As a young boy growing up in the small town of San Cayetano, in the province of Jalisco, Mexico, Agave Restaurant owner Julian Ramos was at the very heart of a proud and famous Tequila tradition.
Jalisco produces more than 80 percent of the world’s Tequila, a potent liquor that has become synonymous with the people and culture of Mexico. Indeed, the town of Tequila is in Jalisco, about 40 miles west of the capital, Guadalajara.
Jalisco is the home of Tequila because it is the home of the blue agave, a succulent plant with fleshy leaves which looks like a large pineapple and produces the sweet nectar which is fermented to become Tequila.
There are very few other places in the world that are able, or permitted, to grow blue agave. Its production has become the defining economy and trait of Jalisco, and part of the day-to-day life of the people who live there.
Ramos remembers from the age of 8 or 9 helping workers load the large plants onto mules, to be taken for processing. All around him on the high plateau they grew in the sandy, mineral rich soil.
“The agave was everywhere, and a big part of the town,” Ramos recalls. “In fact, the town’s football team was named after the Herradura Tequila. That was because the hills surrounding the town were covered with agave plants. One day, when the workers were harvesting the agave, ‘which Tequila is the agave going to be used for?’ They said ‘Herradura,’ and so that is what we called the team.”
It is this close familiarity with the history of Tequila and the traditional techniques of its making that Ramos brings to his new restaurant in the Issaquah Highlands.
While Mexican restaurants can often be a dime a dozen, offering the same standards of burritos, tacos and corn chips, what distinguishes Agave is its Tequila, and a menu which allows diners to appreciate the subtle differences in the flavors of the 95 Tequilas Ramos stocks.
Those expecting the salt and lime shots of the typical American Tequila experience will be in for a pleasant surprise.
“Good Tequila is made for sipping,” Ramos said. “You buy a $4 shot, then you need the salt and the lime, and you need to pray to God too. But the way to drink good Tequila is to sip it.”
But don’t worry, Ramos isn’t one of those liquor snobs – behind the bar at Agave you will find something for everyone.
“What is good Tequila, what is bad Tequila – it’s personal,” he said. “For me, I take an aged Tequila, and I am looking for the smell, and the after-taste. But that is only for me.”
What you will get from Ramos is an education in the fascinating history and processes behind Tequila — how many of the best brands prefer fermenting barrels of American White Oak, while others seek old whiskey and cognac barrels, each of which give the Tequila a distinct aroma and taste.
Ramos said the quality of a Tequila depends on the care that is taken in the growing and harvesting of the agave plants, the process of extracting the agave, and the time given to aging.
“The younger Tequilas, the ones that have been left for only a few months, you can see by its color – it’s clear,” he said. “This is called Silver, or Blanco. But the longer you let it rest, it acquires a deeper gold color. Due to the long period of aging, a more balanced more mellow character is conceived, with vanilla, and more complex, spicy notes on the palette.”
It is a Tequila education that has probably passed many of us by – but it’s now a part of Issaquah’s newest neighborhood.
For a perfect introduction to the wide-world of Tequila’s, Agave hosts Tequila Tuesday, where any Tequila is half price, visit during the daily happy hour.
Or try the Tequila Flights, a selection of different Tequila’s hand-chosen by Agave’s expert staff.
If Tequila is not your fancy, but you love good Mexican food, Agave boosts a great family restaurant atmosphere too.
For more information drop in to Agave at 1048 NE Park Drive, Issaquah, phone 425-369-8900, or visit www.agaverest.com.