Small wooden barrels filled with aging cocktails have become a standard sight at high-level bars around town. But when the guys at Woodinville Whiskey gave one of their rye barrels to Barrio (and Heavy Restaurant Group) spirits director Casey Robison, he wanted to do something that wasn’t already plentiful on that stretch of 12th Avenue, home to places like Tavern Law and Canon.
And so Robison took his five-gallon rye barrel and filled it with Aha Toro tequila (imported by a local company). He’s never seen anyone age tequila in a rye barrel before, and “I just wanted to see what would happen,” he says. He’s inordinately pleased with the result.
Currently only about 17 bottles of his El Toro Bravo single-barrel anejo-style tequila exist. And they’re pouring at Barrio for $20 a shot (or $10 on the restaurant’s half-price tequila Mondays). Robison was expecting the result to be a reposado style, the term for tequila aged in oak for three months to a year. But after its six-month sojorn in the barrel, the tequila took on a drier, spicer, oaky flavor more in line with an anejo. That’s the official term for tequilas aged in oak for a minimum of one year.
As the price implies, this is not a tequila you take down in one slam, or blend into a margarita. It’s complex, but gentle and easy to sip. Robison hopes it will help woo more whiskey devotees over to the world of agave-based spirits, since “tequila isn’t as shitty as it was when you were 21 years old--we're adults now.”
Robison has been drifting away from brown liquors, increasingly championing tequila. And mezcal. He wagers Barrio has more mezcals on its menu than any other place in the state, though he and Liberty owner Andrew Friedman wage an ongoing battle for that particular supremacy. The man has a tattoo of the tobala, the king of all agave plants, on his arm, for god’s sake.
He’s got 40 more bottles “cooking” and guesses they will be ready to pour around May. Until then, his first batch of Toro Bravo pours only at Barrio (okay, a few select friends in the industry have their own bottle) until it runs out.