Latest Tequilas New Take on the Old-Fashioned

Tequilas New Take on the Old-Fashioned
Submitted by     April 15, 2007    
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Is tequila, as someone recently declared to me, the new cognac? Or is it rather, as another someone said, the new vodka?

“In a way, they’re both true,” said Marc N. Scheinman, a marketing professor at the Pace University Lubin School of Business and the author of “The Global Tequila Market,” a comprehensive study of tequila’s fortunes that was published last year. Mr. Scheinman sees no end in sight for the boom in tequila sales, which rose 12.5 percent last year, according to Nielsen Scantrack and Liquor Track reports.

“The aged, superpremium tequilas that we’re increasingly seeing in the market have the refined air and taste of fine cognacs,” Mr. Scheinman said. “And you’re seeing tequila following the vodka pattern, too, with flavored tequilas entering the market and tequila having a growing presence in the cocktail culture.”

Souped-up, tip-top-shelf margaritas may be driving the boom, but tequila is flourishing in less predictable ways as well. In New York, creative bartenders are venturesomely expanding tequila’s boundaries, extricating it from its longtime flavor posse of lime and salt or prepackaged sour mix.

A tequila crawl through Manhattan turns up unexpected treasures: the Tequila Pepino at WD-50 on Clinton Street, for instance, in which the marriage of gold tequila with cucumber juice yields connubial bliss; the Giovanni Battista Ferrari at Hearth, in the East Village, which pairs El Jimador Silver with shaved fennel; and the Carris, at the West Village restaurant Alfama, in which tequila meets dry port and a splash of briny olive juice.

Death & Co., a Lower East Side cocktailery that opened in January, serves the Oaxaca Old-Fashioned, in which tequila and its more rough-and-tumble cousin, mezcal, steal the starring role that bourbon plays in a traditional Old-Fashioned, with agave nectar standing in for simple syrup in the sweetener role.

“I really, really love working with tequila,” said Philip Ward, the head bartender at Death & Co., where the imposing entrance, with its heavy scorched-wood doors and the windowless dark-on-dark interior put a Gothic spin on drinking. (The bar’s somber facade and its name, which the owners cribbed from a Prohibition-era anti-booze poster, has sparked complaints from spooked neighbors.)

“Tequila entered the mainstream in this country at a time, in the ’60s and ’70s, that cocktail culture was dead,” said Mr. Ward, whose revamped cocktail menu, which was to be unveiled this weekend, features an expanded roster of tequila-based cocktails. “It’s not like rye whiskey, which is the base for so many classic cocktails. It’s a really cool spirit to work with because there are still original things you can do with it.”

As its name suggests, Mr. Ward’s Old-Fashioned doesn’t scream originality — until you taste it. This is tequila at its most nuanced, a baritone-voice cocktail with a rich, deep smokiness and dark, elusive sweetness, and it swiftly banishes questions of whether tequila is the new something else. Rather, it is the new tequila: still growing, but decidedly mature.

Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times

OAXACA OLD-FASHIONED Adapted From Death & Co.

1 ½ ounces El Tesoro Reposado tequila

½ ounce Los Amantes Joven mezcal

1 teaspoon amber agave nectar

Dash of Angostura bitters

Orange twist.

Combine liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Stir, then strain into a rocks glass filled with ice cubes. Garnish with the orange twist*.

*At Death & Co., the peel is flamed. To do this, hold a section of peel — skin side down, gently grasped between thumb and forefinger — a few inches above the drink and just above a lighted match. Squeeze the peel quickly, expelling the peel’s oil into the flame, where it will momentarily burst, and onto the surface of the drink. It may take practice.

Yield: 1 serving

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