For years, the rich and smooth tequila with the finest agave was just tasted among family and friends. After high demand and at the request of Don Julio’s sons, it was then decided in 1985 that on his 60th Birthday, this special brand of tequila would bear his name. In 1987, the beverage world had changed, where what was once a farmers drink, was now the first luxury brand tequila. After 40 years of perfecting his craft, the world’s first luxury tequila had been born. That brand and the man behind it, will forever be known as Don Julio.
For one night only, we journeyed to Mexico for a night of passion and wonder with Don Julio Tequila at River North’s Ampersand. On this night, we were to get a closer look at the passions and hard work that goes into the famed luxury tequila brand. The Don Julio Farm to Shaker Dinner, was a collaborative effort between Dogma Group‘s Alex Renshaw, Clint Rogers, Brian Sturgulewski, and Chef Edward Sura of Perennial Virant. Throughout the evening, guests would be guided on a tequila infused journey. Everything thing from the cocktails to the cuisine was to feature that Don Julio touch.
When we first think of tequila, many instantly crinkle their face as they reflect on regretful nights and those times we wish we hadn’t taken that last shot. However, with Don Julio’s Farm to Shaker dinner, our misconceptions would change as we got properly acquainted with the smooth and crisp finish of Don Julio Tequila.
As we enter the venue, we are lead to a backroom where long elegantly decorated wooden tables await us. Petite candles burn brightly setting an enchanting tone. Baskets of an assortment of vegetables add a dash of color to the alluring scene. This setting is complete with sparkling champagne glasses that feature just a splash of Don Julio’s finest tequila.
From the elegance of the venue and the subdued setting, we were able to come to the conclusion that this wouldn’t be your average tequila-filled night. This was evident by the walls that told a story of a palatial haute cuisine experience. Literal chalk writings describe out each course and cocktail that was to be had. Diners even found inspiration on the walls complete with the famous saying of Don Julio “When you have passion, you have everything”
To begin the evening, we were first greeted with the autumn-hued glasses of the Dogma Group’s Bloody Maria. The rich flavorful intoxicating drink perfectly complimented passed bites of tuna tartare and deviled eggs.
As we mix and mingle with one another, we are further submerged in the Farm to Shaker experience. It became clear that we weren’t going to just sit down eat and then continue about our day. Don Julio is about igniting passion while embarking on new discoveries. We were soon going to become part of that vision while participating in a series of interactive activities.
For our first experience, we were lead through a mixology demonstration by the master mixologists at Dogma Group. They guide us in the preparation of that tantalizing Bloody Maria that we were first greeted with. Freshly cut vegetables are poured into the blender while being topped off with smooth splashes of Don Julio’s Blanco. As all of the ingredients were being mixed together, we saw the work that goes into the making of a fine drink such as the Bloody Maria.
After the drink is complete, a colorful assortment of vegetables were chopped in preparation for the next dish; escabeche. The mixologists work their magic as we watch cauliflower, carrots, jalapeno, and celery toss around together to create this vibrant dish. The acidic mixture took us back to Don Julio’s Mexican roots where the soaking and marinating of meat in spices was a common practice. Once the dish was completed, each guest was able to take home their own pre-made escabeche.
It’s almost time to indulge in the three-course meal that awaits us, but before then, we head to the piping hot kitchen to assist Chef Edward Sura of Perennial Virant. We assist in the preparation of tomatillo pickled salsa verde. The emerald green tomatillos are husked, washed, and cut into quarters and they are gently drizzled with Don Julio Blanco. Lime zest is then sprinkled throughout the dish adding a sour touch to the creation. This coupled with tequila adds that spicy flavor that is a mainstay in Spanish cuisine.
We saw Don Julio at work on a smaller scale, now it was time to learn of the many uses of Don Julio in fine cuisine. We enter back into the main dining room and we sit at the elegantly set tables. On the table lay what appear to be empty glasses of champagne. However, with just a light waft of the glass we become well acquainted with the aromas of five of Don Julio’s finest tequilas. Glass number one is Reposado which features hints of vanilla and cinnamon with a warm soothing touch. This was the first creation of Don Julio that was distilled at the famous La Primavera, only available for friends and family to taste. It was fitting that we began our journey with the drink that started it all.
Next we move right into glass number 2, Blanco; which features a crisp agave sensation with a dry touch. As we sip comparing and contrasting Reposado and Blanco, The Haymaker Fizz cocktail from Dogma Group comes out to accompany our first course. Circling the stout glass is a long strip of cucumber that soaks in the aromas of Don Julio Blanco, lemon juice, and sake.
This citrus drink accompanies the first course which features tequila infused cranberry and vanilla aigre-doux. Family style our meal is served as we indulge ourselves in each of the succulent dishes. For a savory selection, we are served roasted brussels sprouts, marinated sweet potatoes with grilled onions and arugula. In the midst of this lavish feast, we take another sip of the famed Don Julio Tequila. This time, our senses explore glass number 3, Anejo. We start to move towards the sweeter end of the spectrum with this butterscotch and wild honey infused beverage. This beverage melded together immaculately with the accompanying dishes.
For our next course, we are served Skuna Bay salmon and a flank steak marinated in Don Julio. Topping the dishes are colorful strips of eggplant with beans and roasted peppers as the foundation of the dish. The next cocktail of the night Peter Piper comes out featuring a warm tangerine hue with delicate garnishes. It features hints of the Reposado with touches of lemon juice and ginger syrup. It was then time to taste yet another sample of tequila with this one being glass number 4, 70. This smooth beverage featured hints of vanilla that complimented the well seasoned meats before us.
While our meal is coming to a close and we are very tequila’d up, our exploration of Don Julio wasn’t over just yet. For our last tasting, we sipped on the sweetest of the selections that evening glass number 5, 1942. This featured hints of caramel and toffee with a vanilla aroma that emanated from the glass. This paired quite seamlessly with our Panna Cotta muskemelon and vanilla jam dessert. The sweet dessert featured hints of Don Julio throughout, creating a nice contrast between sweet and bitter. It was quite the saccharine conclusion to our tequila infused meal.
Prior to the Don Julio Farm to Shaker Dinner, I never knew that tequila could be apart of such a fine and elegant affair. This was in stark contrast with wild college nights and regretful shots. Instead, Don Julio doesn’t want tequila to be a shameful beverage only for wild nights. Contrary to other tequila brands, the bottles are short and stout allowing the diners to converse with one another while a bottle of tequila sits between them. Who knew that one could truly delight in tequila for dinner? Not to be hid away or tucked under the table, our celebration of tequila was at the forefront that night. From our exploration of the world through the eyes of Don Julio, to the incredibly delicious meal from Chef Edward Sura, I now have a new appreciation for the man that started it all Don Julio González.
Many years since that 17-year-old opened his own distillery, his legacy lives on with the finest luxury brand of tequila. That night we all saw the passion that Don Julio exuded through his brand. As he once said, “When you have passion, you have everything”