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Tequila Lights the Fuse

Meet the Tequila-Based Cocktails Featured at TNT

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Agave is back, kiddos. Not that it really left: Aztecs fermented it centuries ago, making a milky-looking pulque, claiming it was discovered by a possum who immediately became the first drunk and plotted the stumbling course of all rivers. And when the Spanish arrived and ran out of brandy, they distilled agave and invented mezcal. By the dawn of the 17th century, Jalisco, Mexico, had its first tequila factory. By the end of the 19th, it was exported to America. At the end of the last century, it blew up shot glasses and lime wedges in the US and became bro culture's salty blackout-waiting-to-happen. And finally, with Sauza 901 tequila, Justin Timberlake got into the game.

So maybe agave never left, not in 1,000 years. (But neither did sexy, and we let JT have that one, right?) Perhaps tequila's varied history has all been leading up to this moment: the deliciously thirsty Tacos 'n' Tequila event. Check out the amazing tequila-based cocktails some of Portland's best barkeeps will be brewing up for you!

Blair Reynolds, famed tiki-tender of Hale Pele and procurer of fine syrups under the BG Reynolds label, obviously likes a good show along with his drinks: If you've ever witnessed a volcano erupting during your cocktail hour at Hale Pele, you know that's true. It's no surprise, then, that Reynolds picked Timberlake's Sauza 901. "I like the smoothness of it," Reynolds says. "That texture offers a lot to work with."

For Tacos 'n' Tequila, he'll be blending the tequila with tepache, another great Mexican fermented beverage made with pineapples, sugar, and spices. Tequila's not as much of a challenge as one might think for a tiki veteran like Reynolds. "There are actually a couple tequila cocktails in Trader Vic's first recipes," he says, "like the Mexican El Diablo and the Pinky Gonzalez."

But can he do a song and dance? "The pisser is," he finally admits, "I don't know any JT songs." Better learn, Blair. The people need a show.

Next up: Emily Mistell, bar manager at another rummy establishment, Rum Club. "I love tequila," she says, "but it's always been kind of my Achilles' heel, because I don't know enough about it." Planning a business/pleasure mezcal-and-tequila tour of Mexico is on her to-do list, because she likes the way they do things down there: "I love the 'whole hog' mentality that you find while eating and drinking in Mexico. You use everything, all the leftovers, all the extra stuff."

To that end, Mistell's planning a take on a sangrita, a traditional tequila accompaniment made of fruit juice and chilies, using the juices from an emptied bowl of pico de gallo. Her sangrita will play up the greener qualities of the tequila: "I like silver tequila because it's more vegetal and spicy, so I called my friend Sean Hoard [onetime Teardrop barman, now offering fresh juice and bar supplies via the Commissary], and we had this idea." It's a rare taste of a real drinking tradition: "I mean, where the fuck did Jägerbombs come from? We drink a lot in America, but we don't really have a drinking culture."

From the silver tequilas, we'll move into añejo tequila. Aged up to three years, usually in whiskey or wine barrels, añejos offer an oaky, complex flavor profile and a nice door into tequila for the whiskey drinker, but they can seem cumbersome to fans of vodka or even silver tequila.

Jacob Grier, renowned Portland bartender, cocktail writer, and street magician, offers a typically atypical take on the browner tequilas: "Añejo can definitely make a nice, tart cocktail to drink in the sunshine." He proved that by putting in my hand a Resplendent Island, his contribution to TNT. I can't tell you everything that's in it, but I can tell you that name is a reference to the drink's Sri Lankan flavors.

Grier is a co-founder of the beer cocktail event series Brewing Up Cocktails, and has a book, Cocktails on Tap, coming out early next year. While writing the book, Grier's also been following other pursuits: "I've been trying to focus on magic." Will we see some magical mixology at TNT? "Maybe," he says, with a smirk only a magician can pull off.

And finally, between the silvers and the añejo, comes the reposado. Lydia Reissmueller, of gone-but-not-forgotten semi-speakeasy Central, will handle the middle sister of the tequila family. "Reposados are mellower than silvers," she says, though the cocktail won't be: "It's going to be this amazing, refreshing pick-me-up of a drink. There's something about tequila that is an upper as well as a downer. I think that's why people think of tequila-drunk as being especially crazy."

On that note, the drink will include Stumptown cold-brewed coffee. The fact that Reissmueller and partner Elizabeth McElligott own a cold-pressed juice company, Pure Simple Juice, means even the fruit and herbs in her cocktail will be as nutritious—and flavorful—as can be.

Mouth watering yet? You can thank hundreds of years of tradition, from Aztec priests to Justin Timberlake.

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