My new neighborhood is the nicest I've ever lived in, which is great if you're into yoga and dentistry and $13 jars of jam, but less convenient if your tastes run to cheap liquor and a comprehensive selection of Slim Jim sizes and flavors. A fair percentage of the frumpier cable news pundits live around here, but for all their alleged genius, none of them seem aware that processed meat science has long since figured out a way to mechanically separate both honey bbq- and nacho-flavored chicken.
But even though my immediate surroundings are a bit dandified for my liking, they are reassuringly sleaze-adjacent; a 10-minute walk to the dark side of Harvard Square puts me in safe proximity to grifters and winos and other friends. This is why it took me several weeks to fully appreciate the busted beauty of the only bar in the other direction. If you brave an afternoon walk west into the belly of the beast, past all the little dogs and defunct churches and houses with names, you are eventually rewarded by Paddy's, a 77-year-old bar full of 77-year-old men who are shockingly tolerant of newcomers, as long as said newcomers are polite enough to sit silently in the corner and drink $6 pitchers of PBR and stare at the television like decent people.
Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily has a family connection to the crowd and I am something of a prodigy when it comes to grumpy old manhood, so we blend in fairly well and are even permitted to speak before being spoken to, so long as the speech consists of "Butchie, I would like to buy a round for the house, please." The crowd gets younger and more sociable as the night goes on, but until sundown, it's best for new blood to watch and learn.
One of the lessons I picked up last week is not to ask for a margarita with rocks and salt, lest you be told, "Tell you what, son. You find a margarita, and I'll rock it and salt it for ya." Fortunately I learned this from some other fool's mistake, but unfortunately, margaritas are Emily's favorite drink. We're pretty certain that a pretty lady can coax a cup of Cuervo and sour mix out of the aforementioned Butchie, but I find a half-assed margarita to be the worst of all possible half-assed cocktails. If you can't get decent tequila shaken into a reasonable proportion of real citrus juice, you're better off sticking with the PBR and stopping at the liquor store on the way home.
We took the long way so we could wind past a place that sells Agavales, which at $12.99 per 750ml is by far the cheapest 100% agave tequila I've ever seen in a store. It's hard to suss out just how much agave content matters in a tequila. We're told that it's the most important element, and that makes sense. But when buying cheap wine—e.g., when buying wine—I always go for the humblest varietal, because I can't afford decent-quality high-status grapes: If a bottle of Pinot Noir finds itself kicked down the ladder to my price range, I figure something's wrong with it.
I assume the same could be true with tequila. Is a bottle of tequila made with 100% crappy agave better than a bottle made with 51% crappy agave and 49% scrub brush filler? Not necessarily, right? What if it was a good year for scrub brush? But it's hard to test this theory, because no one puts any care and effort into bottling non-agave tequila. I realize that a ton of a spirit's price is determined by marketing and distribution costs, but I was still skeptical that a bottle of 100% agave for $13 could be any good. If there was a way to beat the tequila pricing system, I'd always thought it would be by finding a nice bottle of non-agave.
Well, you know how a lot of you think I don't know anything about liquor? Right again! It turns out that the Agavales Gold is markedly better than any of the dozens of mass-market mixtos I've tried. It's nothing luxurious by any means—it is, after all, gold tequila, which means unaged and food-colored—but it has a distinctive nose of black pepper and pineapple, with none of that pukey second-wave smell you get from other tequilas in its price range. It's a touch hot in the mouth, maybe even two touches hot, but it's still the smoothest tequila I've ever found for under $25, never mind half of $25. I'm an Agavales man.
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