’Tis the season for keeping your innards warm, and this weekend there’s no better drink to accomplish that task than tequila.
The spirit takes center stage Saturday and Sunday at the Phoenix Tequila Fest at U.S. Airways Center. The 21-and-older event is followed on Saturday by the 19th annual Christmas Mariachi Festival and on Sunday by a concert with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.
Held in the Valley for the first time last year, the festival, which originated in Las Vegas, is bigger and better this year, says Juan Elias of Elias Entertainment, the Gilbert-based company that puts on the event.
“Tequila used to be stereotyped as something that would go down kind of harsh, not so good. Now, with all the aging in the distillation process, some of it for four or five years, it’s made it so smooth. It’s made it more appealing to a bigger segment of the market. And a lot of celebrities started drinking tequila and made it fashionable. Tons of people have just discovered it,” he says.
About 35 tequila makers will dispense samples of more than 100 varieties of tequila, including Clyne, who earlier this year launched Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine, a 100-percent blue agave “reposado” tequila now available at select liquor stores and restaurants in the Southwest and northern Mexico.
In addition to tequilas that are pure (“puro”), mixed (“mixto”), silver (“plata” or “blanco”) and gold (“oro”), and tequilas that are rested (“reposado”), aged (“añejo”) and extra-aged (“extra añejo”), attendees will be able to sample tequilas infused with flavors such as coffee, coconut and banana.
“These are infusions that are naturally flavored, sweetened with agave syrup and flavored with oils from the fruits, not artificial flavorings. They’re tasty and smooth, almost like a liquer,” says Elias.
But there’s more to do than take shots. In addition to live bandstand entertainment throughout the day and a margarita-mixing challenge for local bartenders, tequila distillers and agave farmers will share how the spikey plant is grown, harvested, roasted, fermented, distilled and aged in wood barrels to create tequila.
“We insist that the brands bring their master distillers, so people can actually learn, because there’s a lot of tradition and history in tequila. Some distilleries go back four or five generations, and there are families that have been growing agave and distilling tequila for hundreds of years,” says Elias.
Ten restaurants — including Macayo’s, Garcia’s, La Parrilla Suiza, Dos Gringos and America’s Taco Shop — will offer carne asada, shrimp ceviche, flautas, chimichangas, chips and salsa, and other noshing fare.
A 50-percent discount to the tequila event is available with each Christmas Mariachi Festival ticket purchased. Tickets for Sunday’s Roger Clyne concert are free with your Tequila Fest ticket; just ask for one. Tickets for all events are available at (800) 745-3000 or ticketmaster.com.
“For a long time, tequila was synonymous with college kids drinking it straight, not savoring it,” says Elias. “Now, it’s almost like an honored spirit. Going to a tequila tasting is almost like a wine tasting, where people are enjoying the aroma of the tequila and really getting into it. People are becoming very sophisticated about tequila.”