More than a shot: Vinyl Taco's tequila selections meant for sipping
FARGO - Bourbon and whiskey continue to ride out their resurgent popularity, but the future buzz booze may be a little lighter and brighter.
Tequila is outgrowing its reputation as fuel for a frat boy's hangover and getting some notice for its complex flavors.
"I think it's going to be the next new trend," says Brent McKenzie, manager at Vinyl Taco in downtown Fargo. "I shouldn't say it's the next big thing, because it's already happening."
Since opening in the fall, Vinyl Taco has been helping reshape the appreciation of tequila from a spring break shot to something sipped and thoughtfully considered.
"Tequila shouldn't be looked down on because of what Jose Cuervo did to the market. It should be appreciated," McKenzie said. "If you sip it, it's a fantastic liquor."
When customers order a tequila, Vinyl Taco staffers don't serve it with salt and limes, what McKenzie refers to as "training wheels," unless requested.
"If they follow the recommendation, they'll be pleasantly surprised and not overpowered," he says.
"Let's get back to its heritage. The salt and lime, that's Americanized. Traditionally in Mexico, it's meant to be sipped neat," says Cassie Kouba, who works at Republic National Distributing Company, Fargo, doing training and promotions on different liquors.
"You can sip tequila like you can sip a scotch. There are days to enjoy a good tequila on the rocks," she adds.
Kouba and McKenzie both agree that the first thing you should know about tequila is just what kind of tequila you're drinking. McKenzie says a big obstacle with the drink is that people associate it bad hangovers, but don't take into consideration the quantity they were drinking - usually shots - and the quality of what they were drinking.
All tequilas are made from the agave plant, but the finer tequilas are made with 100 percent agave, something to look for on the label.
A bulk of tequilas are what are unfavorably known as "mixtos," a mix of agave with added sugar and even caramel or coloring added to give it the gold color.
Other items to look for on the label are the age distinctions. "Blanco" means un-aged, "reposado" varieties have been aged for a year in oak barrels, while "anejo" has been aged for more than a year in the barrels and tend to be more expensive.
Not a lot has changed in the harvesting or manufacturing of tequila, which keeps the prices down.
"You don't need to spend a fortune to get good tequila," McKenzie says. "So many people ask for Patron because they recognize the name, but any day of the week I will recommend Milagro at a fraction of the price."
A neat Patron Silver is $9. The Milagro silver is $6.50.
"The price is the name, not the quality," says Kouba.
Vinyl Taco does serve Jose Cuervo, but the bartender suggests El Jimador and Lunazul (both $4.50) for the same price.
Even among types there can be a big range in prices and flavors. At $7 the Milagros Reposado has a nice richness and bold complexity. For $4.75 the El Jimador Reposado doesn't have that familiar tequila fragrance and is a far mellower drink.
The priciest tequila is Milagro Select Barrel for $10, but you don't have to go top shelf to make a mixed drink.
Margaritas are the most popular tequila vehicles at Vinyl Taco, and the Cadillac Margarita - Milagro silver, Cointreau, simple syrup, fresh lime juice, salted rim and a lime wedge for $10 - is the biggest mover.
Another bar classic, a Tequila Sunrise, gets made over as a Vinyl Sunrise, with Lunazul Reposado, pineapple juice, hibiscus tea and rosemary sprig for $7.
"It's a spinoff of an old classic, but we're doing it in a different way and it tastes great," McKenzie says.
The mix, particularly the juice and hibiscus give it a fresh lightness, perfect for when the bar can open its doors in the summer.
People have warmed up to tequila twists he's put on classic cocktails, like the Mexi Mule, a variety of the Moscow Mule, mixing Milagro Reposado, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, ginger beer and a lime wedge for $10.
"What I like about tequila is that it's not vodka. It's not neutral like vodka, but you can use tequila instead of vodka in a lot of drinks and it tastes just as good ... I don't drink a bloody Mary unless it has tequila," Kouba says, referring to a drink called, Bloody Maria.
She adds that tequila in a cosmopolitan adds a little zest to the drink.
As far as food pairings go, no surprise, McKenzie says tequila and fresh citrus juices complement spicy foods.
But even neat, tequila holds its own.
"I try to encourage (guests) to think of it in the same context as a whiskey," he says. "Would you sip a whiskey with a steak? Absolutely. So why wouldn't you with a tequila?"
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533