Corralejo was one of over 10 purveyors offering a taste of their tequilas. (David Tobin/Living Out Loud LA)
El Carmen is one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles. This hidden Mexican spot is narrow, with dark lighting and loud music. Small tables line one side of the room, while a bar takes up the other. A single booth rests in the back, elevated to see over the limited space. The one thing that is not small here is the tequila list.
El Carmen boasts a bar that carries over 400 tequilas at any one time. I used to come here often when I worked in the area, and we would sample their list but only managed to get through 40 of them in the span of a year. That’s why it was imperative for me to join El Carmen for one of their “tastings.”
Saturday night, there were over 10 different vendors that brought in the best of their tequilas with several variations on each. While browsing the various brands, amazing food was being passed around to allow you to clean your palate and handle drinking nothing but top-shelf agave for over two-and-a-half hours.
The highlights were the Casa Noble samplings, to start. At this table, we learned a lot about the process and why this particularly famous family brand is so popular. It all comes down to the process. Their tequilas are handmade – no machines to mash stuff up. A horse is tied to a round stone and walks around in circles, mashing the agave into its first phase of becoming tequila. Then, most of these liquors are stored in wooden barrels to age and take on the flavor of each container.
A lot of bourbon and whiskey barrels from the United States are actually sent down to Mexico to be re-used and allow a tequila’s flavor to take on the shape of the barrel, including hints of its previous cargo. Bet you didn’t know that! So, yes, while drinking the best tequila around we were also learning facts … a lot of facts. From how the plants are harvested to each level of distillation, you learned a bit more than you had from the previous table.
As for the crowd, it was a good mix of couples and groups of friends. It was very casual, but still kind of hip. No attitude, and this is by no means a “Hollywood” thing. El Carmen has one more tasting lined up in late September, and then that will be it for the year. Give them a call, and get on the list. It’s usually $40 to get in, and then it’s all you can drink. It’s worth it since one shot of some of these tequilas goes for that price in any bar in town.
For reservations and more information, call (323) 852-1552 or visit elcarmenla.com.