in their goblets – first the blanco, then the reposado and finally the añejo – she asked them to call out their descriptions of the aromas. Some attendees’ offerings: “Mmm.” “Pepper.” “Citrus.” “Pears.” “Alcohol.” “Agave.”

Then came the sounds of goblets clinking and “salud” throughout the room. And then came the tasting and, again, the called-out descriptions: “A sense of the oil.” “A little bitter after-taste, as well as sweet.” “Vanilla.” “Smooth” (from Kansas City Mayor Sly James).
Lindsay Simmons of Kansas City attended the event. She and her fiancé both work at JJ’s restaurant.

“Being in the bar industry, I’m familiar with tequila,” Simmons told Hispanic News. “I prefer pouring it.”

Hal Walker, who represents the 2nd District at large on the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., Board of Commissioners, also attended. He prefers the drinking to the pouring. Walker is a member of the Fraternal Order of Tequila Drinkers’ Kansas City, Kan., chapter, which meets monthly to socialize and sample the agave’s elixir. The only other chapter is in Guadalajara, he said.

“I’ve gone to Guadalajara and toured three tequila distilleries,” he said. “The last time was about eight years ago. I was surprised by how quickly it was able to be distilled.”

As the event wound down, Vargas summed up the experience.

“Now you see the difference when you take your time with tequila?” she said. “Tequila takes its time with you.”