At this year's Vancouver International Tequila Expo, get a taste for the Mexican tipple
Credit: iStock / A_N

At this year's Vancouver International Tequila Expo, get a taste for the Mexican tipple

The last week in May has undoubtedly earned unofficial “tequila time” status in Vancouverites’ calendars. With the third annual Vancouver International Tequila Expo on the horizon, Eric Lorenz (expo co-founder and Canada’s first mezcalier) shares a sneak peek of what’s new at this year’s agave spirits expo, and how to get the most out of it.

Vancouver International Tequila Expo

When: Saturday, May 31, 2014, 7-10 p.m.

Where: Hyatt Regency Hotel Vancouver, 655 Burrard Street, Vancouver

Tickets: $65.25 per person / $54.75 groups of 6+

Agave Week
Credit: Hamid Attie

Agave Week

Sure, you can refer to the “five rules of tequila” I wrote included in my article, Five Premium Tequilas for Sipping and Savouring. But with more than 35 brands of tequila and mezcal to sample at the Vancouver International Tequila Expo, that introduction to tequilas simply scratches the surface.

Agave Week gets underway from May 26 to May 31, so go deeper by enjoying events, “geared toward having fun,” says Lorenz, such as food and mezcal cocktail pairings, hosted by UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar. The bar team, including Bitter Sling Bitters’ Lauren Mote (pictured), will be shaking up drinks with Fidencio Mezcal and Mezcal Pierde Almas.

Tip: Get prepped pre-event by taking the Tequila 101 or Mezcal 101 seminars, held on-site at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, to learn everything there is to know about the spirits, from history and culture to production and tasting.

Meet Mezcal, Tequila’s Smoky Cousin
Credit: Flickr / Eneas De Troya

Meet Mezcal, Tequila’s Smoky Cousin

Mezcal makes its debut at this year’s expo, with 16 mezcal brands exhibiting. To put this into context, B.C. government liquor stores carry two (and only one is worth drinking). Moreover, for the first time in its three-year run, the expo will focus on a specific region – Oaxaca – which is where most mezcal is made. Rumour has it the event will get event tastier with chef Susan Trilling of Seasons of My Heart Cooking School in Oaxaca, Mexico, making an appearance.

Tip: Many people confuse mezcal, which is made from the agave plant, with mescaline, a naturally occurring hallucinogen from the peyote cactus.

Get a True Taste of Tequila and Mezcal
Credit: Flickr / KittyKaht

Get a True Taste of Tequila and Mezcal

At the expo, you’ll be sipping spirts from a small snifter. Observe the colour in the glass (Is it clear, straw-coloured, amber?), take a sniff (Do you smell herbs, citrus, smoke?) and sample (Do you taste pepper, peaches, caramel?).

With 19 tequila brands and 16 mezcal brands on exhibit, where do you start? Eric Lorenz makes some suggestions. Compare reposados to reposados and añejos to añejos so you can detect the subtle nuances of each. Start with tequilas, which are typically less smoky than mezcals. Another option: compare mezcals to blanco tequilas since both feature unaged agave (see below), then move on to reposado and añejo tequilas.

Tip: Tequila may be unaged (blanco/plata/silver) or aged in oak barrels (reposado and añejo). Mezcal is typically not aged. With mezcal, the piñas (heart of the agave plant) are pit-roasted, which is where the smoky flavour comes from.

Pairing Tequila and Mezcal with Food
Credit: Flickr / Mike Rowe

Pairing Tequila and Mezcal with Food

What foods pair perfectly with agave spirits? Tacos, fresh-shucked oysters and more. Not only does it make sense to eat while sipping tequila and mezcal, it also enhances the experience, says Lorenz. Sip blanco tequila, for instance, while slurping back seafood from Joe Fortes and taste the essence of Oaxaca that La Mezcaleria by La Taqueria brings to its dishes to complement mezcal.

Tip: The eat-sip, eat-sip ethos also works as a palate cleanser, which lets you “reset” your tastebuds while imbibing at the expo. If you haven’t had time to check out The Mexican Corner Restaurant in Whistler, here’s a chance to sample its food.

Cocktail Competition
Credit: Flickr / Marnie Joyce

Cocktail Competition

The Oaxacan Daisy may be a classic mezcal cocktail – and a tasty one too – but when a dozen of Vancouver’s finest bartenders battle head-to-head in this year’s cocktail competition featuring Pelotón de la Muerte mezcal, you can bet they’ll be much more creative than crafting a three-ingredient cocktail. Not to mention using every last second of the six-minute limit to make their prize-worthy creation. Forget bragging rights – the grand prize is a trip to Mexico City and Oaxaca so expect the bartenders to be at their best.

Tip: Thirty lucky spectators get to sample the bartenders’ creations, but it’s strictly first-come, first-served, so show up early (competition starts at 7:45 p.m.) to snag a spot.