Liberty's blind vodka tasting a few months back included fancy brands such as Grey Goose and Ketel One. The surprise winner: Gordon's, which, fortuitously, happens to be Liberty's well vodka. (In a similar New York Times experiment, lowly Smirnoff Red triumphed. With vodka, apparently, you don't in fact get what you pay for.)
The latest in Liberty's comparative-booze series: tequila, this time not blind, with half-ounce samples of six kinds of 100 percent blue-agave liquor, the corresponding bottles lined up on the table in a candlelit, glowing wall of alcohol. On wintry days when it gets dark at 4:00 p.m. and the air is like the icy hand of death, it is worth noting that the management of Liberty likes it hot: The heat's usually cranked to balmy. The tequila tasting's a minivacation, with a little education and no training wheels (as connoisseurs call salt and lime). Your $15 even gets you a snack, albeit an entirely incompatible one: a sushi roll of your choice, because sushi's what they have here.
Paper placemats bear Liberty's insignia and six circles marked A through F, one letter for each tequila. "I wish they'd picked different letters," someone says. "They look like grades. I feel threatened." But the schooling here is of the best kind, with the teacher distributing shots on a tray. Agave is not a cactus, but a succulent, like jade or aloe vera or those weird spiky plants you see growing in rockeries. Andrew, the proprietor/proctor, admits he just learned this himself, signaling that this is not to be an expert-pontification session. When a taster from Texas enthusiastically downs the first sample shooter-style, Andrew very diplomatically suggests saving a bit for comparison purposes.
Pens are produced for making notations on the placemats. The first tequila, Patrón Silver, is notable for its spherical cork stopper; it's sweetish, young, uncomplicated. The second, Gran Centenario Plata, also unaged, is roundly discounted for a harsher, peppery edge, but its art deco bottle is clearly the best. Tequila number three, Cazadores Reposado (the class of tequila aged up to a year), utilizes new techniques to shred and bathe the hearts of agave, producing a pleasantly plantlike taste; between that and the majestic antlers of the buck on the label, it wins my support. Most everyone else favors Corzo Reposado, perhaps drawn in by its designer rectangular bottle with off-center spout (which, Andrew reports, doesn't actually work well). The penultimate sample is Sauza Tres Generaciones Añejo, aged more than three years in used bourbon barrels, imparting a smoky flavor generally considered too scotchy. Lastly: Sauza Hornitos Reposado, drinkable, pronounced by Andrew to be the best value, ideal for margaritas.
We're left to our own devices to compare notes; the Texan finishes first and triumphantly stacks up her shot glasses, a small monument to a good time. The next taste-off's date is TBA. The liquor: bourbon.