Tequila Experts at the Izkali Tequila Launch

Have you ever been in a meeting so mind-numbing, you wish you had a shot of tequila to wake up your brain? Then imagine the pleasure of a fascinating talk at Hilton Post Oak, which actually featured tequila.

The occasion was the launch of Izkali, a new line of tequilas by Nydia and Ignacio Flores, a Stafford-based couple with many years in the food and spirit industries. Sure, new tequilas come out often, but Izkali caught the eye, or should I say palate, of F. Paul Pacult, America's Spirit Guru, when Izkali placed well in his series of blind tastings called the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.

The personable Mr. Pacult didn't just tell us the flavors to taste in successful tequila, but how to find them. You can't just stick your nose into spirits and sniff, the way you would with a glass of wine or beer, because the high alcohol content shorts out your olfactories. Pacult taught us to breathe in the aromas slowly through our nose and slightly opened mouth, which dissipates the ethanol.

"A good tequila should have the pleasant vegetal smell and taste of roasted agave", he informed us. Then we tasted. Perhaps we could taste the dill, black pepper, sage, and banana. Some people may detect peach. I can only pick out roasted agave and pepper from tequila, on my own, but when an expert mentions them, I can usually discern the others, too. I got all of those except the peach.

Then we tasted the reposado, aged in American oak barrels. "You may detect cinnamon, pepper, honey and vanilla. The vanilla comes from the caramelization of the charred oak barrels," he said. Check, I got all of those.

Izkali Reposado won the Chairman's Trophy at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge in the Paloma category, and to prove it, Pacult brought two experienced men who had recently completed his bartender boot camp. Curtis Cheney, head mixologist of Del Frisco's/Sullivan's Steakhouses, and Brad Hensarling, owner of The Usual in Ft. Worth, served us Palomas -- Mexico's favorite cocktail -- and yes, Izkali deserves a trophy.

Third was the anejo, fragrant of vanilla, almond and nutmeg. I like baking spices, but I prefer reposado over anejo. However, Izkali is delicious, and was a finalist in the anejo competition.

Finally came the toughest test. Arnaldo and Alex Richards of Pico's Mex-Mex were sitting right behind me. The Richards brothers know as much as anyone in Houston about margaritas, and tequilas, having tasted most of them. Arnaldo was the chef who introduced shaken, not frozen, margaritas to this market.

The Richards brothers approved the tequila's taste, but Arnaldo wasn't shy about the bottle. It's too bulky and short, with a small neck, female bartenders will have a hard time gripping it. Major oversight? Tequila's sister, Cointreau, has had the same bottle problem since 1875.

Is there room for a new tequila on the market? Despite the number already on the shelf, American companies are entering the Mexican tequila industry and dumbing down premium tequila. There's so much more to tequila than smoothness, and Nydia and Ignacio Flores are dedicated to flavor. Salud y pesetas.

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John Kiely
Contact: John Kiely