National Tequila Day

Happy made-up-holiday recognition day!  July 24th is National Tequila day.  At least according to someone with a vested interest in keeping mentions of tequila in the news.

In the spirit of exploiting cheap excuses to write puff pieces about a given subject to fill airtime I give you a short listing of my best posts about Tequila from the last several years.

Understanding the Tequila NOM  – How to know where your tequila came from and who made it.
Sparkle Donkey Tequila  – The best tequila bottled in Seattle with a name you’ll never forget.




Tequila Sunset Cocktail  – Something I came up with to try out grenadine
Rhulmans Paloma  – A great cocktail idea I stole from Imbibe magazine
Make your own Margarita Mix  – Ditch the bottle mixes, make your own with very simple ingredients.

Chipotle Margaritas  –  Your final reminder that even fast casual places want to sell you cocktails in this day and age.


Understanding the Tequila NOM

sparkledonkeyNow a lot of the internet might be thinking that I’ve somehow come up with a great new baked treat that incorporates tasty tequila, this is sadly not the case.  (But would make for another great post).  The NOM or Norma Oficial Mexicana is the standard that regulates the production of tequila in Mexico.  By law and tradition Tequila is a distilled agave spirit made in the city of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco, pronounced (Hal-is-co).  The law was eventually expanded to allow any distiller in the state of Jalisco to call their spirit tequlia, and even after that some parts of the neighboring states of  Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.

As you can see it’s an oddly shaped little state with protrusions and that kinda pitchfork looking section on top.

Much like the French  appellation d’origine contrôlée restricts what you can call Champagne, Bordeaux and Roquefort, the NOM limits tequlia’s to this region and imposes other standards on the production.  It isn’t a mark of quality it simply assures that you’ve bought something that was actually produced in mexico and is what you could consider “legit” tequila as opposed to a knockoff.  If you check a bottle of tequlia you’ll usually find the NOM as a 4 digit number on the back.

Much like any distillery the ones in mexico aren’t always brand specific.  The distillery can manufacture tequila for a number of different labels at different times of year.  You can actually look up the distillery online via This handy database lists all of the official NOM distilleries and which labels they bottle.  Handy in an argument if you’re trying to prove that 1800 is better than Jose Cuervo. (Fun fact if you look up NOM 1122 you’ll find that they both come out of the same still.)

There are a lot of other agave spirits from Mezcal to Bacanora each with their own regional history.

My own personal favorite Sparkle Donkey comes from a distillery called Destiladora del Valle de Tequila NOM 1438.  Some other brands from that same still include apocalypto tequila , Uno Mas and Verde Green an Organic Kosher tequila.  I’m not entirely sure what you’d need to do to have a Kosher Tequila but I applaud them for trying.

Update: Rhulman’s Paloma

Issa PalomaThe previous article about this drink can be found here.

After a bit of hunting I finally found a couple of local places where I could find Izze Sparkling Juice on a regular basis.

I can see why they are useful in this context.  They are unsweetened and are about 70% juice and 30% soda water.

If you wanted to do something similar a bottle of ruby red grapefruit and a splash of club soda would be pretty equivalent.

Using it here was a good, I used the same amounts as the original simply replacing the squirt with Izze.  It still needed a dash of agave syrup to round the whole thing out.  Without it they were bitter and sour without being tart.

Grenadine in Practice: Tequila Sunset


One of the most common uses of grenadine is to add some showy coloration to a beverage.  The strong red color of the syrup and its thicker texture allows it to perform well in most juices, many liquors and in their combination.

The Tequila Sunset is a pretty simple drink

2 oz Silver Tequila
4 oz Orange Juice
3/4 oz Grenadine Syrup

Shake the tequila and juice in a shaker with ice, strain into a glass.  Slowly drizzle the syrup into the drink so that it settles and disperses through the bottom of the drink.

What you’re left with is a very nice blending of color from the yellow to dark red at the bottom.  Thinner grenadine doesn’t do this well and those heavy in dyes tend to color too well leaving the drink a kind of muddy brown color.

Well made, you can sip this slowly and enjoy the change as the syrup slowly increases in concentration.  Unless you’re using fresh squeezed OJ the citrus flavor is going to be tart and bland.  The grenadine also helps to add some character to the drink overall as well as to help mask any alcohol you might taste from using cheaper Tequila.

I used sparkle donkey for this one, and I’m not disappointed.  It has a very strong nose, which isn’t ideal here but the flavor is still mellow and smooth.


Sparkle Donkey Silver Tequila



The name alone on this tequila is memorable.  You’re not likely to forget the name any time soon.

What makes it slightly more interesting is that while it is produced in Mexico it is distributed by Black Rock Spirits out of Seattle, WA.  It is oddly hard to get a hold of in the Portland area.  There are only two stores that carry it, both on the east side.  I imagine that will change over time because this stuff is awesome.

I had a chance to try both the silver and the reposado at the OMSI after dark tasting and they are both lovely.  The reposado actually has a flavor not unlike cotton candy.  It’s not sweet or cloying but has a lovely round sugar taste.

The silver is also great, it’s not as mild as the reposado.  The repo is aged in bourbon barrels which is a fantastic kick.

So far I’ve made a couple of different drinks with citrus and fruit and in every case the tequila shines through.


Aside from the beverage itself the company has a fantastic website set up to promote the Sparkle Donkey history.  Their Institute for Agave studies tells the story of El Burro Esparkalo a magical tequila distributing donkey from the wilds of mexico.

It is possible to buy this online, but shipping is dodgy.  As with most online liquor sales your location matters more than where the site is located.

Ruhlman’s Paloma

palomaIn my wanderings I pick up bits here and there to try and give everyone a good overview of drinking culture and to hopefully learn a bit myself.  One such stumble was on the website of World Famous Chef Michael Ruhlman.  On his site he does a regular Friday Cocktail hour and this particular drink was called the Paloma.

The basic ingredients for this cocktail appear daunting at first.

  • 3 ounces tequila
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 3 ounces grapefruit soda

A fairly simple drink but if you look closely there’s two shots of tequlia in there and what amounts to a splash of lime juice.

Chefs are know for being able to put away a few drinks but that seems a bit excessive for a refreshing sipper.

Additionally Ruhlman recommends a couple of brands of grapefruit soda that I would live to try out.  Sadly the grocer that stocked the best in oddball beverages has folded and now I’m stuck with a vanilla assortment of coke products and Jones Soda co. offerings.

On the plus side my recent birthday netted me a fine bottle of Sparkle Donkey Silver which I have been dying to put through its paces.

Ingredients in had I took the drink to a party and let a couple of friends play with the results.

Instead of a fancy grapefruit soda I started with squirt.  Not a bad addition, it covered the bases for bubbly, citrus and sweet.  The sparkle donkey was pulling more than it’s share of freight.  In hindsight I wish I had brought some ruby red squirt to try some other variations but I also wish I had a reposado to do this with so we’ll have something to do next time.

Some other variations.  I bought grapefruit juice and club soda, as Ruhlman suggests, but was disappointed with the results.  I used white grapefruit juice from a bottle which is much more bitter than the alternative ruby red.  The resulting cocktail was sharp and bit pretty hard after the lime.

The saving grace was the selection of syrups I had brought.  A spoonful of agave syrup into either version brought up flavors and brought down bitterness enough to make them each an excellent concoction.

In the end I think I would suggest the following:

1.5 oz Sparkle Donkey Silver
1 oz Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice
1.5 oz club soda
0.5 oz lime juice
1 tsp agave syrup

Stir in a tall glass and sip slowly on a hot day.

Flavor wise this is tart and bubbly.  If you’re using a quality tequila the flavors will blend nicely across the palate and let you savor the agave.

Drinking Basics: Core Drinks

It was not that long ago that I was like many casual drinkers out there.  There was no complexity in my attempts to get smashed as quickly as possible and I was guilty of drinking some things that these days make me cringe.

An argument I’ve had with a friend of mine is what constitutes a cocktail.  The original definition read something along the lines of “spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”

Specific enough for my tastes but that defines the classic cocktail, back when people knew a sling from a gimlet.  Today the waters have been muddied to the point that the dictionary says “an iced drink of wine or distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients.”  About the only thing that definition excludes is beer and cider.  Anything else could reasonably rolled into the realm of “flavoring ingredients.”

I’ve stated my position is that anything that uses a soda as the primary carrier in the drink isn’t really a cocktail.  The point of refutation in that argument is the Cuba Libre which does all kinds of things to the cocktail world.

So I’ve performed a strategic retreat and I present to you here the most basic “cocktail” in common consumption for each of the most common forms of hard liquor.


For this most plain of liquors we have two options.
1. The Screwdriver – 1 part Vodka and 2 parts Orange juice.
2. Vodka Cranberry – 1 part Vodka to 2 Parts Cranberry Juice

Vodka is a neutral spirit, when done well it should present no burn either forward or afterwards.  In either of these drinks the dry and sour components in the citric acid are there to try to smooth out a cheaper vodka.  The cheaper the vodka the more juice you add.


The floral bouquet of gin is one of the most complex scents in the liquor world.  A gin basket can contain dozens of ingredients each distinctly detectable in a well made liquor.
1. The Martini – 1.5 oz Gin to 0.5 oz Dry Vermouth
2. Gin and Tonic – the most basic of all, Gin and a quinine containing tonic water mixed in ratios of about 2:3


There are a lot of different kinds of rum.  Too many to recount in this piece I’m afraid but we include here the current swing in rum drinks.
1. Rum and Coke – just like it sounds 1.5 oz rum to an 8 oz can of cola.
2. Scurvy Pirate – 1.5 oz Rum, Ginger Ale


As complex a spirit as tequila is, it seldom mixes well with a lot of the more classic ideas of cocktails and tends to shun bitters and floral arrangements in favor of fruit and citrus.
1. Tequila Slammer – 1.5 oz Tequila, 7-up, Squirt or Mt. Dew.  This one is tricky as the drink is served with some room left in the glass.  You hold your hand over the top of the glass and slam it quickly on the bar to release the carbonation then drink it quickly before it foams over the top of the glass.

Tune in next time with drinking basics as we show you the evolution of tastes from the very basic to the complex as we upgrade the screwdriver.


Make Your Own: Margarita Mix

In continuing with my desire to see any mix that comes in a bottle relegated to the dustbin I proceed to destroy the myth of Margarita mix.

The Margarita as a drink is a classic cocktail containing only three ingredients.  Tequila, Orange Liqueur and lime juice.  The proportions of these ingredients can vary depending on your preference and I will get into how to adjust those once I can finally get my hands on a bottle of Sparkle Donkey Reposado.

In traditional form a margarita is about:

1.5 oz Tequila
3/4 oz Cointreau
.5 oz Lime Juice

Where anyone would find the need for a mix in such a simple cocktail is beyond me but I can see a couple of holes here that might trip the unwary.  This type of drink is one served in a pitcher among friends so having to extrapolate the ratios upwards can be a bit of a pain.  Additionally there are really only two types of Triple-sec on the market, the expensive and the unknown.  Buying a bottle of cointreau just so your buddy can drown it in cheap tequila isn’t really on my to-do list so we get that out of the way.

Additionally there is some prep work here.  Juicing limes, mixing various things in proportion etc.  Some would find it easier to simply pour a bottle of tequila and a bottle of mix into the blender with ice and press the button to make it happen.

It may also have something to do with the largest selling brand of tequila on the market.  Jose Cuervo does not always make a good product but it’s cheap and plentiful which is more than enough to get the glassware out at some parties.  If you’re putting junk into the blender or shaker then you might need something in your drink to mask the flavor of the cheap rotgut that Oro Tequilas get cut with.  Bottle mixes are going to fill that gap with corn syrup and a bunch of artificial lime flavors.

If you’re going to make a batch of these (blended or not) fresh lime juice and simple syrup is really the thing to use.  If you’re feeling adventurous Agave nectar is another sweetener that already has a brother in the tequila bottle you’ll be using.  Consider the tequila first before you break out the sugar.  A good Reposado is going to have sweet notes in it already from the cask aging process.  Sparkle Donkey I can confirm tastes something like cotton candy in the reposado.  If your alcohol is of a good quality then adding more sugar is only going to play merry havoc with the balance of flavors you’re getting from agave, orange, lime and salt.

Mixing up a lot of this far in advance isn’t really desirable simply because lime juice loses its kick after a while and there isn’t anything else to add but alcohol.   If you’re making blended versions you can pre-mix your entire drink and add it to the crushed ice right before serving since the mix won’t have a chance to dilute and will be mixed by the blender.

Given the amounts I normally get from limes you’re looking at the following:

16 Servings

1 – 750ml bottle of tequila
1 – 350ml bottle of  Cointreau (Triple Sec)
4 medium sized limes

At 1.5 oz per serving you can squeeze a little over 16 servings out of a regular bottle, given that ratio a smaller sized bottle of triple sec will fit perfectly.  Limes normally give you about 2 oz per lime so we can get all 16 servings in 4 fruit.

I recommend a large carafe or jug with a good sealing lid.  Hopefully your blender can handle this kind of volume.