By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly
Tequila has had a bit of a reputation. Unceremoniously consumed in high quantities by college students at parties or sipped in novelty-sized sugary margaritas, it wasn’t a spirit to be appreciated. But that has changed in the last few years. The demand for quality tequila has risen, and distilleries in Mexico have risen to meet these demands. Portland’s own Danny Sandoval, owner of the Sandoval’s Family Restaurants, which include La Palapa on Hawthorne, has been working hard to foster a deeper appreciation for this unique spirit in Portland. In 2013, he turned his restaurant in Portland International Airport into a tequila bar, with more than 200 kinds of the spirit available. Last year he started Viva Tequila PDX, an annual tequila-tasting festival. The event returns August 29-30 at the Jupiter Hotel.
“I have a passion for agave,” says Sandoval. “The idea for Viva Tequila PDX came to me when I saw the whiskey festival happening here in Portland. I knew there were tequila festivals happening in other parts of the country and I wondered why we weren’t doing it here. It’s great to be able to follow it up again this year, to be able to pass on the knowledge and see people become so receptive. As long as people are receptive we’ll continue to do it.”
Preparing for Viva Tequila PDX is no small task. Besides arranging the venue and attracting sponsors, Sandoval deals directly with many small distilleries in Jalisco, the area in Mexico where blue agave is grown, cultivating relationships with them over the course of years. “We buy a lot of tequila so I travel down there three or four times a year, so we’re very familiar with a lot of these distillers. When we talk about them and how they make their tequila, we’re not reciting something you could read off a brochure. We know them personally.”
Attendees of Viva Tequila PDX will be able to sample and purchase tequila from these small distilleries, in addition to better-known brands such as Casa Herradura, Jose Cuervo, and Tequila Cazadores, three of the event’s sponsors. “We aim to provide an informative and fun experience for tequila aficionados and newcomers alike,” says Sandoval. “Anyone with an interest in tequila, no matter how casual or advanced, will learn something.” Attendees will also be able to purchase Mexican food to pair with their tequila and enjoy local entertainment.
Sandoval is also using Viva Tequila PDX as a chance to give back to the community. “It’s a priority and honor for us to engage with local organizations,” says Sandoval. This year proceeds from the event will benefit Milagro Theatre, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that produces Latino theater, culture, and arts education experiences. Milagro has been working in Portland for over 30 years, showing plays by Latino playwrights in Spanish with English subtitles and organizing the city’s longest-running Day of the Dead celebration, as well as bringing Latino music, dance, and poetry to audiences around the Northwest. Milagro has also produced works written by LGBTQ playwrights and has featured prominent LGBTQ stories. “It was my selection last year and it’s the same this year,” says Sandoval of Milagro. “I love what they have done over the years.”
The inaugural event in 2014 attracted more than 2,500 attendees. Sandoval is hopeful he will top those numbers this year. “Tequila is something to sip, to savor,” he says. “It’s refreshing to see the public appreciate the sophistication and artistry of such a traditional spirit in a new, modern light. We’re delighted that Viva Tequila PDX is back to celebrate its renaissance.”
Viva Tequila is a 21-and-over event (valid proof of age required) and runs Sat., August 29 and Sun., August 30 at the Jupiter Hotel, 800 E. Burnside. Saturday’s hours are 4-9 p.m., with a 9-11 p.m. after-party; Sunday’s hours are noon-4 p.m., followed by a VIP tasting from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Admission is $45 for both days, including Sunday’s VIP tasting, $25 for General Admission either Saturday or Sunday (GA Saturday includes the 9-11 p.m. party, GA Sunday does not include the VIP tasting). Admission includes six (6) tasting tokens for GA, eight (8) for VIP; additional lots of six (6) will be available for purchase for $10 at the event. Tickets and more information are available at vivatequilapdx.com. Like “vivatequilapdx” on Facebook and follow @vivatequilapdx on Twitter for updates. VIP tickets can be purchased online at: eventbrite.com/e/2015-viva-tequila-pdx-festival-august-29th-30th-2015-tickets-17051341020, GA at the door.