When I wandered into The Esquire on a Friday afternoon and saw a table of four gruff, beer-drinking guys I recognized, all holding a light yellow, fruity-looking drink, I knew one of two things had happened: I'd either missed the headline news about the alien body-snatching invasion, or these guys were imbibing the Esquire's Pineapple Margarita or Contusion Shot.
Since no alien news had splashed the headlines recently (not even in News of the World), I asked one of them why a guy like him would veer from his usual routine of drinking longnecks from quitting time until dusk on a Friday to enjoy what looked to me like a very fruity cocktail. He said he always enjoyed tequila, even before it became popular, but Esquire's Contusion Shot and Pineapple Margarita made tequila go down even easier.
Every week, the staff at the Esquire infuses Sauza Tequila with pineapple, sugar, and vanilla bean to make a very large quantity of pineapple-infused tequila in quest of the perfect, cool summertime drink. The infusion, after straining, results in a strong liqueur the Esquire calls "the Contusion Shot," and they use this infusion as the base for their Pineapple Margarita. The recipe originated from Mike Cochran, now of Black Dog Smoke & Ale House, where you can find some other interesting alcohol infusions.
The Pineapple Margarita exhibits more mellow and sweet flavors than a typical tangy margarita, probably because of the sweetness of the sugar and pineapple and the flavor of the vanilla from the infusion. The Contusion Shot is smooth, sweet, and "sneaky dangerous," as a regular described the drink.
I followed an (anonymous) pool team last week to see what happened after they imbibed some Contusion Shots. The team didn't slip too far in their scores, but after a few shots, conversation arose about male team members wearing kilts and lying on the sidewalk. And I knew things were going awry when one pool player said to another about me, "She's taking notes to see how drunk you get after a Tah-cusion."
No one remembers exactly how long the Esquire has been making the pineapple-infused tequila, but one of the owners, Pedro Heller, estimates about five to six years. At the current rate of three to four cases of tequila a week (that's thirty-six to forty-eight bottles), that means Esquire customers drink a lot of infused tequila. Heller noted that "contusion" is kind of a play on words with "infusion," but as one female staff member said, "if you drink a bunch you'll fall down and bruise yourself." Everyone on the staff gets a good laugh out of that idea, like maybe, just maybe, they've done it before.
In fact, it seems like the staff and owners at Esquire might enjoy making the infused tequila almost as much as the customers enjoy drinking it.
Contusion shots are $2 on Sunday, in case you aren't looking forward to work on Monday and want to drown your sorrows, or if you want to make it even more difficult to get there.
Make it Yourself
In all the interviews, no one gave away the Esquire trade secret proportions, so you can guess at those on your own, but the ingredients speak to the minimalist nature of the drink:
Let infuse five to seven days, strain (don't squeeze the pineapple), and imbibe.
106 N Walnut St
Open Mon-Sat 11am-1am; Sun 12pm-1am
Pineapple Margarita, $5.25
Contusion Shot, $4.25
Special: $2 Contusion Shots on Sunday
(Thanks to the Esquire staff and owners, Charley, Carol, the "Monday pool team," and Randy for your contributions on this article!)
Thirsty Around Town explores alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages found in different venues around the Champaign-Urbana area. If you have a favorite obscure drink, email me. I want to try it!