If you’re like me, tequila evokes hazy memories of shots at bars with lime and salt.
I also seem to recall the consumption of some kind of worm at one point, but it turns out I was drinking mezcal on those occasions.
And the ‘worm’ is larva from a moth that lives on agave trees – the native Mexican succulent tequila is made from.
So I had a lot to learn, and one place I turned to was the front bar of Bar Patron — Rockpool chef Neil Perry’s new Mexican restaurant in Sydney.
Perry became a fan of the Patron brand on a trip to Mexico two years ago, and set this restaurant up in collaboration with the brand — which was founded in 1989 and sold to Bacardi earlier this year for a whopping $US5.1 billion.
The restaurant offers a $100 “Millionaire’s margarita” — nitro-chilled finger lime pearls, Patron Gran Burdeos, Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac, Grand Marnier, freshly squeezed lime and agave with gold leaf.
And it also serves five limited edition tequilas which I got to try — each with a select numbered barrel.
Three of the younger reposado varieties, all aged seven months. And two older anejo blends, both aged at least one year.
Talking us through them was Ryan Gavin, the Rockpool Dining Group’s National Bar Manager.
Before we began, some quick instructions: “Give it a swirl first. Then when you’re picking up the aroma before drinking, don’t put your nose too far into the glass.”
Duly noted. And we’re away:
Round 1: Batch 257, reposado aged 7 months in Hungarian oak. Ryan highlighted the citrus flavours with honey overtones, and a complexity that offered a hint of bitterness. My sophisticated review: That’s…bloody delicious.
Round 2: Batch 262, reposado aged 7 months in French Limousin oak cask. This one offered dry spices on the palate with a hint of apricot. Tasty to be sure, but my allegiance remained with the Batch 257 at this point.
Prior to the third tequila we were offered some tuna tostadas, with guacamole and mango salsa. And some al pastor tacos, with a delicious sweet/savoury combination of grilled marinated pork & pineapple.
It’s also worth noting that throughout the night, I was seated next to an older chap from Switzerland who clearly knew more about tequila than I knew about anything. Among his pearls of wisdom: “Every tequila is a mezcal, but not every mezcal is a tequila.”
So while both tequila and mezcal are derived from the agave plant, tequila can only be made from a single type of plant – the blue agave.
And there’d be no mezcal at this event, because Bar Patron runs a tight ship. Despite tequila’s close relationship with mezcal, you won’t find any of the latter behind the bar there. Strictly tequila.
Now when it comes to tequila, there’s high-end – such as the premium drops we got to sample – and then there’s the super exclusive stuff.
We’re talking premium liquor that’s probably out of reach for everyone but Sydney property investors or bitcoin entrepreneurs.
I’m referring to the Patrón en Lalique Serie 1 and 2. There are just 500 bottles of en Lalique Serie 1 worldwide and only 299 bottles of Lalique Serie 2.
So if you’re in the mood for top-shelf tequila, the Serie 2 will set you back $990 – a nip. The Serie 1 comes in at $790 a nip. Both varieties are held in crystal decanters valued at over $10,000.
Ryan told me that Bar Patron has sold 3 nips of the Serie 2, so far. But for the time being, we were back to our tasting list.
Round 3: Batch 1A, reposado, aged 7 months, ex-bourbon cask. A hint of vanilla to this one, with a soft, buttery feel in the mouth. Delish. Then it was onto the older Anejo varieties.
Round 4: Batch 191, añejo, aged 23 months, ex-bourbon cask. Similar overtones of vanilla, but noticably sweeter as a result of the extra time spent in the barrel.
Round 5: Batch 238, añejo, aged 13 months, American and French cask blend. A unique, sweeter flavour that I couldn’t quite define.
But Ryan said not to worry – the layer-by-layer construction of each barrel means that they take on a life of their own – effectively creating a complex flavour that can’t be replicated.
For me, the crispness and freshness of the younger reposados stood out. And after consuming all five, I couldn’t go past the first one – Batch 257. It had a hint of sweetness but with an added layer of complexity that gave it a warm delicious flavour.
To cap off the night, we were offered our choice from the restaurant’s cocktail menu. I chose the house specialty – a “La Casona” Old Fashioned with añejo tequila, amaro, agave and lavender bitters.
And my newfound acquaintance then regaled me with some cool historical facts, such as the organisation run by Janis Joplin’s ex-boyfriend, which makes tequila and mezcal from a collective of Mexican families with no fixed production quota –- the final batch is just dependent on how much premium agave they harvest that season.
Now that’s a drop I’d like to try.
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