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TQLA (pronounced “tequila”) recently opened up in Houston paying homage to one of the fastest growing spirits in the world. The food isn’t your typical Mexican menu either, Chef Tommy Birdwell puts a Baja and Tex-Mex twist on many of his dishes. When you walk in you instantly get excited. Their red tiled bar grabs your eye and you can’t wait to sit down and flip through their extensive tequila menu. I really appreciated that they have descriptions below each tequila to clam down the overwhelming list of 180 tequilas.

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We where here for a tasting party. So let me introduce you to Scott Lindsey. He’s a certified Tequilier and also the general manager.

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I’m sure he was in shock with our group! There’s me taking pictures and writing notes the whole time and the other couple we where with questioning him about the details in the tequila making process because they are home brewers and scientist on top of that. Scott was fantastic and very patient with us answering all of our questions.

We where greeted with a margarita made of fresh lime juice, agave nectar, triple sec and Jose Chervo Plantino tequila. I really enjoyed this one, it wasn’t overwhelming with the tequila nor was it all just lime juice. A perfect balance in my opinion.

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We also had the chips served with a roasted red salsa and pineapple salsa. I thought at first the pineapple salsa was a little too sweet, but after a couple of bites and hitting a few spice pockets I really liked it.

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Scott let us snack and enjoy our margarita a little before heading back to our table to start the tasting portion of the evening.

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Just like wine there’s several steps in tasting a tequila. First hold the glass up to the light to observe the color of the tequila, hold it to your nose and breathe in (smell is 60% of your first impression) then swirl the glass to observe the “legs”, taste by swirling in our mouth, and last taste again.

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Here’s a few fun facts you might not know about tequila: There’s 150 different varieties of agave plants, but to be called a true tequila it needs to be made of 51% blue agave the remaining 49% is made up of sugar and other flavorings. Mexican law requires that in order for a spirit to bear the name tequila, it must be twice distilled. Only 5 states in Mexico produce tequila and 90% is produced in in the state of Jalisco. Tequila currently ranks 3rd as the most grossing spirit sold in the US, making it the fasted growing spirit with a 15% growth this year, 8% world wide. There are currently 2,000 brands in the US and 4,000 in the world. With a growing interest of tequila many celebrities are getting a piece of the action and investing in these companies. Paul Mitchell is the current owner of Patron.

The 3 tequilas Scott chose for us to try today where Jose Cuervo Tradicional, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia, Jose Cuervo Platino.

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Jose Cuervo Platino (average cost of bottle is around $25) This silver tequila is mostly used in margaritas and cocktails. It’s aged 1-60 days which results in a clear color giving the taste a stronger cooked and raw agave flavor.

Jose Cuervo Tradicional (average cost of bottle is around $50) This tequila is aged in French Oak and Cherry Oak barrels for 6 months minimum, resulting in a gold and amber color. I thought this was a lot smoother to drink on the rocks, and is best served chilled.

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia (average cost of bottle is around $130) Most anejo tequilas are aged 1-3 years, giving them a darker color. You’ll taste more toasted almonds, vanilla and cinnamon in this one which seemed to have a sweeter taste. This anejo was aged 3 years. I thought it was supper yummy and could have had a full glass of this after dinner.

Once we tasted each one and talked with Scott a while longer we each toasted our evening with another tequila which is on tap chilled with their hyper-cooled to 5 degrees F technology.

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We got to meet Chef Tommy Birdwell before sitting back down and looking over the food menu for dinner.

Of course with our new found knowledge of tequila we ordered a round of margaritas. I chose a blood orange margarita $9. It had a little tartness and sweetness to it that I thought made a good balance.

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D chose a Smoky Rita for $10.50. I really really don’t like these he was so excited since it reminded him of the one he had in Taos. (Click HERE for details). This one came with a worm though. He loved it and didn’t have to share with me so I was fine with that!

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The other couple we where with chose a Watermelon Margarita $8.25. It was really tasty and refreshing.

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As for food, two of us chose the Pumpkin Seed Crusted Salmon (Sautéed Salmon with Pumpkin Seeds, Fried Green Tomatoes, Sweet Peppers, Tequila Lime Butter and Green Chile Mashed Potatoes) $16.95. OMG this was to die for! I loved the green Chile mashed potatoes and the fish was cooked perfectly. The tequila lime butter was a nice surprise to add another layer of flavor to the dish. I highly recommend this dish.

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Seared Ahi Tuna (Cast Iron Seared Ahi Tuna, Guava Chile Glaze, Tortilla Salad and Black Eye Pea Salsa) $18.95. This dish was equally as good and cooked perfectly. I was surprised how well the black eye pea salsa was, it did have a sweetness to it which I didn’t expect.

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Los Cabos Beef Enchiladas (Grilled Skirt Streak with Queso, Cucumber Salad and Taqueria Sauce, served with Cilantro Rice and Black Beans) $14.95. The enchiladas where ok, the star of the dish seemed to be the rice and beans. I‘m not a huge cilantro fan, but it wasn’t an overwhelming flavor it was a nice balance. I also liked that the rice was nice and fluffy, nothing bothers me more then rice that’s hard and super dry from sitting out forever.

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My overall opinion is I would good back. They offer tasting classes and you can check their website for more details or follow them on Twitter like I do. The menu prices seem a tad high, but you get what you pay for here and you’ll go home full and satisfied. I feel like this place will be around for years to come. More people need to experience tequila for the greatness it is rather then the cheap stuff people are forced to take shots of at parties. I can’t wait to go back and try new tequilas! We walked in not a huge fan of tequila, but walked out with more knowledge of what to look for and what we like. Just like a wine tasting you’ll come out learning something new and have a new appreciation for this spirit.

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