by Emily Guerrero, Editor in Chief
Sometimes it is tough being the editor of an award-winning magazine. Like when you get invited to sample new Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila-based drinks at your local Chili’s. With dinner provided courtesy of the folks at Tanteo.
Ok, fine, it’s a perk. Rebecca Barnes (our fearless publisher) and I got to meet the super-friendly staff at the Chili’s in Woodbridge and venture into new taste territory as we sampled each of Chili’s “Caliente” margaritas made with Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila: regular, strawberry, mango and raspberry.
A Taste of the Caliente
Full disclosure–I’m not a huge margarita lover (most are too acidic for my taste), and Rebecca generally shuns spicy food. That being said, we each found something to enjoy in the mix. For Rebecca, the strawberry cocktail had enough sweetness to offset the spicier tones of the tequila. It had an enjoyable fresh berry flavor that I preferred to traditional margaritas.
We also enjoyed the Mango Caliente. Tropical fruit tones provided a nice counterbalance to the heat of the jalapeño, which was definitely felt more here than with the Strawberry Caliente. For both of us, the heat was most pronounced in the traditional margarita. While it was too much for Rebecca’s sensitive palette, I found it to be more enjoyable than “standard” margaritas and liked that it cut the typical sweetness and played well with the acidity.
Neither of us could get past the chemical-experiment-blue of the raspberry margarita (think back to ICEEs). It was the least natural tasting and the tequila flavor seemed a little lost. Speaking of that flavor, Tanteo made a fan of me. Smokey, agave tones added a complexity to everything we tried, and the jalapeño infusion gave more of a slowly-building heat than a four-alarm spiciness.
Tequila Makers Back “Home” at Chili’s
To not look like lushes and because we believe in drinking responsibly, I let the server know we were doing research, asking for sample sizes of the four Caliente drinks. This resulted in a visit from General Manager David Dobbins and Manager Greg Stutts, who were eager to talk about the partnership between their restaurant and the tequila maker. Stutts said that Chili’s had launched the Tanteo-based margaritas this summer.
“Chili’s has been looking for a spicy infusion for years. Nothing really worked…[but Tanteo] worked. It’s not in-your-face hot,” said Stutts. “It’s perfectly matched to our style of cuisine.”
The Woodbridge, VA location was the first to carry the spicy beverages. All 31 Chili’s in Virginia and Maryland, which are owned by Chesapeake Seafood, are now serving the Caliente Margaritas. Dobbins said that if customers respond well to the cocktails, Chili’s restaurants across the nation would pick up the Caliente line.
Stutts also introduced me to the Tanteo Jalapeño Bloody Maria. This was my favorite drink combination of the evening. If you are a fan of Bloody Mary’s, I’d recommend trying this twist on the classic drink. The warmth of the tequila added a nice peppery kick.
I also talked to Tanteo CEO David Campbell about the partnership. Campbell, who lives in New York City, is originally from Richmond, VA. His late business partner, Jonathan Rojewski, hailed from Frederick, MD. (Rojewski passed away this Aug.) The two were excited to have their product so prominently featured in both of their home states, said Campbell.
Jalapeño, A Reason For Being
Tanteo Tequila, now available in 47 states, got off to an unlikely start. “We are a craft spirits brand that went into business to fulfill a need,” said Campbell, adding that he never planned to get into the spirits business.
While still working as a Wall Street investor, Campbell went in search of a spicy tequila to replicate a jalapeño margarita he’d tried at a craft bar. He came up empty handed. “I got hooked on a cocktail that couldn’t be made [at home],” explained Campbell.
He began infusing tequila with jalapeño and sharing his concoction with friends. “People went bananas,” said Campbell. As an investor, he recognized that there was a market for his creation.
Rojewski, who had a culinary background, began the legwork of finding a suitable distillery and an organic jalapeño source in Mexico. “The hardest part was getting distilleries to take him seriously,” said Campbell. “[Rojewski] found some great partners down there and created this process, [that] doesn’t use any chemicals in creating the jalapeño flavor.”
Tanteo leases the distillery, and owns a bottling line and maceration equipment. Campbell added that the distillery is run by fifth generation “Jimadors” (agave harvesters). Tanteo Tequila comes in three flavors: Jalapeño, Cocoa and Tropical. Each carries the warmth of jalapeño and is all-natural.
When it comes to goals for the future, Campbell wants to expand awareness, not the product line. There are currently no plans to add more flavors.
“For a lot of these big commercial brands…the flavors…are something new to advertise,” explained Campbell. “For us, Tanteo Jalapeño is our reason for being…We are trying to do one particular thing…and do it better than anyone.”
Locally, Tanteo Tequila can be found at VA ABC stores and Chili’s. For more information, visit www.t.tanteotequila.com or the company’s Facebook page, which includes cocktail recipes featuring the spiced spirit.
Emily Guerrero is Editor in Chief of Prince William Living. A longtime Lake Ridge resident, discovering new things to do, see and taste in the community–and sharing that information with our readers–is one of her favorite parts of the job.