This was not your typical back to school night.
Verdad Restaurant and Tequila Bar has been hosting Tequila University, a monthly series of tequila education talks and food pairings. Taught by Verdad General Manager David Becker and Campari Channel Manager Rebecca Muscella, this class actually consisted of four fabulous tapas courses created by Chef Nick Farini and paired with four different tequilas distributed by Campari.
As David explained in his opening comments, tequila is not just a party drink from back in the college days. The cheap tequilas used fillers and sugar, which give those salt and lime shot drinkers that nasty morning after headache. The fine tequilas were would be sipping are created using 100% blue agave, and two were aged in oak barrels to smooth them out.
As we waited for the class to begin, we were treated to chips served with Verdad’s excellent guacamole and a strawberry salsa that was simply divine. Together, David and Rebecca detailed the three basic tiers of these fine 100% blue agave tequilas. Blanco is the basic, and least expensive — not aged and generally clear in color. Reposado has a slight straw color which comes from being aged for a short time — generally a few months. Anejo is the smoothest of the tequilas, aged for a longer period in barrels and therefore the most expensive. For our tasting, we would be sampling two blancos and two reposados.
Our first course in the pairing was an Espolon Blanco paired with Verdad’s Hamachi Ceviche. This was a strong tequila — in both scent and taste. My date claimed just sniffing the glass made her eyes water. The Hamachi Ceviche was amazing. The tuna was cured in a tantalizing tangy citrus, with pineapple and the slight scent of coconut. A few crispy sweet potato frites added crunch and micro-greens added a dash of green to the colorful plate. David explained how blanco tends to go well with fish courses — comparing blanco to white wines.
For the second course, we were served Cabo Wabo Blanco and informed that the rock star Sammy Hagar popularized this brand. Sammy owns a cantina in Cabo San Lucas, and he partnered with a tequila making family to develop and serve Cabo Wabo in his establishment back in 1996. This blanco was not as harsh as the first round, it was more subtle, mild in comparison, even though it was served with the most visually bold dish — a giant prawn sat that stared back at each of us. A few students were taken back — one woman asked to have it taken away! My attitude was simple — eat the prawn before it eats me. The brave amongst us dove in with our hands, cracking the prawn like a lobster and digging out the succulent meat.
In our third tequila sampling, we moved up to the Espolon Reposado. Reposado means “rested,” and this tequila has a golden color from being aged in oak. It was apparent from the first sip that the aging process smooths out the taste and it made for an interesting sipping glass — much like a Scotch. This reposado was paired with the best tapas dish of the night. Chicken Empanada was a beautifully hand folded creation which came with smoked poblano, sour cream and queso fresco. It was a delightful display and delicious tapas.
As we dined, David explained how tequilas have evolved and distillers are experimenting with many different tastes and techniques. He told us there are continually infused tequilas coming out — a habanero-infused tequila can burn the mouth if you are not careful.
Our dessert was a Wild Berry crepe with vanilla and clove. This was paired with a Cabo Wabo Reposado, which had been aged in oak barrels for 4-6 months. This tequila had more flavor than the Espolon — a heavier nose and a bit of pepper. David and Rebecca made their way around the table, pouring a little more tequila in our glasses and answering questions. Before we left, we were each given Tequila University diplomas! We had an enjoyable night and learned a good bit about the famous Mexican liquor.
The next Tequila University session will be on October 18th at 7 p.m. and will feature Dulce Vida Tequilas. Cost is $35 and class size is limited so reserve your spot by calling Verdad at 610-520-9100. Verdad is located at 818 West Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, next door to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.