Tequila Fest 2014 Preview @ Agaveria El Nivel

There are many ambassadors of Mexico to the UK,” announces the Mexican Ambassador behind the bar, “Tequila is one of them.

Working alongside event organisers, the Tequila Festival in London is being proposed almost as a diplomatic event – with good reason. Though the wide-spread drinking of tequila and the recent emergence of Mezcalerias like 184 Hackney Road are known well enough, a connoisseurial culture of the spirit never completely blossomed in the Isles. “This is a no salt or lime zone”, stresses Festival organiser Eduardo Gomez as we grab our Mexican passports.

Literally.

Literally.

Hosted at Agaveria El Nivel, one of the Hoodooist’s favourite openings this year (Click HERE for review!), the press preview brought forward a spectacular crowd to taste a large variety of tequilas & mezcals, either neat or in a margarita. A few fantastic discoveries in the world of tequila for the Hoodooist, such as Ambar’s selection of Blanco, Reposado, Anejo and Extra Anejo; where the aging of tequila isn’t dissimilar to that of cognacs, as the vanilla and wood notes begin to grow over time. Delightfully smooth, the Extra Anejo is a fantastic sipping tequila.

It also works surprisingly well in cocktails – a Tommy’s Margarita bursts with flavour here, and saved the Hoodooist’s butt in a cocktail competition that evening. Who knew that a blander Margarita made with a blanco tequila of an unnamed company can be spruced to life with a splash of Ambar Extra Anejo? Definitely remembering that concoction.

Ocho Tequila obviously makes an appearance – but I still vote for its use in cocktails moreso than to sip.

Siete Misterios still a winning mezcal for me, as is the Del Maguey, which I discovered at the Cocktails in the City show (Click HERE for review!). And whereas I was recommended the Papadiablo, it came off a bit harsh on the throat for myself.

On the note of mezcals, you can’t go wrong with a nicely smoky Del Maguey Tommy’s Margarita.

After the food provided by El Nivel (incredible as usual) was demolished by the now slightly staggering clientele of the room, the Hoodooist retires to the bar for a cheeky little sip of a Fortaleza Tequila – who knows when he’ll get a chance with this rarely-seen-outside-Mexico tequila. On the nose the warm pine is almost identical to the interior of a Swedish sauna, strangely; with smooth length, and sandalwood aftertaste. Unlike any other tequila tasted that day. Incredible.

Opinion of the night? Fantastic execution, one of the better press nights I’ve been to in a while, so major thanks to the organisers and Cutlass Communications! If the organisers keep this up, I can’t deny that Tequila Fest is going to be an incredible weekend that I’m already looking forward to!

“The Tequila Fest will educate you in the customs of production and consumption and engulf you in the taste, smells, sounds and sights of true Mexico. There are few spirits with a more rich and fascinating lineage. Get to grips with the technical jargon, the process of distillation and the bounty of care that goes into every single bottle.” Also featuring blind tastings, cocktail tutorials and masterclasses, and what the ambassador calls, “Real tequila.”
UPDATE: London Tequila Fest 2014 has been reviewed! Click HERE.

http://www.tequilafest.co.uk/

Casita Bar’s 8th Birthday, feat. Ocho Tequila

Yes, that wonderful cocktail shed in Shoreditch has celebrated its 8th birthday this week, partnered with Ocho tequila (Ocho, geddit); if you haven’t been acquainted with Casita yet, check out its review, HERE.

And unlike most birthday parties, Casita had the idea of inviting spectacular bartenders from around the city to showcase their skills over the course of 8 hours – and what a brilliant idea that was. As if the wonderful Sophie Mackay and Oskar Klimaszewski weren’t enough, owner Will Foster shared the stage with the likes of Chris Dennis of Trailer Happiness, and Jesse Estes of El Nivel (Find review of El Nivel HERE). Only rules for the cocktails: All drinks had to be made with Ocho (not that anyone was complaining!).

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Will El Generalisimo Foster’s ‘El Fenix’ encapsulated Casita’s spirit perfectly: a long spicy-sweet tequila drink of jalapeno, basil, and raspberries topped up with pink Ting – it’s by Casita, you know it’s going to be good, just go with it.

Jesse Estes, working with his own tequila brand, Ocho – knocked it out of the park as expected. The ‘Mexican 55’ – Ocho blanco, lemon juice, agave syrup and sparkling wine – was exactly what I was waiting for all night. A clear, refreshing drink that was a perfect pick-up after the dark and heavy ‘N’Ocho Average Negroni’ (Ocho blanco, spiced Guinness, Campari), by Penkul & Banks’ Simon Toohey.

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Trailer Happiness
’ Chris Dennis presented another winning drink: the ‘Bipolar Daiquiri’. Ocho blanco, green chartreuse, lime juice and Falernum made an excellent tangy drink that wasn’t as herbal as one would suspect at first glance. Finally, Ian Macintyre of the wonderful NOLA (Find the review of NOLA HERE) presented the ‘Baloma’: Ocho blanco, grapefruit shrub, Campari and Sagres – a drink with a distinctly NOLA flair. One of us ordered the Baloma with Ting instead of Sagres and both had to admit that the Ting worked better with the drink than the Sagres, which drowned out the flavours of the other ingredients.

To end, Casita’s Sophie Mackay presented a deep Mexico-meets-Italy drink in the form of the ‘Dirty Mexican’: Ocho blanco, Martini Rosso and Fernet Branca (In a party bag!) and the 86 co.’s Dan Warner came with an Ocho Paloma.

 

For 8 nights Casita presents these discounted cocktails, and what a winning combo they are! Props to Casita for a fantastic mid-week night out! Even after, as long as they have the ingredients, the Casita bartenders will be happy to knock one of these out for you (as long as you remember the ingredients!).

Casita,
5A Ravey St,
London EC2A 4QW

Agaveria El Nivel, Covent Garden

Type of BarBar/Restaurant, Mexican
Damage££
Ideal for: Food, Tequila, Mezcal

The Hoodooist is in love. The Tomas and Jesse Estes venture upstairs at La Perla, Maiden Lane is a brilliant success. It is early days (Launch week), but it stinks of success. Absolutely reeks of it. Gifts of spirits from Megaro and NOLA, and the appearance of bartenders from various other bars speaks of its presence in the bartending world.

The La Perla/Café Pacifico branches have always been the chilled out venues to break into for a Margarita you know you’ll love, but the atmosphere up here at El Nivel takes on a more sophisticated, experimental twist. The wealth of knowledge in this tiny venue is expansive, the service impeccable. Sitting at the bar with drinking buddy Anastrophe and Cheese, was an absolute pleasure as the barmen served us tasters of various mezcal and tequila, and explained the process of their home-made cordials and accompaniments.

 

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Some of QuiQuiRiQui’s Mezcals

We began with the Mezcal Fix, my first, and favourite of the evening: Mezcaleria QuiQuiRiQui’s personal brand of 45%abv mezcal, roasted pineapple syrup, Cynar artichoke bitter liqueur and saltwater spray. Everyone knows I’ll snatch anything with Cynar in it. I was amazed by the incredibly harmonious combo of sweet with salty; how the pineapple’s roasting doesn’t give it a strongly pineapple flavour, but just its fruity sweetness that tames the mezcal – releasing only its smokiness. The Cynar does a wonderful job at just rounding out the drink for the saltwater spray to not overpower it. Unbelievable work.

The Fallen Angel was certainly an interesting drink. Gran Centenario Añejo, Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Cynar. I’m not sure how to describe this drink except as the best sweet Manhattan you’ve had that wasn’t actually a Manhattan. A bit too sweet for my taste, but I know when to appreciate a well-made drink. The Añejo is an excellent twist on the classic, and my Manhattan-loving mate almost wept in excitement.

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The Mezcal Fix (L); and Fallen Angel (R)

The Horchata is a boozy twist on a classic Mexican refreshment: rice water, condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla with Ocho Reposado, garnished with an edible flower. As much as I enjoyed it, it might need a shorter serving, as the condensed milk gets incredibly heavy – but a pleasant drink no less.

Finally, the Siesta was a *very* citrusy complexity. AquaRiva premium Reposado, fresh lime and grapefruit juices, almond syrup, Campari and Merlet apricot, churned over crushed ice. The Campari is barely noticeable, but necessary to hold back the possibility of being too sweet. The first flavour is the tequila, until there is a sudden punch of lime citrus, to eventually settle on the apricot and grapefruit. A wonderful work for those less comfortable around tequila.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, they are working on mezcal/tequila flights!

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The Horchata (L); and Siesta (R)

 

Food is varied in substance and price, so I certainly look forward to returning for a boozy lunch – because return I will. El Nivel has all the makings of an excellent bar, certainly blowing its competitors on Maiden Lane out of the water – in terms of both drink and service.  I wish them all the best, though they probably don’t need it.

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere:  ***
Service: *****

 

Agaveria El Nivel,

Upstairs @ La Perla,
28 Maiden Lane,
London WC2E 7JS

http://www.elnivel.co.uk/

Casita, Shoreditch

Type of Bar: Easy-going, Tiny, Latin?
Damage£
Ideal for: Small groups, PartyShamelessly Drunk

I kinda don’t want to tell you about Casita.

Just round the corner from The Book Club with its queue of people who just don’t know any better, Casita is a tiny cocktail space with a whole lot of character.

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It’s worth playing Sardines in here

The Latin vibe of the place which is stressed in many reviews is barely noticeable in the crowded room, especially if you need to make your way to the bar. Luckily, the density of the crowd ebbs and flows, so as soon as you get some breathing space, you get a chance to get to know the wonderful bartenders. Always cheeky, up for conversation and a casual flirt, they know what they’re doing and will do whatever it takes to make sure you’re stumbling by last call at 11PM. Don’t be surprised by on-the-house shots of the bar signature Tequila con Verdita, which you’ll find yourself doing more of than expected (between-drinks palette cleansers I claim they are).

The shot of El Jimenez tequila with a chaser of coriander, mint, pineapple juice and fresh jalepenos will keep you coming back for more as you go through their list of expertly made classics like a Tommy’s Margarita (Tequila, agave nectar and lime, as usual), or a good old King of Roses: a sweet gingerbread syrup and Four Roses bourbon. If they have their hands on honey syrup, I highly recommend the Gold Rush, honey syrup, whiskey and lemon juice; or its gin cousin, the Bee’s Knees. They exemplify Casita’s nature: Simplicity, yet well done and supremely satisfying.

You could go off menu as well; a Sazerac I ordered came out fabulously – except it may have been served with ice (faux pas), but I can’t quite remember by the time I got to that drink. I believe I did experiment by ordering a rum daiquiri with Cynar artichoke bitter liqueur and loved it – not on their menu, but they will be happy to make this cocktail with a savoury roundedness for you.

And that’s the charm of the place; it’s a place to get disgracefully drunk without the risk of drinking something horrible.

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As for food, the bar offers a selection of take away menus to bring food to the bar for you: which reflects Casita’s incredibly laid back nature. Or you could steal their blackberries to eat. As long as you’re not causing drama, they’re happy as long as you are.

The monetary damage is minimal – four drinks and four shots got a tab for 40 pounds, pretty fantastic for the quality.

For the high rating, you must understand that we can’t limit high ratings to cushy table service bars with drinks at 16 pounds a pop as some reviewers think we must. If you want a shameless night out pressed up against strangers with a bad drink, go to a London Cocktail Club branch. If you want a shameless night out pressed up against strangers with a spectacular Nuclear Daiquiri in one hand and blinding Tequila con Verdita in the other, Casita is your destination.

Update: The glorious Casita bartender, Oskar, is retiring end of May 2014! We love him dearly and will miss him terribly, and wish him best of luck in his next, mysterious cocktail venture! Watch this space!

Update: Click HERE to for article on Casita Bar’s 8th Birthday feat. Ocho Tequila! A spectacle to multiple invited startenders and their cocktails!

Drinks: ****
Atmosphere: ***
Service: ****

Casita,
5A Ravey St,
London EC2A 4QW

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