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Originally published August 21, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Page modified August 22, 2013 at 8:40 AM

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Northwest Tequila Fest: Giving the agave spirit another shot

After getting a bad rap as a cheap party drink, only to be consumed mixed, tequila is making a comeback as an elegant, sippable drink. Find out more about it at the Northwest Tequila Fest in Phinney Ridge.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Of all the booze, none has been more maligned and misunderstood in America than tequila — the agave spirit often associated with spring-break debauchery and frozen margaritas.

Now, we have the Northwest Tequila Fest to set us straight. It’s run by agave aficionados who want to make the case that tequila should be sipped and savored like a good, steady rye, not just downed with lime and salt while frat boys pound the bartop.

Held at Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center on Saturday, the second annual Northwest Tequila Fest will feature 24 different tequilas and its smoky cousin mescals, with distillers coming from as far as Jalisco, Mexico. Tequila cocktails will be featured, none of which are margaritas — to show that tequila can be as versatile as gin or whiskey.

Made from the blue-agave plant, tequila was seen in the worst light in the 1980s and ’90s, organizers say. Many Tex-Mex restaurants and bars were serving the cheap stuff, “Mixto tequila,” made with only 51 percent blue agave, the remaining 49 percent made up of sugar and other fillers. Those tequilas were so bad, you really did need lime and salt to make drinks go down easy.

Many bars now serve 100 percent blue-agave tequila, ranging from Blanco tequila (unaged) to extra añejo (aged for at least three years in oak barrels.).

“The blue-agave plant, on average, takes seven years to grow in maturity, seven years of rain and sun. So you get a lot of chemical complexity and aromatics,” said agave expert Clayton Szczech in a phone interview from the city of Tequila, Mexico.

Szczech will be at the festival to lead tastings. The proceeds from the festival will go to children’s charities in King County through the Benevolent Guild of Seattle.

Here’s a couple of local experts with recommendations on what to try Saturday.

Quentin Ertel, owner of one of the Northwest’s first tequila bars, The Saint, and also Havana on Capitol Hill:

Sauza Hornitos Reposado: “It’s the perfect tequila for mixing. It has enough body to announce itself in a cocktail but at the same time is smooth enough for sipping.”

Don Julio 1942: “How often in life do you get to taste the sublime?”

Andrew Friedman, co-owner of Liberty, suggests:

Corzo Blanco: “ It’s been triple-distilled, but still that fresh, natural agave flavor comes through.”

Fidencio Pechuga: “This mescal, called a ‘Pechuga’, which means “breast” in Spanish, is made by distilling with local fruit, nuts and believe it or not, a chicken breast. Pechuga is meant to be drank on special occasions.”

Wahaka Joven Madre Cuishe: “This is a type of agave that grows above ground, usually by a river bed. Because of this, it will have a very distinctive, crisp mineral taste.”

Northwest Tequila Fest, at Phinney Neighborhood Center, 6532 Phinney Ave. N., 4-9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $40 in advance (or $50 at the door) and include eight tasting tokens and a tasting cup. Live entertainment and Mexican food vendors will be featured. VIP tasting of rare tequilas will be offered for $75 or $125, depending on package. More info: nwtequilafest.com

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle

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