The jimador, Quirino, had already crashed through the thick brush with his heavy boots and made short work of an agave the size of a Volkswagen Beetle with his razor-sharp coa, separating the plant’s long spiny leaves from the round piña beneath. He then handed the forged-steel implement to Cosmopolitan food and beverage director Ralph Cautela, followed by the property’s executive chef Jeff Walter and beverage director Scott Barthelmes.
The Cosmo trio waited a long time for this honor, and traveled from Las Vegas to Guadalajara, in Jalisco, Mexico, then farther still to Tequila, a small town of less than 30,000 residents, with the intention of picking up a very particular souvenir: a single barrel of Casa Noble tequila to be bottled and served in the Cosmo’s new high-stakes gaming room, the Talon Club, opening Nov. 11.
In the end, they selected two.
“We’re creating a menu of hand-selected spirits,” explained Barthelmes before everyone returned to the barrel house for the final decision. Earlier, we tasted six single-barrel reposados and six single-barrel five-year-old añejos, searching for the one that would grace the menu at the Talon Club and later Vesper, Chandelier and the High Limit room. Joining the team was seventh-generation tequila distiller, Casa Noble CEO Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo, and Casa Noble’s Mexico sales and marketing director David Yan.
“Same tequila, same type of barrel, yet it’s completely different,” observed Hermosillo of the final contenders. But “the character is ultimately given by the barrel,” Yan concluded. It was very important to Barthelmes, Cautela and Walter that they get to experience firsthand the origins of their tequila and to be guided in the selection process by experts such as Hermosillo and Yan.
“It’s about the story of trying and tasting it as much as it’s about the tequila in the glass,” said Cautela, official Riedel tequila tasting glass in-hand. This is what “hand-selected” means to the Cosmo.
“This is a passion of a lifetime, generations of spirit and soul, blood and sweat,” says Barthelmes, back in Vegas. “To actually see their reactions and how they were responding to each individual tequila, to see where it took them, and ultimately to see their reaction to the ones we chose, it was an affirmation we were there for the right reasons.” The notion of right and wrong actually factored greatly into this journey, even beyond just the Cosmo’s catchy, alluring mantra, “Just the right amount of wrong.”
“It’s about making the right cocktail because it’s the right thing to do. Regardless of whether it’s a classic cocktail from Vesper, a molecular cocktail from Chandelier or a single spirit [for the Talon Club], it’s because it’s the right thing to do.” When the Cosmo team hasn’t been able to go to the spirits, the spirits have come to them as was the case a few weeks prior when they selected three vintage scotches. Also in the cards: cognac, bourbon and wine. The menu will be always a work in progress, and one without a timeline. But the Casa Noble tequilas are the jewels in the Cosmo’s crown.
Casa Noble’s blue agaves come from heavily protected fields a three-hour drive from La Cofradía distillery. They arrive by the truckload, and steam-cook for more than 40 hours in the hornos (ovens). The fermented juice is triple distilled, then barrel-aged or not, according to its destiny as a crystal, a reposado or an añejo.
The Cosmopolitan’s reposado selection was aged 364 days, held to the last legal moment before becoming an añejo. Barrel 326 is assertive, balanced and downright buttery. Says Barthelmes, “It reminded me of being a child and my mother making a white cake and letting me lick the wooden spoon. It had that creamy, butter-vanilla flavor that took me right back.”
Aging far longer in the barrel house along with all the aging Casa Noble that exists in this world, five-year añejo barrel 211 is utterly unique, with aromatic notes of damiana and a fresh floral quality that transported Cautela to a motorcycle ride he once took through Arizona’s high desert.
The tequilas will be offered neat with, perhaps, a little water or ice. Even now, as the 720 ceramic, hand-numbered bottles begin to arrive, Barthelmes is experimenting with complementary ice shapes and sizes. This is a departure for the very cocktail-focused Cosmo. But just as the Talon Club was created for a special sort of customer, so too was the hand-selected spirit menu.
So the invitation has been extended: Try them side-by-side, experience the fruits of so much labor, and engage your own senses and memories. There is neither a right nor wrong answer.