The last time I wrote about our “What’s in Your Mouth” series, Mexico in a Bottle had just wrapped up in San Diego and the world was just about to get shut down…for eighteen long and brutal months. At least we ended the world with an amazing weekend of agave and friends!
Of course we are not even at 100% at this point, but we are making the most of our current situation. While Delta put a scare into all of our summer and fall plans, Mexico in a Bottle was able to return in 2021 to San Diego and San Francisco – Yaaaaaayyyyy! Along with it, a slightly different approach to our blind tasting. Instead of doing a separate event as we had done in the past, we decided to include it in the main event giving everyone the chance to participate. While our previous tastings were over ninety minutes in length with eight or nine distillates and had up to 20 attendees, we kept this tasting to only four distillates so as not to overwhelm anyone nor take up too much precious time from all of the deliciousness that was offered during the main event.
With our table set at the front of the entrance, all people saw were plastic water bottles, tasting cups, sheets of paper and pencils. Nothing else. No brand names, not even a plaque on the table or wall as to what was going on. Like literally, everything was blind. As people came up and asked what was going on, I told them that it was a blind tasting, but instead of rating what you were tasting – as everything there was hella delicious – the goal was to be able to identify the following;
- Agave variety
- Cooking/Roasting Method
- How the sugars were extracted (how the agave was crushed)
- What type of still was used
- Which state in which it was produced
- The ABV
Some of you may be thinking that this was overkill, and it definitely intimidated quite a few people after I told them the task. But again, if we are going to talk about agave distillates as we do wine, this is the conversation that we need to be aware of so we aren’t just randomly saying “My favorite mezcal is ______” or “My favorite agave is _____”, and absolutely for when people say “Mezcal is smokey”. Understanding why and how flavors are created, influenced and developed is an incredibly important part of agave spirits education.
What we can say for sure is that there is a lot of practice that is involved in being able to know what’s in your mouth, in your glass. And it requires consistent practice. I know that my own abilities are not where they were two years ago because I have not practiced due to social distancing and not being able to safely travel to the places where these beautiful distillates are produced. Even Zack Safron who, after a three round tie-breaker won the very first tasting we did in 2018, finished with about 50% accuracy in 2019 and then realized that he was not up to the challenge this year after his first sip. Why? Lack of practice. The good news is you don’t lose the skill forever, it’s like memorizing a song and not hearing it for 10, 20 years but after a bit, you start to remember the melody, the lyrics, the artist, and all of the memories of when you were listening to that song. All of that gets imprinted in your memory just like tasting these distillates.
So, how do you practice? We will dive into that in a future article.
In the meantime, let’s discuss our tasting from 2021. Not gonna lie, the first Mexico in a Bottle event this year was a bit odd as it was our first big “social” event and seeing, hugging, and being in the same room with people we’ve not seen since March of 2020 felt almost like a first date. We were all excited, but social cues were still being sussed out.
We had our largest number of participants who did the entire tasting in San Diego. Out of almost 20 people who completed all four tastings, Bryant Orozco from Los Angeles, CA absolutely slayed it. Out of 24 fields, Bryant was able to correctly identify 21 of them including the production state for all four (each of the four were produced in different states and all outside of Oaxaca) and the correct agave variety on three of the four. As to the production methods, once you know how each region of each state produces their distillates, the production becomes easier to identify. So huge congratulations to Bryant, he won entry into the San Francisco event and a round trip plane ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
For those who do not know, there is a rivalry between San Francisco and San Diego. We get it. San Diego has better weather, burritos, selection of agave, and proximity to Mexico. San Francisco beats us at everything else and they have a huge base of agave nerds and they get in deep. But what really surprised me was the amount of newbies to the scene that got their feet wet during quarantine and actually wanted to learn and taste. I would not be surprised if 35% of the attendees were enjoying their first agave event. I say this by the amount of people who were so intimidated by our tasting. A few jumped in only to realize it was too much but wanted to experience what we had going on. Out of the dozen or so who actually completed the tasting, it came down to Bryant Orozco, Luis Loya, and 2019 San Francisco Champ and 2018 runner up, Rion Toal. One of the odd things we had to deal with was the smell of patchouli oil and fake vanilla wafting into the venue and I know it skewed the results from this tasting. While Bryant was able to correctly identify the agave, state, and stills used for two of the four samples, Rion and Luis were able to correctly identify the agave for each of the four. After adding up all the points, the results were;
- Rion – 11 points
- Bryant – 12 points
- Luis – 13 points
While this just scratched the surface of what we had done in the past, congratulations are in order to Luis Loya for San Francisco 2021!!
I definitely look forward to what 2022 has in store for What’s in Your Mouth!