A little over four years ago, a dream team headed up by Brian Seyfried of Wing Shack fame and Ely and Sam Corliss, the people who kept Greeley at the Moxi Theatre, took a city already saturated with good Mexican food through its gourmets. Street Taco Restaurant, Luna’s Tacos & Tequila on 9th Street Plaza.
When you serve up diverse menu items like adobo-topped honey shrimp tacos, mushrooms smothered in cashew cream or seared pork belly with onions cooked in a mustard seed sauce, it’s a safe bet that your tequila program will be just as experimental.
Luna’s tequila program has been going strong from the start, but instead of widening the doors to the world of more famous tequila—names like Patron and Sauza are what’s usually on people’s tongues—Sam has been honing in on a niche market for producers.
This is a good thing for tequila lovers with new and acquired tastes.
“We started with about 75 tequilas and now have up to 330 bottles of agave spirits on the shelves,” Sam said. “We just did a mass exit for a tequila publisher to focus on supporting smaller brands that make tequila the traditional way in Mexico.”
Diffuser, or “mixto,” tequila is produced from about 51% of blue agave, the plant from which the liquid is derived, and is then pumped out entirely of additives, including sugar and chemicals to make it taste better and to cut production methods.
Instead, Sam Corliss sourced a small batch of tequila from producers like Arette, a 30-year-old offshoot of the Orendain family in Tequila, Mexico, a town in Jalisco near the Tequila Volcano. The Orendain family is one of the three oldest tequila-producing families in Mexico – they’ve been producing liquor since 1900.
The tequila they make is 100 percent blue agave with no additives.
Tequila is regulated by the Mexican government: similar to Champagne cheese and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, it is protected to preserve the product’s place of origin. Production of tequila is limited to five Mexican states: Jalisco, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Michoacan and Guanajuato.
The Orendain Distillery uses spring water from a well that stems from the Tequila volcano. The volcano became extinct 5,000 years ago, but because of it, the valley in which the distillery is located has soil rich in minerals and full of nutrients.
Eduardo Orendain, Jr is the fifth generation. He works with his father, Eduardo Orindaine, father and uncle Jaime. Whether by tradition or by chance, all the men in the Orendain family were named either Eduardo or Jaime.
In the early days, Eduardo said, there was no branding. “People showed up at the distilleries with glass jars to fill up on Orendain tequila. The Sauza distillery is right next door.”
In the 1920s, the brand became officially registered with bottles and labels and Orendains began marketing tequila. By the 1950s, Eduardo’s grandfather and grandfather had built a second still operating distillery. It produces about 20 different brands of tequila.
Eduardo and his father oversee the newer Arette brand. As with the Orendain brand, “We do everything from field to bottle. We grow our own agave fields, giving us complete control over how we grow naturally without chemicals or additives, and the product is certified additive-free,” Eduardo said. . He emphasized that there are no additives, flavors or colorings in any of the family’s tequila.
He noted that the flavors will change from batch to batch as small batch producers. This takes into account the terrain, which plays an important role in the flavor profile, such as growing grapes.
The difference between grapes and the plant from which tequila is made is that blue agave species take between 7-8 years to mature. He said that the amount of moisture received in any year and temperatures fluctuate, making it impossible to get any identical batch.
“There is no one-size-fits-all like grapes because a plant takes years to mature. It’s more than one batch can be greener, have more minerals, be more fruity, sweeter, creamier, or peppery. We do the same distillation process. “The only thing that changes is the agave,” said Eduardo.
After harvesting, the leaves of the aloe vera plant—pina, which looks like a large, woody pineapple—are chopped and slowly cooked. They are roasted first in a brick oven for 48 hours, followed by 12 hours in an autoclave, similar to a steel pressure cooker. The rotary mill extracts “mosto” or juice, which is fermented in the open air using natural, proprietary stainless steel household yeast and then concrete vats. Double distillation follows in Alembic pot trailers with copper coils.
Distillers yield pure – or silver – blanco tequila. If the liquor settles in barrels for a period of two months to a year, it is called “reposado”. Anijo barrel has a lifespan of 1 to 3 years; If the tequila is Extra Añejo, it will be 3 years old and over.
Arette produced 900,000 bottles last year: 80% were blanco and 10-15% reposado. These two methods are the most popular because they are used to make cocktails; Añejo is usually drunk elegantly in small tasting glasses.
Sam noted that Luna’s does something different than all the other taco and tequila restaurants. “We only serve the best of the best mini tequila, and we use the Arette brand even though well-known products, like Patron, represent a third of the cost,” she said.
This is something to be thankful for Eduardo Orendain, Jr. , acknowledging that Luna’s highlights family-run producers that haven’t been sold.
“The distillery has been in the family since my great-grandfather started it, and they see it as a gifted thing. It’s not ours—it’s been passed down to us from generation to generation. What right do I have to sell it? It’s like, ‘If I gave you a watch, you wouldn’t sell it, it’s a gift from your grandfather’ And you have no right to sell it. My grandfather is 85 years old and goes to the distillery every day. He threatens to come back after he goes after us if we sell him,” laughs Eduardo. My grandfather says, “If you want to take the money and run, get out now and start your own company.”
Sam Corliss said Luna moves through about ten cases of Arette tequila per week. The liquor is used in all of the homemade margaritas, along with fresh hand-pressed lemon juice and organic agave nectar. These three are the only components.
“With our 330 signature bottles, we have anything to suit your tastes,” Sam said.
Luna tequila is also used in cocktails: its old-fashioned Oaxacan is made with aged tequila and mezcal, which give the drink a smoky flavor. But mostly, old tequila is served in one ounce to sip or shoot.
“We want people to compare, contrast, explore, and get outside of their comfort zone,” she explained, which is why the restaurant scaled back its initial 1.5 ounces.
Lime and salt aren’t necessary for a good tequila tasting, although Luna’s does serve mezcal with traditional orange or worm salt (sal de gusano) or cricket salt (sal de chapulin). Sam said one of them is popular, and rich in protein (thanks to crickets), even as a snack. They also have chocolate sugar to pair with the sweeter tequila.
As a 100% vegetarian liquor, tequila is healthier than other alcoholic beverages. Corliss said they’ve found that the sugars from the plant metabolize faster than those from whiskey or rum — Luna’s claims that the tequila they serve is 98% resistant to a hangover.
“Our juice is hand-squeezed, we take thousands and thousands of limes a week at Luna’s, there are no artificial flavors, no sweet and sour mix. This lack of preservatives makes a difference in our cocktails in regards to sugar content,” she said.
It’s part of the reason Sam chose to spend more to support a smaller production family.
“We believe in what Arett does; we also believe in what our clients put into their bodies.”
Go sample and try a small batch of tequila (and gourmet tacos!) at Luna’s Tacos & Tequila
hours: From 11 am to 10 pm from Sunday to Thursday | From 11 am to 11 pm Friday – Saturday
where: 806 9th Street, Greeley, CO 80631
Contact: 970-673-8509 | lunastacos.com