Say the word tequila and most will picture a dark gold drink, something consumed late at night with a slug of lime and a pinch of salt. It`s the tipple of tough Mexicans, something that lives on dusty shelves in western saloons or supplies the kick in a tangy Margarita. This spirit held responsible for wild nights and heave hangovers, or perhaps not!
Tequila is quietly undergoing a revolution in the drinks industry, not re-inventing, but rather re-introducing itself to consumers as a spirit to be savoured not just `shot.` Don Julio tequila is a BIG deal in Mexico and now is settling itself on the trendiest London bar shelves. Amika is the latest nightclub to link up with the brand; currently visitors can sample drops of four tequila cocktails designed by world-class mixologist. It`s a bit of fun and a novel idea that disguises the very clever folk and lengthy processes that go into making a project like this happen.
Made from blue acave, a desert succulent (that`s surprisingly part of the lily family not the cactus) cultivating tequila is no less elaborate than nurturing a vineyard. Planted into a rich red soil and grown for a minimum of 7 years then distilled for a following three.
Don Julio is a premium brand so the final stages are all developed by hand – its all rather genius stuff. I was lucky enough to interview one of the mixologist involved in the Amika project, Brian Van Flandern, a native New Yorker with more than 18 years of experience in the cocktail world. He spent two weeks with the Master Distiller at La Primavera distillery in the Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico learning the production process, here is what he had to say:
Did you always aspire to be a mixologist?
No! I went to live in New York at the age of 18 years old to be an actor. That was my passion at the time. Throughout my time acting, I supported myself bartending. In 2004 I went back to college to finish my degree and took what I thought would be one last restaurant job. which was at Per Se. This restaurant, owned by world-renowned chef Thomas Keller, opened my eyes. I was constantly amazed at his passion and attention to detail.
– How did you get started in this career?
This ‘last’ restaurant job was at Per Se. This restaurant, owned by world renowned chef Thomas Keller, opened my eyes. I was constantly amazed at his passion and attention to detail. I was inspired to lean more and to make cocktails worthy of his food. By 2006 I was ranked at the World’s number 2 mixologist. I then left Per Se and Thomas Keller in 2007 to set up Creative Cocktail Consultants Corporation, and in 2008, I approached Tequila Don Julio to become their Global Brand Ambassador. I see the man, Don Julio, as the Thomas Keller of agave. They both have the same passion and approach to their work.
– Do you have a favourite cocktail?
I really love a well-made margarita. I’m also partial to a Sidecar and a tequila and tonic with lime.
– Which creation are you most proud of and why?
At Per Se I started making my own tonic water from scratch (using Welsh sparkling water). this was before anyone else was doing artesian tonics. The drink was called “A Tonic with Gin Per Se”. I made one for Daniel Craig and he said it was the best G&T he’d ever had. Thomas Keller even used it to lecture on how it created a luxury experience with inexpensive ingredients.
– Have you ever mixed a cocktail for a famous person and if so who and what?
I was asked to create and serve cocktails for Kate Hudson’s surprise 30th birthday. It was full of hundreds of A list celebrities including Justin Timberlake, Matthew McConaughey, Kurt Russell. I served a variation on a pomegranate margarita and called it a ‘Katie Girl’.
– Has your opinion of Tequila changed since your two weeks with the Master Distiller in Jalisco?
Yes, but not in an obvious way. Thanks to Per Se, I understood well-made tequila but when you go to a country and see the people, eat the food, learn about the history and culture, you make a permanent connection. When I drink tequila now, I am instantly transported back there. It’s now a nostalgic and cathartic experience when I drink tequila.
– Have you started to introduce tequila into more of your cocktails?
Not really any more, or any less. I’ve always tried to find ways to incorporate it because it’s a natural, agricultural product, which is as good in its natural raw state as when it is aged in barrels over time.
– Finally, which cocktail represent you the most and why?
The Margarita. As the Tequila Don Julio Global Ambassador, it is a source of great irony and pride that my birthday is the 5th May (Mexican Independence Day). The margarita is also often said to have been created in 1942, the year Don Julio opened his first distillery.
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