For plenty of folks – usually those of the frozen margarita-mixing, salt lime shot-swilling variety – it’s hard to actually like tequila, but by the time you’re done listening to Maestro Tequilero Jose Valdez talk, you kind of just wish you did. About a month ago, we took a few hours out of a busy Wednesday afternoon to drink with the master, this time in the always pleasantly bougie neighborhood of Newport Beach. Calif. at the Sol Cucina restaurant, for a tasting event hosted by Partida Tequila. And we figured, yeah summer’s almost over, but that doesn’t mean our love for good tequila has to be.
Valdez, who has been with the company almost since it started back in 2001, spent a few minutes chatting with us Foodbeast small fries before being nudged by his higher-ups to be more exacting with his time – though it felt as if he could have entertained with us forever. Bright eyed and energetic, he talked us through Partida’s history and methods, bearing all our asked and unasked stupid questions with a patience befitting only of someone who gets to work with liquor for a living. Why does Partida age its agave at a minimum 7 to 10 years? Because that’s how long it takes for the sugar and flavors to mature. Why does Partida use steel ovens instead of the traditional stone ones? Because stone ones are messy and the steel helps everything cook more evenly.
The rest of the night we spent pairing Partida’s tequilas – which also happen to be the first ever to receive five stars in all three of its original varieties, the Blanco, Reposado and Añejo, from The Spirit Journal – with the Sol chef’s carefully crafted dishes, everything from baby beet and watermelon salad to grilled quail to margarita bundt cake. I admit I haven’t drunk many tequilas, but these were the only ones that didn’t make me hate myself afterward, which can’t be a bad thing.
We finished with glazed eyes and warm bellies, our glances flitting over to lazily observe the busy line cooks in the open kitchen and watch as Valdez shared his knowledge and passion with everyone in the room. His small talk algorithm was as simple and smooth: the history of agave, a swig of water, a story about Mexican Palomas and just a little bit of spunk.