Brian Rossi on Agave Spirits, Adelitas and Changing the Winning House Marg

Owner Brian Rossi sets the table at Palenque Mezcaleria.
Owner Brian Rossi sets the table at Palenque Mezcaleria. Mark Antonation
We're gearing up for the 2017 Best of Denver, and that includes revisiting some past winners — including the Best House Margarita at Adelitas Cocina y Cantina, a three-time champ and again the one to beat.
In late 2016, the best became even better when Adelitas switched the house tequila from Cimarron — but that's not the only innovation at Adelitas: Founder Brian Rossi also came up with a winning formula for his back room, which is now Palenque Mezcaleria. After Adelitas hosted Guillermo Erickson Sauza at a special dinner last week, we checked in with Rossi for more tequila talk.

Westword: Why did you change the tequila in your (award-winning) house margarita?

Brian Rossi: With a ton of reading and a lot of visits to Mexico, I have been able to learn about agave spirits. I have learned which companies use good or bad business practices, as well as how certain brands are produced, and who uses additives and who does not. Within the regulations of tequila, producers are allowed 1 percent per volume of additives, such as glycerin, flavorings and color additives. Although I do need to carry some of them, I choose not to support them on a volume basis.

Although the producers of Cimaron tequila are great people putting out a natural product, our new well tequila is Arette, produced by the Orendain family, one of the oldest tequila-producing families in Tequila Town. Arette is produced with 100 percent yeasts and no additives. The Orendains are amazing people producing amazing tequila.
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The award-winning Adelitas house margarita.
How many margs do you sell a week?

We sell about 1,600 margs per week.

Tell us about the special guests you bring in to talk tequila.

Agave spirits are extremely important to me; agave has literally changed the way I live my life. I am blessed to have the opportunity to travel to Mexico and learn from the amazing people who produce tequila, mezcal, raicilla and pulque. These people have not only taken time out of their busy schedules to educate me in Mexico, but when they make it to the U.S., Adelitas and Palenque are a priority for them to visit. We are lucky enough to have had visits from Thomas Estes (owner of Tequila Ocho), who is the Mexican government's appointed Tequila Ambassador to Europe, and Sergio Mendoza Garciabueno (founder of Don Fulano Tequila), whose family was originally agave farmers. When Sergio’s uncle Enrique was confronted by some large tequila companies (not to be named) about selling his agave to them at a lower price, he made the stand against “Big Tequila” and opened his own distillery, La Tequilena, and produced amazing, naturally produced tequila. This was an inspiration to smaller farmers to do the same. Esteban Morales Garibi (founder of La Venenossa Raicilla and Derumbes Mezcal) has brought the world raicilla. My favorite!

And, of course, our latest guest, Guillermo Erickson Sauza. Guillermo is a fifth-generation sauza and master distiller. I do not think you can name a more important person to tequila and agave spirits. Guillermo brought us Tequila Fortaleza, a personal favorite for both me and my staff. Guillermo has paved the way for small, independent, well-produced and natural spirits. Guillermo is personally responsible for connecting bartenders, managers, owners and consumers all over the world. He and his son Billy, along with a small, amazing staff, bring industry folks to Tequila Town three times a year. If you are in the spirit industry, you are invited to come down and partake in an educational yet fun trip. You pay for your plane ticket, and G and Billy take care of the rest. I have been lucky enough to not only partake in multiple trips, but also had the opportunity to be a guide on the tours. I believe so much in the education side of these trips that if you are employed with me for at least a year, you get to go, too!

Just to recap: All of these producers are not only amazing people, but they are teaching a new side of business practices to young people. They are teaching that not everything is about money. No matter what product you are selling, do it right and do it for the right reasons. I have tried to translate that to my businesses.

What should people raised on Cuervo know about tequila?

Only one thing: IT’S NOT TEQUILA!

Any new plans for Adelitas and Palenque?

I am going to open a Michoacán ice cream shop called La Chupaflor next door to Palenque. It will share the patio with Palenque Mezcaleria. Homemade ice cream and mezcal: Heaven!

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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