Cigar Aficionado

Part Three: Las Vegas Big Smoke Sunday Sessions

Mas Tequila

Tradition dictates that we toast the end of the Big Smoke Las Vegas Weekend with a fine spirit and a great cigar (or two). For the first time, that drink was Tequila.

Leading the tasting, as always, was Cigar Aficionado's senior features editor and resident spirits guru, Jack Bettridge.

"Previously I thought Tequila wasn't a good partner for cigars, but when you drink it at this level, it is," he said, referring to the many new high-end Tequilas, especially the super-aged extra añejos, that have recently come to market. Bettridge spoke about he new high-toned image of Tequila for those who might still regard it as a fraternity quaff.

"I was searching for essential wisdom about Tequila," joked Bettridge, "and the nursery rhyme one Tequila, two Tequila, three Tequila, four, kept running through my head. How unfortunate that image is, because Tequila is much more than a drink to gulp—it's a drink to taste."

The seminar was all about the high end of the Tequila category, and the audience had a chance to taste four superb examples of superpremium Tequila: Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia, El Mayor Añejo, Patrón Añejo and Maestro Dobel. The latter is a new brand that only recently became available, and then only in certain parts of the country.

The audience received two cigars specially selected to go with the Tequilas. The first to be lit was the A. Turrent 6 Generations Robusto, made by Nueva Matacapan de Tabacos S.A. de C.V. in Mexico. The 5 inch by 54 ring cigar, a Mexican puro, is the newest creation from the Turrent family, makers of Te-Amo cigars. Alejandro Turrent, the sixth-generation Turrent in the cigar business, spoke for a moment about his family's rich history in making cigars and growing tobacco in Mexico's fertile San Andres Valley.

The second cigar was the current Cigar Aficionado No. 4 Cigar of the Year, the Oliva Serie V Liga Especial Torpedo. Made by Tabacalera Oliva Tabolisa in Nicaragua, the 6 by 56 cigar is a medium- to full-bodied bomb of flavors.

An attendee sips Tequila.

Bettridge spoke about the essential element needed to create Tequila—blue agave, a large, plant of the lily family (not cactus, as is often thought) that take sup to 10 years to mature and grows to as much as 300 pounds. The agave is harvested, shorn of its outer leaves with a special tool and then cooked in an oven or an autoclave. Those Tequilas produced by the oven method take on a smoky taste. The agave is crushed, which extracts the liquid essence and creates a sort of beer. The liquid is double distilled at a fairly low proof for a spirit, so the agave taste permeates the drink.

Tequilas range in age from no time in the barrel to three or more years, which may not seem long, but the intensity of the Mexican heat makes the Tequila mature quickly.

Bettridge went through the Tequilas one by one. The first was from Cuervo, and meant to commemorate its 200th anniversary. Made with an elaborate aging process that includes French and American oak, all of the quaff is a minimum of two years old, and some of the private reserves blending into it are up to 30 years old. Its mellow, round flavor made it pair well with both cigars.

Maestro Dobel, which is called "Diamond Tequila," is a project by Juan-Domingo "Dobel" Beckmann, the executive director of Casa Cuervo, but it's done separately from the company. It's a clear Tequila that is made from a blend of reposado (two to 12 months of age) añejo (one year or more) and extra añejo (three years or more of age) and is then filtered. It paired well with the lighter-bodied A. Turrent, quite appropriate given that the Cuervo who created it is the sixth generation member of his family, and the A. Turrent represents six generations of Turrents. The Oliva cigar seemed to overwhelm the clear Tequila.

An audience member smiles as he learns about Tequila.

The third Tequila was Patrón Añejo. Bettridge credited the well-known brand with opening up the luxury market for Tequila and driving the growing interest in the spirit. The añejo version of Patrón is distinguished by the small barrels in which it ages, a process that gives it much more contact with the wood and hastens maturation. This method also apparently gives the spirit a tang. "Oooh—spicy," said Bettridge, dipping his nose in the glass and taking a quaff. While a good match for both cigars, the Patrón got on better with the Oliva, which is its match in the spice department.

Sipping the El Mayor, the final Tequila, Bettridge spoke about the difference between highland and lowland agave plants. This was an example of the former. It was more floral and delicate, whereas the volcanic valley soil in the lowlands typically creates a more savory character. Bettridge deemed it the best all-around pairing. Its implicit sweetness and brad-dough flavors seemed to search out the honey notes in each cigar.

It was time for questions, and the audience had many. Bettridge explained the difference between Tequila and mezcal—all Tequila is mezcal, not all mezcal can be called Tequila. "Tequila is distinguished from mezcal the same way Cognac is distinguished from brandy," he said, describing it both as subsets of spirits made in specific areas.

The energetic question-and-answer session went well past the anointed closing hour. It seemed the audience just didn't want to let this Big Smoke Las Vegas Weekend end. Around 2 p.m., the final audience members walked out the door, smiles on their faces, already planning for next year when they hoped to return.

Charlie Palmer Breakfast
Roll Your Own

Fathers and Sons
Cigar Rolling
Cigar Blending
Lunch With The Experts

Friday and Saturday Night