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Drinking (Just Above) the Bottom Shelf: El Jimador Tequila

"I've only been drinking real tequila in a civilized context for a couple of years now."

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I noticed my first gray hair the summer I turned 26, and a bad score or more had shown up before I had time to choose between cutting my head off or becoming a distinguished gentleman. I'm glad I didn't resort to decapitation or refinement, because no more gray has shown up in the thousands of years since the first filthy smattering, but I was plenty pissed at the time. I took it as further evidence that I would always be an early bloomer when it comes to the bad stuff and a late-bloomer when it comes to the good, which is a roundabout way of telling you strange angels that I ate my first jailhouse breakfast at age 17, a full year before I ate my first piece of fish. What can I tell you, the Gordons were a meat and potato and crime family.

Which brings us to tequila.

Remember we talked about cheap tequila last week?

Things in the comments got weird, as all tequila experiences must, culminating with me and Kenji's sister eloping to California for the lower prices and greater selection after several commenter-tormenters pointed out that on the East Coast we pay far too much for tequila.

This goes a long way toward explaining why I came so late to tequila appreciation. I've only been drinking real tequila in a civilized context for a couple of years now; prior to that I'd stuck mostly to whatever came out of the margarita slushie machine at the various East Coast burriterias that Californians never tire of reminding us aren't authentic Mexican restaurants.

Yes dears, we know that the fine people of Oaxaca and Bakersfield don't really eat bowls of melted cheese at the beginning of every meal. Suit yourselves and pass the sombrero full of jalapeƱo sour cream.

So the reason I was tardy to the tequila party is mostly due to geography, with a smaller dose of blame reserved for my poor drinking influences. I don't hang out with any people who regularly drink tequila (for the purposes of this discussion, let's define "regularly" as "constantly"), except for my research assistant and my buddy Charlie.

Charlie was blessed with the sort of complicated life that requires a simple palate, so he's content to fight through whatever tequila got caught in the bottom of the well at the People's Republik in Cambridge. My research assistant, however, enjoys the finer things in life, such as my company and Hornitos, both of which she had in great supply over the summer when we were lucky enough to fall in with a bad crowd of tequila-drinking Bleecker Street bartenders.

But now we are sequestered in Western Massachusetts while she finishes up whatever diploma chase she's gotten mixed up in—something with children, it seems; I hope it's sweatshop management but fear it's coaching or teaching or some similarly low-wage waste of time that has nothing to do with buying me fancy tequila—which means our options and budget are limited.

We can't afford any of the deluxe Van Halen-level stuff she deserves, and we can't find any of the $15 bottles of 100% agave tequila with which California streets are allegedly paved. The least-expensive real tequila at our liquor store is El Jimador 100% Agave Reposado, which goes for $25 per liter.

I got burned by the El Jim last year when my beloved Warehouse Wines and Spirits beat me out of $40 for a pair of plastic-bagged one-liter bottles of something called El Jimador Reposado, an exciting find that turned out to bear the telltale sour-meat stink of tequila produced from anything other than blue agave. (I didn't notice at the time that that version didn't say 100% Agave on the label.) It turns out that the best-selling tequila in Mexico panicked in the face of a few rocky years on the buyer's end of the agave market, and rather than ride it out or raise prices, they adulterated the juice for a while, and what I got was the tail end of their walk on the crappy side.

I'm happy to report that El Jimador is back in honest business. It's more assertive than is generally advisable for bargain booze—and indeed the unaged Blanco version stings my gentle tongue—but with the Reposado, the tough-guy act works. It's a worthy tequila for our humble, thirsty home.

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