Tequila summer school tutorial: quick tips and tricks from Demi Stevens

School’s in session: Ortega 120 Owner Demi Stevens brings her popular Tequila 101 class in Los Angeles’ South Bay to home (bar) schools everywhere!
by Elyse Glickman

Veteran restaurateur and mixologist Demi Stevens is not just the owner of one of Los Angeles’ most talked-about Mexican restaurants. She is also sharing the love—for tequila, to be exact—through her now fabled Tequila 101 classes staged at both her restaurant (Ortega 120) as well as a local community college. In late June, she staged a refresher course for journalists at her restaurant, offering some basic fine points and showcasing Pura Vida tequila. She covered the art of framing a tequila “flight” along with food pairings as well as some of her signature cocktail recipes and some useful tips.

   Keep it real: when creating margarita pitchers (or “batched” cocktails for larger parties), it pays to do everything first class—and it does not cost a lot to bring it up to standard. Use agave syrup instead of sugar for your simple syrup, use fresh fruits, and use a quality 100 per cent Weber agave-based tequila instead of a “Mixto”.
   Though Ortega 120 stocks one of Los Angeles’ most prolific selections of tequila so enthusiasts can compare and discuss, Demi loves Pura Vida because of its quality, value for the money and versatility as a line of tequilas that can be enjoyed on their own or mixed into different cocktails.
   More fun facts:

• to be classified as a tequila, a spirit must contain at least 51 per cent agave alcohol. Anything less would be classified as mezcal. Anything more would be considered better. Anything 100 per cent pure would be called Pura Vida;
• Pura Vida tequila is distilled exclusively from hand-selected and hand-harvested, estate grown, 100 per cent blue Weber agave, which requires seven to ten years to reach full maturity;
• for the añejo tequila, Pura Vida’s master distiller only ages the spirit in high-quality, American oak Kentucky bourbon barrels for a richer flavour and taste. For the ultimate in smoothness, taste and finish, the extra añejo is aged in second-generation cognac barrels for a minimum of two years;
• Pura Vida Silver and Gold tequilas are triple distilled, hence the usage of the term 100 per cent pure. Triple distillation removes most, if not all, solid particles and impurities in the tequila said to cause hangovers.

   With straight food pairings, reposado or anejo tequilas are compatible with beef-based dishes while platos and lighter reposados work well with chicken. Platos (or ‘blancos’) are also a nice counterbalance for spicy foods. Demi says if you think of tequilas in the same frame of reference you would with wine pairings, you should do well.
   The cognac and bourbon-like qualities of good anejo tequilas make them ideal to sip alongside desserts such as churros and dark chocolate.

Espicy mango margarita
2 oz Pura Vida reposado
3 teaspoons mango purée (go fresh if possible, or be sure your prepared purée is 100 per cent real fruit)
4 oz quality margarita mix (such as Ortega 120’s in-demand preparation
1 oz pico de gallo

Place all ingredients in a shaker, and shake extremely vigorously. Pour all ingredients into a sugar and pico de gallo spiced rimmed glass. Add a squeeze of lime to balance the flavors.

The Abuelo (or, the tequila-based version of “the Old Fashioned”, as Puro Vida Anejo is aged in American bourbon barrels)
2 oz Pura Vida añejo
1 oz agave nectar
A dash of bitters
Garnish with orange wheel and maraschino cherry

Muddle all ingredients in a Boston shaker, shake intently and strain into a sugar-rimmed glass. •

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