SAACA Salsa & Tequila Challenge Spotlight: Aaron DeFeo of Casino del Sol

As the beverage director of Tequila Factory and all of Casino Del Sol, Aaron DeFeo knows a thing or two about a tequila cocktail that’s a step above your average margarita. For SAACA’s 2014 Salsa & Tequila Challenge, DeFeo has drawn on the flavors of Mexico and India, which he says are, in many ways, very similar. Read on for a sneak peek into what he’ll be mixing up for the judges…

TF: How does your featured cocktail celebrate the culture and history of Tequila or modernize it?

AD: The drink (“A Fistful of Rupees”) draws on the rich culinary history of India and Mexico. In many ways, they are very similar: the serving techniques, the spice ingredients (cumin, coriander, cilantro, cinnamon, etc…). There’s some coconut milk in there that lends a cooling effect to the drink that goes a long way when you are serving it with spicy salsa. I’m not trying to reinvent cocktails here, just presenting something you don’t see every day that should have a broad appeal to culinary-minded guests. I guess you can classify it as a modernized tequila cocktail, but it’s tough. So many tequila cocktails are similar because tequila plays really well with citrus and produce, so you end up with a lot of familiar combinations. Anything outside of that box is usually approached with trepidation.

TF: Will you be using any regional ingredients in your drink and sample menu? 

AD: We’re serving a lovely machaca taco alongside the cocktail, and machaca is really well known as a Tucson/Sonoran specialty. We’ve got some great rich spices in the machaca, along with a traditional salsa mezon & a fantastic cheese blend that Chef uses. On the surface it’s a basic street taco, but flavor-wise it’s so much more than that.

TF: How and why did you choose the tequila you are using in the cocktail? 

AD: Don Julio is a fantastic Highland tequila that goes really well with the spices and herb flavors present in both Mexican and Indian cuisine. I wanted a tequila that people knew, and in that realm there are so many tequilas that end up flat in cocktails. I’ve always had a lot of confidence pouring Don Julio in whatever I’m making.

TF: Why is it a winner? 

AD: Because it’s very balanced, and packed with amazing layers of flavor. Isn’t that all you can ask from a cocktail?

TF: Will the cocktail be available on the restaurant menu after the competition?

AD: We’ll have a tamarind drink on the menu, but it won’t be quite the same. It will have a decidedly more Mexican angle, and will probably end up being a margarita. This isn’t a margarita competition, and I think that the flavors and style of the cocktail will reflect that.

For more information, please visit the 2014 SAACA Salsa & Tequila Challenge Tucson Foodie post. For more information about Casino del Sol, please visit them on the web at

Nina is a Creative Nonfiction MFA candidate at the University of Arizona, a food writer and a recipe addict.