It’s Monday night and I’m in a backroom Tampa speakeasy sniffing, swirling, and sipping top-notch tequila with a room full of young professionals, most of whom didn’t know each other before tonight. The raw energy in the room is contagious and I’m thrilled I broke my routine to be here.
This tribe of young professionals is made up of members of Tampa’s dynamic New Town Connections, a group of consummate millennials brought together as the brainchild of Andrew Machota, whose goal was to connect like-minded young people looking for social interaction in Tampa.
Classic millennials measure life by experiences rather than steps on a ladder—and this group, gathered tonight in the speakeasy-inspired gold and blue Back Room of Anise Global Gastrobar to learn the craft of the tequila cocktail, is prepped for a journey into the world of Herradura Tequila. Their guides tonight are beverage director Ryan Brown and brand champion Michael Ring, who are set to make this evening an unforgettable craft cocktail experience.
The tables, beautifully decorated and prepared with the tools for tonight’s class, quickly fill up with eager, smiling faces. Strangers a few short moments ago are now immersed in deep conversation. They eye the decanters of lime juice and simple syrup and carefully handle the Hawthorne strainers, Boston shakers, jiggers, and stir spoons of the trade.
We begin by tasting the delightful Anise Truffled Tator Tots and move on to sipping four types of Herradura Tequila: Herraduras Silver, Reposado, Añejo, and Suprema. Ranging in color from white to dark umber, these famous tequilas come from the only working tequila-producing hacienda in the world. Located in Amatitán, in the Mexican state of Jalisco, the hacienda has been producing tequila since 1870. Considered a world leader, Casa Herradura tequilas set the standard for tequila worldwide, and in fact the Reposado, or rested tequila, was developed by Herradura.
Herradura tequila is made from blue weber agave using traditional methods. The agave plant, not a cactus, but a member of the lily family, takes seven years to mature. At the end, plants are harvested and the leaves are carved off, leaving behind the piña or core to be roasted, steamed, and cooled for two days and nights. The resulting liquid is placed into open-air vats, where the fermentation process begins, aided by local bees and over two dozen types of citrus trees.
The tequila is twice-distilled and aged longer than industry standards, from 45 days for the Herradura Silver to four years for the Seleccion Suprema. The longer the aging process, which takes place in oak barrels, the darker the color of the tequila. Thus the Herradura Silver is a light straw color, while the Reposado and Añejo are progressively darker colors of copper, and the Suprema is a dark umber. Unlike many tequilas, which are artificially colored, everything about the Herradura Brand is natural.
As the Herradura part of the lesson comes to an end, we learn that the symbolic Herradura horseshoe, which opens toward the bottom of the bottle, is considered lucky only when the bottle is empty and the horseshoe is turned over to open up. It’s clear everyone in the room is feeling lucky to be here and enjoying both the lesson and the tasting—but now it’s time to move to the real hands-on part of the evening.
The idea of the craft cocktail Ryan tells me started in the early 2000s when people became progressively more aware of what they were eating and drinking. The movement was one away from the massive sugary bar drinks of the 90s to an emphasis on fresh ingredients, the intimate flavorings of the spirits themselves, and natural twists on garnishes. Ryan demonstrates the making of two craft cocktails and the room fills with excited chatter as the tribe of millenials duplicates what they’ve been taught and delights in their creations.
It’s truly a pleasant evening. I learn some valuable lessons. I learn to jump right in and not be intimidated by spirits or spirit drinkers. I learn to experience a spirit in three tiny sips, so I can discover the nuanced flavors that rest there. I learn to take my time as I get to know a spirit: to look, smell, and taste carefully and slowly. Now I know that spirit drinking is a ritual that anyone can adopt and love. It doesn’t take an expert. And I leave with three tips from Michael: know what you’re drinking, know why you like it, and read the label.
Herradura Old Fashioned
1.5 oz Herradura
.25 oz simple sugar
2 dashes orange bitters
1 dash chocolate bitters
Garnish with orange peel and filthy cherry.
1.5 oz Herradura
.75 oz fresh lime juice
.75 oz simple syrup
Garnish with a lime wheel.
Photos by Julie Curry.