We've all had a margarita (or two or three) and probably can vaguely recall some misspent night slamming Jose Cuervo shots. But there's so much more to tequila than salt-rimmed drinks and shooters. At least that's according to Jimmy Poole and Robert Berry. The co-owners of forthcoming Mexican restaurant Pancito + Lefty are wildly passionate about tequila and its kissing cousin mezcal. So much so, they've partnered with Bottles' owner Mike van Beyrer to share their enthusiasm with Charlestonians. And they're kicking it off in a big way — with a 300 bottle purchase of one of the finest tequilas on the planet.
"We went to Mexico with Jimmy and Robert and six of their crew and the goal was to buy a single barrel reposado from Casa Noble," says van Beyrer. "It's a top shelf distillery in the city of Tequila. What makes it different is it's a single source barrel tequila. Everything else is a blended tequila meaning what you usually drink comes from several barrels, sometimes 20-30." The difference, van Beyrer adds, is in the taste. "A single barrel tequila has nuances you don't get from a commercial tequila."
So how can you get a taste? That's all part of the partnership Bottles and Pancito + Lefty have planned once the restaurant opens.
"We're going to have distillers come up from Mexico to educate people, and we're also going to have a 101 primer explaining the types of tequila and mezcal for guests," says Berry. "For example, when we went down and met the guys at Casa Noble we went through this five step tasting process. I've never done it that way. So I feel like we want to bring that back here. It's important to share that."
To that end Pancito + Lefty will host event tastings and special releases for anyone who wants to join in the fun. But note, it's not a club so much as a community they're hoping to foster.
"Our idea is to introduce Mexican spirits to any audience interested in learning about the complexity and flavors," Berry adds.
So where does Bottles come in? Well, if you're familiar with South Carolina's three-tier liquor distribution system, you know that restaurants can only buy spirits from a wholesaler, which means if Berry and Poole want to get their hands on more rare tequila and mezcal finds, they need to work with Bottles.
"It's just a matter of getting the logistics down with the importer," explains van Beyrer. Thanks to Bottles' connections in Mexico, van Beyrer is able to track down even the most hard to find mezcals, like the ones Berry discovered while in Oaxaca.
"We had one that had mole," he says with a grin. "It's incredible, it tastes like chicken mole." Called pechuga, this kind of mezcal is made from a process that involves dangling a skinless poultry breast in the still and allowing it to steam into the liquor. Or in this instance, a mole-coated chicken breast. That's just one of the mezcals that could be available to Pancito + Lefty patrons, and that's what gets Berry excited.
"You've got this clear liquid that can catch you a buzz and that's great. But there is a little bit more to it than that," says Berry. "These are sipping tequilas and mezcals. It's not so much of a shot thing. Charleston's a shot town and that's cool, but Charleston's been educated and every time you show them something new, they want something more. That brings the level up."
Van Beyrer has seen this first hand at Bottles. Thanks to a more educated community of spirit enthusiasts, he says more and more Bottles shoppers are interested in Mexican spirits, particularly mezcal.
"Interest is growing," he says. "From retail it's growing. People come in and ask about it all the time. It's so unusual looking and its not inexpensive. We have $30 bottles and then they go up to over $100. We have 20-25 right now. Restaurants are at the forefront for that and promoting the hell out of it. Better bartenders are starting to mix cocktails with them. Lower level mezcals give drinks that smoky note. That's all stirring the pot."
And van Beyrer, Poole, and Berry hope to keep that pot bubbling. For those craving a liquor from south of the border, they plan to be the experts. But you don't have to wait for Pancito + Lefty to open to get your first taste.
"We have the Casa Noble Reposado for $56.99. It's only $10 more than the regular reposado," says van Beyrer. "And it's worth the extra S10."
Better act quickly, those 300 bottles will likely go fast.