May 6, 2015

Kennebunkport Tequila Mixology Class + Mt. Vernon Whiskey Tasting

Warm weather! I can hardly believe it. Does anything go better with warm weather than tequila? If so, please enlighten me. I first got into tequila last year, when I wrote about it for the Portland Phoenix. In my research, I explored the tequila selection at The North Point and Zapoteca, where I discovered Casamigos, George Clooney's brand. 

Recently I mentioned the Portland Spirits Society on social media, as I'm wont to do, and seeing it, the program coordinator invited me to the Kennebunkport Resort Collection's tequila mixology workshop at David's KPT. The KRC has started offering mixology and cooking classes as a part of their Table series - follow David's on facebook for the schedule of classes when they return in the fall. 

My friends and I had a blast at the workshop; we love going to KPT and while the weather was not quite warm then, it was very sunny and nice in the raw bar of David's, which has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Kennebunk River. 

Bar manager Joel Souza taught us to make four drinks, and we learned about the tequila he was using, Casamigos, from the company's rep. As we sat, we found a Paloma waiting for us, one of my favorite tequila cocktails—a simple combination of grapefruit juice and tequila. Joel used the Casamigos Blanco (unaged) tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and topped it with a splash of Fresca (grapefruit soda). It was a bit sweet for my tastes - I'd prefer it with the optional soda water in place of the Fresca. 

As we sipped our Palomas, the Casamigos rep explained to us a bit about how George and his friend Rande Gerber (aka Mr. Cindy Crawford) came to have the idea to start a tequila house (shocker: while drinking tequila), how tequila is made, and the difference between the three types of tequila. He said: "there are many things that are lax in Mexico; tequila is not one of them," meaning that the process of making tequila is strictly regulated by the government. 

The three varieties of tequila are just aged for different lengths of time; the blanco is aged for two months, the reposado is aged for seven months, and the anejo is aged for fourteen. It was interesting to learn from Joel how the different kinds of tequila work in different drinks and with different liqueurs, like the orange curacao or triple sec used in margaritas. 

The first margarita was a blend of tequila reposado, triple sec, and lime juice. That's all! Margaritas are in the "sour" family of cocktails, not for the taste, but for their structure: a base liquor, lemon or lime juice, and a sweetener (like triple sec or Grand Marnier in the case of a margarita). If you like it on the more tart side, add more lime juice and back off on the sweeter orange liqueurs. 

Next we tried the "perfect" margarita, which doesn't refer to the quality of the drink, but rather the use of both Grand Marnier and triple sec. This variation refers to a perfect Manhattan, which is made with both dry and sweet vermouth (and whiskey). The perfect margarita was made with the anejo tequila, giving it a rich depth of flavor not usually associated with tequila drinks. Using only a bit of Grand Mariner boosts that flavor rather than obscuring it. 

We finished our class with an impromptu comparison of the three kinds of tequila. The differences are very apparent when they're tried straight up, side-by-side. Zapoteca offers "flights" of the three types of different brands of tequila (including Casamigos), so you can sample them in a more affordable way. Casamigos is also available at agency liquor stores throughout Maine, and the reposado isn't terribly expensive for such a nice bottle. 

Perfect Margarita
From David's KPT

1.5 oz. tequila anejo
1/4 oz. Cointreau
1/4 oz. Grand Marnier
2 oz. margarita mix 

Build over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake briefly and pour into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with additional lime wedges.

Margarita Mix

1 cup simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar)
1-1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice

Combine and store in the refrigerator. Shake before using and use within 1 month. 

In other liquor adventures, I weaseled my way into the Gaslight League's whiskey tasting at the Victoria Mansion. The Gaslight League is the museum's young donors' social club, and I attended as a guest - although the events are so fun and the people are so nice that I'm considering joining! 

A representative from Mt. Vernon - the home of George Washington in Virginia - visited Victoria Mansion to tell us about their work and to share the estate's whiskey with us. It was a very special event - the whiskey is very rare and expensive, as it's made completely by hand (by people in breeches and dresses even) in the historic distillery only twice a year. 

After a bit about Washington and the evolution of the estate's preservation, we got to the exciting part - tasting the whiskey. To start, the Mt. Vernon rep shared with us three whiskeys that are each made with a component of Mt. Vernon whiskey's mash bill. We started with Whistlepig rye, then Hudson Baby Bourbon (corn-based), and then Westland from Seattle, made with malted barley. 

The Mt. Vernon rye whiskey is made from those three ingredients, and is offered in an unaged and an aged (two years) version. The unaged rye whiskey is, um... strong. After tasting the three aged whiskeys, it was a shock to go to an unaged spirit. The finished Mt. Vernon rye was much smoother, but my favorite of the five was the Whistlepig rye - which was surprising! If I had to guess, I would have thought I prefered the bourbon to the spicier rye. But again, the side-by-side tasting allowed for an informative comparison. 

Washington's whiskey is sold at the distillery only and goes for $90 for 16oz. of the unaged and $180 for 16oz. of the aged whiskey. So tasting at the Victoria Mansion was an incredible opportunity (once in a lifetime, probably!), and I'm so grateful I was able to squeeze into the event at the last minute. In the meantime, try the Whistlepig rye, made in Vermont, unfortunately not available in Maine or New Hampshire, but look for it in Vermont or Massachusetts.