Taco Caballito Tequileria on the corner of Beach Avenue and Decatur Street in Cape May is a lively, Mexican-themed restaurant and tequila bar. The bar features handcrafted cocktails such as the popular Blood Orange margarita made with Espolon tequila, blood orange, and Grand Marnier and the Prickly Pear made with Patron Silver, Cointreau, and prickly pear juice. The extensive tequila menu includes a few super-premium offerings like Casa Dragones Joven and Clase Azul as well as the more modestly priced yet very satisfying Don Julio and Kah. Their margaritas and tequila pair perfectly with the restaurant fare of casual Mexican street food including tacos, quesadillas, and Mexican street fries.
The word “Caballito” in the restaurant’s name is Spanish for “little horse” and refers to the elongated shot glass that is often used to drink tequila. The story of how a shot glass came to be known a little horse sounds more myth than fact but it goes like this. Long ago when agave farmers traveled about the fields on horseback, they carried a gourd filled with water. Sometimes a worker would carry a second gourd filled with tequila. The tequila-filled gourd had the tip of a bull’s horn attached to it to be used like a shot glass to knock back the spirit. One day a supervisor noticed a worker with two gourds, and questioned him, “Why do you carry two gourds?” The laborer wisely responded, “One is for me and the other is for my horse.” The story became so widely known that instead of asking for “one for the road”, cantina patrons will typically ask for their last shot of tequila as “one for my caballito.”
Skelly Says…A Brief Tequila Primer:
- Tequila is a distilled spirit made from the blue agave plant grown in Mexico. Just as with wine grapes, the terroir of a specific location affects the flavor of the agave, producing some sweeter and some more herbaceous. Similar to wine production, Mexican laws require a designation of origin within five municipalities, including tequila’s birthplace in the town of Santiago de Tequila in the state of Jalisco.
- The three types of tequila that refer to its aging are Blanco, or silver, Reposado, and Añejo. Blanco tequila is bottled after distillation, no aging is required. Reposado tequila is aged between two and twelve months in oak barrels. Añejo is aged in oak from one to three years, or longer.
We made several visits to get through a significant portion of the tequila menu. It gave us a chance to become familiar with their bartender, Lou, who guided us to some excellent tequilas.
Casa Dragones Joven is currently the most premium tequila on the menu. It’s a small batch blend of 100% blue agave silver and extra aged tequila rested in new American oak barrels. On the palate, it’s smooth and silky, with a hint of spice on the finish. Although it is rested in oak, oak influence in aroma and flavor are minimal. So subtle, it’s hard to believe it’s 80 Proof.
Clase Azul Reposado is sold in an attractive, tall blue and white bottle. It is aged in 8 months in American whiskey barrels. The oak aging imparts maple and vanilla flavors that blend seamlessly with the 100% blue agave fruit flavors. Well-balanced and complex.
Avion Reserva 44 is a small batch extra añejo tequila made with highland agave. It is aged in oak barrels for 3 years, then aged an additional month in small barrels which are rotated daily. The oak is expressed in a warm amber color and rich oaky notes countered with sweet agave fruit, and hints of orange rind and coriander.
Don Julio Añejo is aged for 18 months relatively small batches in American white oak. On the nose are toasted oak and caramel notes with agave fragrances taking a back seat. On the palate are flavors of dried apricot, black tea, and vanilla. The finish brings out a peppery, smoky quality. One of my favorite tequilas for drinking at home, neat in a crystal brandy snifter.
Don Julio 70th Anniversary Añejo is a fine example of cristalino, a new style of tequila recently introduced in the US market. Cristalino is essentially añejo that has been filtered (often through charcoal) to remove the naturally occurring color and oaky qualities imparted by the barrel. The goal is to create a tequila with the complexity and character of añejo and the crispness of blanco. Don Julio 70th achieves this goal with very light vanilla and caramel notes alongside bright agave and citrus flavors. The overall character is smooth and subtle but personally, I miss the deeper oaky appeal of a good añejo.
Patron Extra Añejo made from 100% Weber Blue Agave is aged in American, French, and Hungarian oak barrels for at least 3 years. A deep amber pour in the glass begins with whiskey-smoke and aromas of oak, honey, and banana. It’s dry on the palate with well-balanced with flavors of vanilla, spicy pepper, honey, and light agave. The essence of banana and dried fruit lingers on a long, smooth finish. The overall experience reminds me very much of sipping cognac. Its complexity and smoothness make this extra añejo a personal favorite and one we will add to our home collection.
Kah…You gotta love the Day of the Dead bottles. I would buy this tequila for the bottle alone. Inside, the tequila is also quite good. We tasted the reposado, made from 100% blue agave and aged for 2 to 12 months in American oak casks. Barrel char is evident on the nose. On the palate, is light agave fruit with a floral note. Overall, well-balanced and moderately complex with long finish.
Herradura, though now owned by a conglomerate, was a family business since the 19th century. Their website claims that Casa Herradura was first to introduce añejo to the world, although I’ve not been able to verify this claim. Herradura Añejo is aged in American White Oak barrels for 25 months (13 months longer than industry standards). In the glass, it’s rich dark amber in color with strong toasted oak aromas. The oak theme carries on to the palate with notes of caramel, nuts, and vanilla. Light agave and dried fruit flavors make a quick appearance on the finish. As one of the most oaky tequilas I’ve ever tasted, I’d call it unbalanced, but if you like a super oaky Chardonnay, this may be the tequila for you.
Tres Agaves Añejo is made with slowly roasted, organic agaves grown in the Tequila Valley. It is aged for 18 months in repurposed Kentucky bourbon barrels and Tennessee whiskey barrels. The nose is vanilla-laden with light oak. On the palate are sweet agave fruit flavors intertwined with caramel and butterscotch. Hints of spice and herbs on the finish.
If you’re in the Cape May, New Jersey area be sure to stop by the Taco Caballito Tequileria (say the name three times fast after a few drinks) and enjoy a taste of Mexico with a friendly, casual vibe.