Beer-quila at El Gran Malo

Deschutes Brewery in Portland makes a hop-infused cheesecake for its brewpub menu. Charbay Winery & Distillery in California makes a hop-infused whiskey. New Holland Brewing in Michigan makes a hop-infused whiskey that it calls Hopquila. But the gang at El Gran Malo are making the real thing: hop-infused tequila.

The Mexican-themed "gastrocantina" in the Heights is quickly becoming known for its array of tequila infusions, from the straightforward (strawberry-pineapple) to the more outlandish (red beets and golden beets, both of which are incredible). And although El Gran Malo has solid food -- the lush guacamole and juicy torta burger are among my favorites -- it's the creative tequila infusions that currently have me captivated.

This past weekend, I slipped into El Gran Malo with a friend to get some respite from the heat and dust at BestFest, intending only to grab a "thymus" margarita (made with thyme and basil-infused tequila) and some light dinner. Snapper nachos were on special, and all was looking good.

But then, bartender and owner Steve Sharma started telling me about some of his new creations and all focus was lost.

"This is a hop-infused tequila," he said, holding aloft a decanter filled with light amber liquid. He poured me a tiny taste and I was astounded to find that it tasted entirely of hops, with absolutely no tequila afterburn. Not all of El Gran Malo's infusions work this well or this thoroughly, dragonfruit-infused tequila and honeydew-infused tequila coming to mind as two quick examples.

"Tastes like an IPA, doesn't it?" Sharma laughed.

But it got better.

Sharma said that he'd been experimenting with the hop-infused tequila in other applications, as I can't truly imagine anyone ordering a hop margarita (beets are one thing, hops another). He poured a little more of the tequila into a glass, then topped it off with carbonated water and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

He placed the glass in front of me and it resembled a tiny pint of beer, complete with foamy head. I took a sip. It tasted exactly like a beer. Like a Russian River IPA, or something similarly light and fruity but with that signature piney, hoppy bite.

"I think you've created an entirely new class of drink," I told Sharma, still astounded.

But what to call it? That, I can't answer. I'm more interested to hear what our readers would christen this beverage. "Beer-quila" just doesn't seem to do it justice.

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