Hair of the dog

I don’t usually drink Tequila. My favorite Mexican import — aside from the fiction of Roberto Bolaño and those soaps that ward off spells — is a bottle of Topo Chico (Little Mole) mineral water. It’s ridiculous, considering not only did I grow up minutes from Mexico but many of my high school friends were alcoholics.

So, in an effort to school myself on what exactly a good shot of Tequila is supposed to be, I went into a piano bar and started taking the bartender’s advice. I tried Patrón, Herradura, and some drink called a Hemmingway. After I felt that swoon of agave calm, I could tell I was done for the night. But I had to ask about the well tequila. How bad could it be? The guy who had been sharing shots with me pulled out a yellow and gold bottle, shaking his head, saying, “You don’t want a shot of that one.”

A blonde woman who just got off her caregiver job informed me that she never does tequila shots. “No, not any more. I get into trouble with tequila.” A retired metal manufacturer sitting in on the conversation, and witness to the speed in which the golden liquid disappeared, described his tequila nightmares. He’s a steadfast rum-and-coke man these days.

If you’re a tequila drinker — and oversweet happy-hour margaritas poured out of slurpee machines don’t count — I’ve come around to thinking you’ll want a shot of Patrón or 1800: shots that go down smooth but leave you with a bar tab to reckon with. And cheap tequila, as my new friends attested, is something to be feared.

But is there any reason inexpensive agave spirits have to be so compromised? According to the guys behind El Perrito — a San Antonio-based tequila being marketed hard in the Alamo City these days — the answer is: no way, Jose.

By law, to label a liquor tequila it must be made in Mexico and it must be at least 51-percent agave, that grey-blue cactus growing in the high-altitude volcanic soils of Jalisco.

The standard Jose Cuervo, for example, is 51 percent. By comparison, El Perrito (The Little Dog) is 70-percent agave. “It’s rare to find a well tequila that isn’t 51 percent,” says owner Esteban Rodriquez,* the man who did all the legwork in Mexico in order to find the right agave farmers to supply El Perrito.

“We set out to make a better product,” says Ronnie Gabriel, distributor* of El Perrito Tequila, a man who had a brief stint in an Albert Brooks flick, owns all those Gabriel’s liquor stores you see while driving through Texas, and who will be fighting in an upcoming San Antonio boxing charity event. “You can drink it as a shot or in a mix.”

Gabriel, whose family has been in the beverage business for decades, named the tequila in honor of his son Anthony, who would accompany him on hunting trips. Someone would shoot at something and not know where the animal fell, and Anthony would run out and find the game. On the bottle there is a happy cartoon dog with blue eyes and the initials A.G., which stands for Anthony Gabriel, now a UT student who, from the picture I saw, has very blue eyes.

I asked around, and El Perrito has its fans. Angie Frost, a 22-year old psychology major, claims: “It’s one of the better of the cheaper ones.” She rated the new booze third on a list with Rio Grande rounding second and Hornitos being first. When she asked the fellow who introduced it to her what he liked about it, the enthused fan asked back: “What do I not like about El Perrito?”

Of course the quality of tequilas varies drastically from brand to brand, and grade to grade. “There are tequilas that run four hundred dollars a bottle,” said Gabriel as he toured me around his multilevel corporate headquarters, pointing out Justin Timberlake’s 901 label, which I’m guessing isn’t one of them.

El Perrito runs about ten dollars a bottle, and comes in two kinds: Silver and Gold. And for what it is, which is primarily affordable well with far more agave than you’d be getting from others in the price range, it is a laudable project that the in-the-clubs or on-the-couch drinkers should be excited to meet. The Perrito team has spent 18 months trying to find the right growers for its product and six months tasting for desired flavor. The labor has paid off, I thought to myself as I poured a shot of El Perrito into a glass of El Topo, and squeezed a lime. The Little Mole Dog has been born. •

* Esteban Rodriguez owns El Perrito Tequila through HannahSol, LLC. Ronnie Gabriel is the product’s main retailer. We blame the error on — what else? — too much tequila.