Thursday, June 21, 2007

Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Day One, Wednesday

Day One, Wednesday, June 20, 2007 - The Margarita Tour

The last leg of the drive up to the box canyon containing the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is a steep climb up a winding two lane highway, punctuated by the inevitable Colorado highway construction. But once you clear the last rise and your trajectory flattens out on the smooth valley floor, you're in a special temporal space occupied by 10,000 semi-naked campers, a few hundred musicians and crew, and a thousand or so agents of retail. Automobile traffic is scant, consisting mostly of delivery trucks. (Unless you have San Miguel county license plates or a barricade pass issued by the condo you've reserved, your car stays out of town.) The result is a town uniquely safe to walk through, even at night, even in some sort of impaired state.

Until the Fest actually starts on Thursday, the town is relatively quiet, with the bartenders and wait staff enjoying a brief respite until the festival frenzy begins to build. Wednesday is the last lull before the storm. A perfect time to conduct the annual Margarita Tour.

This year's tour included five likely candidates. Each was rated on a scale of 1 star to 5 stars, and the assessment considered such factors as grade of tequila, proportionality of the ingredients, the sweet to sour ratio, the presence or absence of artificial sugars or syrups, and the finish.

The Broken Dollar is reported to be under new ownership, and perhaps that explains the Buck's dismal contribution to this year's tour. The mix is poured straight from commercially prepared ingredients, including one element from an aluminum can. The mix ends up being too sweet by far, a syrupy orange-ade base into which indetectable amounts of Jose Cuervo are poured. A disappointing experience. By taste alone I might have rated this cocktail two stars, but pricing it at $6, the same as superior competitors, knocks is down. * 1/2.

Smugglers is a popular brewpub off the main foot traffic pathways, but worth the trek for its hearty menu and 12 handcrafted beers. They make a pretty fair Margarita, too. Served in the classic pint glass, the mix is a pale green garnished with fresh lime wedges. The price meets the Telluride average at $6, but I found the appreciable level of tequila was inadequate, resulting in a pleasant but watery mix. ***

My favorite bar to visit is the New Sheridan Bar. It's a beautifully maintained historic location that boasts a fine pool hall in addition to a magnificent bar and backbar that complements the pressed tin ceiling. In years past, the New Sheridan easily trounced the competition in the quality of Margarita, but for the second consecutive year this venerable watering hole has fallen short.

The cocktail was served in a pint glass with fresh lime wedges. The mix was nicely tart and finished with a crisp aftertaste. The well tequila was Jose Cuervo, which made for a fairly typical Margarita experience. A little pricey at $6.50, this sample on the tour gathers ***.

O'Bannon's Irish Pub is still a funky little blasphemous basement where patrons sit at an altar recycled from a Catholic church of the old style. Travis, last year's winning bartender, was again on duty for this year's event, and served up the same high quality recipe as in 2006. The serving sizes are a bit light compared to the standard pint, but are still an excellent bargain at $3, especially considering the use of Kosher salt and Grand Marnier in the drink's construction. ****

The hands down winner this year is Las Montanas, known to old TBF hands as Sofio's, now comfortably settled into the new location. Boasting over 150 tequilas and a Menu de Tequila y Vino that can cause a virgin Visa card to burst into flames, the $6 "house marg" arrived in beautiful stemmed glass trimmed with dark blue. The cocktail has the classic rarified green color that comes only of perfect proportions. It's an elegant, simple recipe that avoids the syrupy sweetness of lesser margs by substituting a slice of fresh orange on the glass rim. The presence of good tequila balanced the tartness, resulting in a clean, smooth finish. Las Montanas takes first place in this yea's tour at **** 1/2.

And that's the Annual Margarita Tour for 2007. The 34th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival starts at 11:15 tomorrow morning with Chris Thile. Stay tuned.

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