Monday, April 27, 2009

Sample Jamboree and the Tribulations of Tequila


Tequila is the base spirit I reach for least often. It’s not because I dislike it, it’s just that Tequila’s flavor is something I rarely feel myself wanting. The other reason I rarely drink it is a bit more complex. For me, the smell & taste of Tequila has become inextricably linked with a specific time and place. And when I’m having Tequila outside that specific time and place, it just seems somehow…less.

What I’m referring to is a Jimmy Buffett concert.

You see, I’ve attended almost every concert Jimmy Buffett has played in my hometown since about 1993. I’ve missed a few years here and there, but for the most part, I’ve managed to faithfully attend the show with my friends & family every year. Just like clockwork, Buffett rolls into town each Summer…and going to the show is an annual pilgrimage.

It’s difficult to describe the full scope of a Jimmy Buffett concert using only words. (and if you aren’t terribly interested in my feeble attempt to do so, please feel free to skip ahead to the recipes- My feelings won’t be hurt). Ideally, you should simply go to a show and let the experience wash over you, but most people want to have some idea of what they’re committing themselves to beforehand. So here goes…

A Buffett show can perhaps be described as an unruly, glorious mishmash of a luau, Mardi Gras, backyard cookout, and Spring break…all crammed into an arena, ballpark, or wherever else they put on jumbo-sized concerts. A clumsy analogy to be sure, but I’m doing my best here. (If you ‘re a picture person rather than a word person, simply do an image search under the term “Buffett tailgate” and you’ll get the idea).

It’s essentially an all-day party that happens to have a bit of music at the end. Depending on the venue, the revelry can start anywhere from 9 am to midday, and goes full-blast until around 8 o’clock when the concert starts. Attending the concert is purely optional. Many people spend the day having a good time regardless of whether they’re able or willing to see the show. Here’s a few reasons why:

~ The weather is almost always warm and sunny. But even if it wasn’t, this would not deter the hordes of partygoers from wearing their best tropical-themed good-time regalia, which includes, but is not limited to grass skirts, Hawaiian shirts, coconut bras, bikinis, and any combination thereof. And giant, elaborate hats. Serious hats. A more accurate term would probably be “headgear.” The kind of thing Carmen Miranda would wear to the Kentucky Derby. Shame does not exist in a Buffett parking lot.

~ People bring their own bars. Not just a cooler. Not just a card table with a few paltry bottles and a stack of keg cups on it. An honest-to-gawd BAR. Almost always homemade and tiki-themed, these marvels of engineering somehow fit into a normal-sized van or pickup truck and miraculously unfold to grace the parking lot with a welcome oasis of shade, rest and refreshment (many of them include roofs and stools). Did I mention that they often feature nicer décor and offer up better drinks than you can get at the kinds of bars that are made of bricks and can’t be packed into your trunk? Innovation and a can-do attitude are alive and well in America.

~ Serious eating. Like most tailgate events, food is not in short supply. In addition to the grilling of almost every conceivable type of land and sea creature, people are always finding new ways to cook stuff out of the backs of their cars. I’ve seen full-scale shrimp boils and people steaming mussels with real seaweed. If it was ever traditionally caught & cooked within a few miles of a coast, someone has figured out a way to replicate it in a Buffett show parking lot. You can also probably find almost any Summertime side dish provided you look hard enough. If you go hungry, it’s your own fault.

~ People bring their own beach. Much like the folks who bring their own bars, the beach people don’t mess around. If you’re craving the feel of sand between your toes, walk no more than 50 yards in any direction and your problem is solved. Untold hundreds of pounds of sand get hauled into the parking lot each year, destined to be spread as widely as possible, creating beachfront real estate between every row of cars. Kiddie pools are filled, tiki torches are staked & lit, and chaise lounges appear. Lifeguard towers too. I still don’t know how they manage those, but they’re there. Safety first, I guess.

~ Nudity. It happens with surprising frequency.

~ Booze. It’s all fueled by booze. Truly staggering amounts of booze. If you’ve got an empty hand, your fellow tailgaters will give you a drink. If you’ve got two empty hands, they’ll give you two drinks. There’s beer in colossal quantities. Hearty portions of rum. Inexhaustible, roving trays of jello shots. And Tequila. Whether straight from the bottle, in shot form with the ever-present lime and salt, or mixed with orange liqueur and lime juice and poured from a bicycle-powered blender, there is an epic amount of Tequila coursing through the parking lot at Buffett shows. All this Tequila worship stems primarily from a little ditty that Buffett recorded back in the 70’s called “Margaritaville.“ (I needn’t explain further… you’ve heard the song.).

So the association persists: Tequila equals tailgate. Conveniently enough, I prefer my Tequila in a Margarita, and it’s the sacred duty of the Bamboo Babe to provide them each year. She skillfully batches them in a large beverage cooler the morning of the show, and helping out has become one of my favorite traditions (If you’ve never had your entire house filled with the pungent aroma of Tequila at 9 a.m., you’re missing out. It’s an olfactory sensation that signals a good day will only get better).

However, if you prefer not to make your Margaritas by the gallon, here’s a recipe you can use to enjoy them one at a time. It’s the same one we scale up on concert day:

Laura’s Famous Margarita*

1.5 oz. Blanco Tequila
1 oz. lime juice
.5 oz. Cointreau

Shake with ice and strain into Margarita glass filed with cracked or crushed ice. We don’t salt the rim, but if you want to, then doowutchyalike.**

Our go-to Tequila brand for this drink is Sauza, but the kind folks at Tequila Ocho recently sent me a sample and I found it to be outstanding. They both work extremely well here…it just depends on how much zing you prefer (The Ocho is a bit more genteel than the Sauza, which has a snappy bite I enjoy ).

But not wanting to limit myself to Margaritas in perpetuity, I found this recipe in the most recent edition of the Mr. Boston’s book, and after trying it, I can say it’s darn good.

The Interesting Cocktail

2 oz. Blanco Tequila
.5 oz. Aperol
.5 oz. Crème de cacao (dark)
.75 oz. Lemon juice

Shake w/ ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

(The Bamboo Babe suggested a better garnish for this one would be a thin wedge from a Terry's chocolate orange, and I think she’s exactly right.)

The Interesting Cocktail suffers from the “it doesn’t look good on paper” syndrome, but it’s worth a try- It has a great 3-way balance of Tequila, chocolate and citrus, and tapers off with a peppery finish. This would be a great gateway drink for the Tequila-shy.

By the way, the concert is June 23rd. If you’re going, let me know…we’ll have a drink waiting for you.

* Although my wife obviously did not invent this drink, it has become known by this name among our friends & family. Such things happen.

** In my opinion, one of the better tracks from Digital Underground’s acclaimed 1990 release, Sex Packets.

Thursday, April 2, 2009