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Phoenix Tequila Festival Goes Down Smoothly

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This past Saturday and Sunday, tequila lovers from across the Valley descended on US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix for a day of drinking, dining and debauchery. Actually, there wasn't much debauchery going on. Just a LOT of giggling and slurred words. Guests were relatively calm as they strolled around the Phoenix Tequila Fest, taking sips of blanco, anejo and reposado tequilas.

It was the first year for this event, so the vendor turnout was pretty small -- just a dozen or so tequila makers, two food booths and sellers of related products like cigars and cookware. Which was probably a good thing, considering once you paid your $35 to get in the door it was all-you-can-drink. You might imagine how fifty tequila booths offering free shots could mean more trouble.

We sent two dedicated bloggers -- one to sample the products and another to record the events of the day while staying sober. 

Our journey started at the Adan y Eva Tequila booth. Unlike other vendors who were just pouring shots, Adan y Eva dished out two cocktails -- an Adam's Apple with blanco tequila, apple soda and lime and a margarita with a chile-apricot rim. "You lick it and it's spicy, and very sour," said our tester and esteemed Brew Reviewer Jonathan McNamara of the chile rim. "Then you drink the margarita and it's cooling. It all balances out. It's good."

Then it was on to the shots. One tequila, two tequila, ten tequila...

Before we talk about shots, here's a quick primer on the three main tequila varieties for the gringos in the house:

  • Blanco, or silver, is the youngest tequila. It's clear, pure and very strong.
  • Reposado ("rested") is aged in oak barrels for approximately 2-11 months. It has a light caramel color, and is the most popular type of tequila in Mexico.
  • Anejo is aged for 1-3 years. It is the darkest in color and is usually served straight up due to the mellow flavor. Tequila that is aged for more than three years is labeled "extra anejo."
Señor Rio tequila makes for a very happy holiday.

​Tequila purists say the extra anejo goes too far, disguising the natural sweetness of the alcohol. "They've only recently started with the extra anejo. With the darker tequila, they're catering to the American palate," said Tom of Señor Rio Tequila

"In Mexico, people want their tequila pure. With the anejo there's less of the agave taste and more of the flavor of the oak barrels the tequila is stored in." According to our taste tester, the extra anejo made for a pretty smooth shot.

​We sampled Patron, Don Ramon, Three Amigos and more tequilas before hitting on a clear favorite: the Cucumber Margarita made with 2009 San Francisco International Spirits winner Cruz Tequila. By this time, our tester was definitely tipsy. "Anybody who says they don't like tequila needs to drink this," declared Jonathan. "It's the best thing with cucumber I've ever had. There's no 'I don't like this, I don't like that.' Oh my god. It's like drinking a spaaaah!!!"

But drinking tequila isn't just about what goes down easy or gets you sloshed. "Over the past ten years, Americans have really developed the ability to identify good 

tequila," said Cruz co-founder Joseph "Pep" Katcher. "Last year was the first year Americans outdrank Mexicans in tequila consumption." That's pretty amazing considering tequila can only be manufactured in Mexico.

Patron's a classic, but this fest was also about the little guys.

​Before heading home (or in Jonathan's case, over to the Macayo's and America's Taco Shop booths to sober up with some tasty Mexican grub), we caught up with Juan Elias, president of Elias Entertainment and founder of the Tequila Fest. Elias started the festival three years ago in Las Vegas, and he was thrilled to finally bring it home. 

"Don Julio and Patron, they're everywhere. But we wanted to bring some tequilas that are local, maybe not as well-known," said Elias. "The thing about tequila is that there are no boundaries. You can enjoy it whether you're young, or you're old like me." 

Peep more pics of the festival in Jonathan McNamara's photo slideshow.

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