We were greeted at the front door of Tres Agaves(good enchiladas by the way, helped prevent hangover and too much stupidity on way home) in San Francisco and led to a small reception room where there were complimentary cocktails for us as we waited to check in. One drink was called the Silver monk and contained mint, cucumber, salt, lime juice, agave nectar, yellow chartreuse, and silver tequila. The second drink had no name(and in hindsight I would have suggest Scarlet Letter C, since there was a bit of discussion about how Campari scares drinkers) and contained Madeira, reposado tequila, Campari, and Regan’s orange bitters. This drink I found to be more interesting as it started with more of a madeira flavor, developed into the tequila spice, and finished with that Campari bite. I’ve since tried it using Aperol instead of Campari, and the development seemed a lot better.
I started out at Corralejo, a highland tequila, distilled using an Alembic Charantais copper still pot. Correlejo used the tradition stone ovens and cooks their agave for 27 hours. The first one I tasted was their blanco which had light citrus, white pepper, and a slight cardamom on the nose. I tasted a lot of citrus and grapefruit up front, followed by white pepper. This tequila definitely had a great mouth feel.
Corralejo offers two reposados, which are aged for 4 months in barrels coopered with 50% New American oak staves, 25% New French oak staves, and 25% new Mexican(Encino) oak staves. The double distilled($9 at Bocanova) had a slight vanilla with easy oak and pepper tones on the nose. I tasted a slight vanilla, followed by tangerine and black pepper, and finishing off with a bit of cantaloupe
The triple-distilled reposado was extremely difficult to get past the nose of a burnt rubber. The rep described this tequila as one some really enjoy, but that it also wasn’t for everyone’s palate(highlighting the differences of people’s taste). The flavor was much smoother than the nose, offering a caramel, butter, agave, and it was a bit tangy.
The Anejo was aged in 100% New American oak for 1 year. This had a nice vanilla on the nose with a touch of spice, and had a vanilla, light pepper, oak, and a bit of a musky flavor.
The Casa Noble brand has long been one of my favorites, and I enjoyed their presentation because they offered 12 small vials that had scents. This helped stimulate my mind to assess flavors. Casa Noble’s agave is cooked for 36 hours and is all triple distilled. The blanco had a nice nose of honey and citrus. I tasted a touch of pepper, cinnamon, and a nice cherry on the finish.
The reposado($12 at Bocanova) stood out as one of the three best tequilas at the event. The tequila is aged for the maximum 364 days allowed for reposado in French oak casks. The nose had a nice balance of cherry and lemon. I tasted a lemon tea, white pepper, caramel, cooked agave, and a rich vanilla especially on the finish.
The anejo, aged for 2 years, had much more cherry on the nose, with honey and butter. I tasted butter, chocolate, caramel, cooked agave, pepper, and a slight amount of vanilla on the finish.
I took a quick moment to wander around the room and look at the various pictures of the growth, cultivation, and distillation of the agave plant. Some points of interest for those who want to more know more in general about tequila is that it is the most regulated of any distilled spirit. The agave plant is also not a cactus, as commonly misunderstood by popular culture. The agave is in the plant order of Asparagales, which are flowering plants. Other famous members of this order are asparagus and aloe vera. .
I next went to meet the great Miles Karakasevic(12th generation Master Distiller of Charbay) and his lovely wife, Susan. Meeting a master distiller of this caliber was definitely one of the highlights of the evening, and it was nice to try Charbay’s blanco tequila yet again. I must give thanks once again to Richard Paterson for really expanding my ability to taste spirits, since I was able to pull so many more flavors and complexity out of this phenomenal tequila than the first few times I tried it. Miles was extremely gracious in sharing his wisdom and philosophy.
Miles boasted of being the only grand master distiller to produce all four categories of distilled spirits: fermented beer, grass(agave), fruit, and sugar cane. His philosophy is to build it differently, and he isn’t about being a business. He is a distiller and wouldn’t release a product that didn’t meet his high standards. He said, “I am Charbay.” and even more memorably, “This is what we do.”
This tequila was made from agave grown for over 8 years in the highlands at an elevation of 7,120 feet. The agave is cooked for an amazing 4 days in old brick ovens, and only some select juice pressed from the agave is moved into the open-top fermenters. The tequila was finally distilled by Miles and Marko(his son and 13th generation Master Distiller) in small, 90-250 gallon Copper Alambiques Tequilano Pot Stills. This is a very classic style of tequila, built to be a blanco. If and when he decides to make a reposado or anejo, he’ll simply build it differently.
Not surprisingly, I decided to taste this tequila for a second time towards the end of the evening because it stood out.. I got a nice chamomile, floral nose with hints of spice. I tasted vanilla, honey, peach, cardamom with a balanced pepper and chocolate. This tequila had a wonderful development on its way to a beautiful finish of espresso, caramel, green apple.
Clase Azul’s highland agave is matured for 10 years, and then cooked using a modern steam pressure cooker for 72 hours. The idea behind that is that a lot of the pepper flavor for which tequila is known is caused by residue in traditional stone ovens. Clase Azul’s philosophy is that the effect of this is undesirable flavors, and their really pushing towards a pure flavor. Before bottling, they cut the liquor down to proof with a pure, distilled water with a low mineral content. On the blanco, I got a lot of bell pepper, spice, butter, and cooked agave on the nose. I tasted a rich butter, cooked agave, floral notes and a slight butterscotch.
The reposado($18 at Bocanova) had a decent caramel and slight citrus notes on the nose, and had a rich mouthfeel full of caramel and butter. This tequila had a long development before finishing with cherry and cinnamon. I found a good deal of anguished amusement when the rep smacked the bottom of a blanco bottle against another bottle and a small chip popped off, emptying the half left. A shameful waste of tequila, but.the table did smell quite nice.
Partida tequila is an organic tequila from the lowlands. They harvest their agave between 8-10 years. They age their tequila in once-filled Jack Daniels barrels. They cook their agave in a stainless steel autoclave to avoid the soot and smoke. The blanco had a bit of muskiness and herbs on the nose. I tasted a bit of wintermint, and definite citrus notes. There was also a slight butter that lasted throughout the finish.
The reposado is aged for 6 months in Jack Daniels barrels,.. I got grass, oak, and a slight vanilla on the nose. I tasted butter, pepper, a bit a rosemary before there was a bit of cocoa on the finish.
The anejo is aged for 18 months. I got a nice charred oak, vanilla, and maple on the nose. The maple reappeared in the taste with a nice butter, cooked agave, and a touch of caramel and oak to round out the finish.
Tequila Ocho is doing something which no other tequila producer has ever done by release single-estate, vintage tequilas. Their rep told me that tequila, more than any other distilled spirit, has terroir. While I brought up Scotch whisky as an example of a distilled spirit with a great amount of terroir, he explained that there was differences in smoke from the kilning and different methods that played a bigger role. I ultimately disagree with him, since methods of distillations certainly played a central role in determining the flavors I found during the course of the event. Tequila’s biggest advantage for expressing terroir is that there is comparatively minimal aging involved.
All of Tequila Ocho’s releases have been highlands, and the agave is baked using a stone oven. The ’08 release was all from Carrizal. The blanco had a nice white pepper, smokiness to it. I tasted some nice stone fruit expressions, and a good bit of spice. The ’08 reposado had much more pepper to it, and was very spicy with a rich cinnamon and a good base of cooked agave to go with some floral characteristics.
Tequila Ocho’s ’09 all came from Las Pomez. The blanco was extremely clean, much less oily(mouthfeel) than the ’08. I tasted a good bit of grapefruit, sweet and slight bitter bite. I found the ’09 reposado to be much more remarkable with clear vanilla notes on the nose. I definitely tasted the cooked agave, balanced out with notes of pepper, floral, spice, and orange.
The ’10s came from Los Corrales. The blanco had a nice cardamom spice to the nose, and featured a fair amount of butter in the flavor. I also detected a slight herbaceous quality, perhaps mint. The finish had a nice black pepper. The ’10 anejo had a go, rich flavors ranging from vanilla, caramel, bourbon, raisins, maple to oak on the finish.
I tried Siete Leguas next. This tequila has been produced by the same family since 1952 and is known for being the original producer of Patron tequila(long since stopped bottling under that brand). The blanco had a slight spice, a touch of grapefruit, and peppercorn.
The reposado was aged for 8 months. The nose had a bit of butter and was a bit earthy. I tasted some nice pepper, orange peel, and a nice honeydew melon in this tequila.
The rep then produced his own hidden bottle of Siete Lequas, a special reserve of tequila which had been aged for 7 years. This was a definite highlight of the night. This was a very complex tequila with a nose offering a wide range of notes from floral to butter, from fruity to vanilla, and with a nice touch of coconut. I tasted a good bit of spice and oak, some cardamom and cinnamon, apricot, butter, and a nice melon. This tequila finished with a nice, long spice.
The final tequila booth I made it to was Fortaleza(and there were a few I missed in the the 3 hours the event was held, which my liver much appreciated the next day). I wouldn’t take too much stock in my tasting notes for this tequila, given the time of the night.. My notes say that Fortaleza uses 33 stone ovens, pine wood for fermentation, copper stills, and old Jack Daniels barrels for aging.
The blanco had some cooked agave on the nose, a slight pepper, and a bit of a grassy flavor. The reposado(aged 6-9 months?) was a bit grassy on the nose. I had honey, oak, and caramel as the flavors and also vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch. I remember this as a rich tequila.
The anejo’s notes read that “I’m drunk” and simply had butterscotch and finish vanilla. I then ate those enchilladas to soak up some of that good booze, and headed back home on BART. However, my top three tequilas tasted were:
1. Charbay Blanco
2. Siete Leguas special reserve
3. Casa Noble Reposado