Coming in at 84-proof, Peligroso Silver Tequila may not exactly be “dangerous,” but it definitely has some heat to it. You can whiff the alcohol right from the glass — I’d have guessed it had an even higher octane than it does. You also get the agave aroma you’d expect from a 100% agave tequila. (And, as you know, the Professor doesn’t drink any other kind.)
The alcohol comes over on the palate as well, especially on the finish. It gives that lingering burn to the throat, in case you like that kind of thing. I found it a little harsher than I prefer. The flavor was also a little one-dimensional. There’s an earthy agave taste leading to some peppery bitterness and a hint of tobacco. Not really a well-rounded flavor like I was hoping for.
Not bad by any means, but not a stand-out in the category.
While we celebrate Halloween in the United States, Mexico is busy observing Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. It’s a more serious holiday than Halloween, a time to remember family and those who have gone before us. But it’s also a joyous one, with celebrations featuring plenty of good food and drink.
And that’s why today we’re discussing tequila. I’ve talked before about some of the tequilas I like to drink, and one of the mainstays on the list is Don Julio Blanco. Most of the big spirits companies don’t do a great job with tequila. Their products are too artificial, too manipulated, too manufactured. But Don Julio tequila is a spirit I don’t hesitate to recommend.
When you hold up a glass of this tequila, you see the crystalline purity, while the aroma bursts forth: bright, saline, and herbaceous. Such a lush and appealing scent. You can tell that a great deal of the agave’s essence has been transformed into the spirit — exactly what you’re looking for in a good blanco tequila.
The agave is also up-front-and-center on the palate. It’s a little sweet at first, changing to salty and spicy after a moment. The delicious, vegetal flavor is just as lush as the smell. It also has a nice, viscous mouthfeel, with a brief, slightly bitter finish without too much heat. Don Julio made be owned by Diageo, the largest drinks company in the world, but the people making this tequila know what they’re doing.
Don Julio Blanco tequila is too good to shoot. It should be sipped and savored. Or, naturally, you can enjoy it in a fine cocktail like a Margarita or Paloma. Lately I’ve been enjoying it in a simpler preparation. Add a healthy measure of Don Julio to a glass with ice, throw in a squeeze of lime and a splash of agave nectar or simple syrup. Simple, but elegant and delicious.
Although mezcal is gaining in popularity in the United States, it’s still mostly unknown (or misunderstood) by the average consumer. This is a shame, as mezcal is a wonderful spirit with a great deal of potential.
To the extent that most Americans have heard of mezcal at all, they think of it as “that booze with the worm in the bottle.” This is, for the most part, wrong. There have been a few companies in the past that have sold their mezcal “con guisano” (with a moth larva in the bottle). But that was nothing more than a marketing gimmick. It has nothing to do with the spirit itself.
Mezcal is similar to tequila in that it is distilled from the agave plant — a succulent, by the way, not a cactus — and can only legally be made in certain regions of Mexico.
Most mezcal is made in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, and it is made from a variety of different types of agave, including espadin, tobala, and arroqueno. Tequila, on the other hand, is made in western Mexico, mostly in Jalisco, and must be made from Weber blue agave (agave tequilana).
An even more important difference between tequila and mezcal is the way that the agave is cooked before distillation. With tequila, the agave piñas are traditionally cooked in ovens (called hornos) using steam. With mezcal, the agave is roasted in a pit over a wood fire (usually oak or mesquite). This process imparts a smokiness to mezcal that to many is the trademark of the spirit.
(Note that not all mezcal producers produce their spirit in this fashion. Some utilize methods to minimize the smokiness of their distillate, while others dispense with the roasting altogether. Similarly, not all tequila producers cook their agave in hornos. These are matters of some controversy in the agave spirits community, and for good reason.)
Like most mezcals, El Buho is made from espadin agave in Oaxaca. It is roasted using mesquite wood, something that is immediately evident when you open the bottle. An initial smell of salt and pepper gives way to lots of wood smoke. A deeper inhalation leads to brininess, along with the expected ethanol.
For those who aren’t used to drinking mezcal, the flavor is quite unique. El Buho has a strong earthy taste of mesquite smoke that is complemented by scant sweetness and tropical fruit notes, and some roasted chili as well. There is almost a burnt tire quality to it — which sounds unappealing, but really isn’t. The finish is long and smoky, with the briny quality from the aroma returning.
El Buho is an excellent mezcal to start with, given that it costs quite a bit less than most on the market. It may lack some of the balance and nuance of the more high-end expressions, but it represents a very solid example of the genre.
Although El Buho is fine on its own, it would also be welcome in a variety of cocktails, including the Oaxaca Old-Fashioned.
Flavored vodkas and whiskeys have been all the rage in the spirits world over the past several years. So why not a flavored tequila? Leave it to Jose Cuervo to give it a try.
It was with some trepidation that I sampled this. I’m not a fan of Jose Cuervo Especial, the distillery’s mainstay mixto tequila that is used as the base for this product. So the idea of taking that tequila and infusing it with cinnamon didn’t light up my taste buds.
In the glass, Jose Cuervo Cinge is clear and viscous, with an overpowering aroma of sweet cinnamon. It reminded me more of a cinnamon schnapps like Goldschlager than anything resembling tequila.
The taste is loaded with artificial cinnamon and the very sweet flavor of agave nectar. It takes like an alcoholic Red Hots candy. I couldn’t detect any tequila flavor, although I could taste some alcohol in it. It’s cloying and very simple, lacking any sophistication or complexity.
There’s the sweet cinnamon upfront and a slight alcohol burn on the finish, but that’s about it. Is that good or bad? I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for. I didn’t dislike it, per se, but I can’t imagine when or why I would drink it.
On the other hand, I can imagine that a lot of people — mostly young people, I suppose — would enjoy this as a shooter. I can also envision some cocktail uses, although I doubt I would use it that way myself.
In the end, I think the distillers at Jose Cuervo produced exactly what they were attempting, and thus they succeeded on that level. However, I still don’t see enough here to justify recommending it.
The world of tequila is a complicated one, torn between large commercial producers that use the latest technology, and smaller, more craft-oriented producers that do things the way that distillers have for generations.
There is not necessarily a clear advantage to taking one path or the other – great tequila can be made by companies both large and small – but there is certainly a fascination with and appreciation for those who take the extra time and effort to follow tradition.
Selección ArteNOM Tequila is a company that celebrates that tradition. They find great spirits produced by small distilleries, in a variety of locales and utilizing a variety of techniques, and bring them to a wider audience.
Their Selección de 1414 Reposado is produced by the Vivanco Family in Arandas, located in the Highlands region of Jalisco, Mexico. They grow their own agave and distill it into their own tequila, putting their personal stamp on everything they do. And that dedication to quality and control shines through in the final spirit.
Despite spending ten months resting in used American white oak barrels, this spirit is very pale in color – only slightly darker than the typical blanco. Naturally, it is 100% agave, in this case Blue Weber. It has a rich and appealing aroma of agave, both vegetal and sweet.
Once sipped, those same qualities come across on the palate. There is sweetness and a mild vegetal tang, accentuated by a touch of brine. It’s mild, but still very tasty, with spices including cinnamon and clove. Seleccion 1414 Reposado has a lot of different flavor components that are working together in balance, which makes it both complex and delicious.
It has a medium-long finish, not too hot or spicy. Only at the end does it kick in with a little something extra to remind you that you’re drinking a real tequila. But it never beats you over the head. This is subtle, rather than bold.
Overall, Selección ArteNOM Reposado is sophisticated and rich, highly recommended for both sipping and mixing. (It made an outstanding Margarita, although I felt it disappeared in the Paloma.)
I first became aware of Z Tequila when they won two Double Gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition earlier this year — an impressive feat for a small distillery with very limited distribution (currently only in Texas and California). This was a tequila I had to find out more about.
Z Tequila is produced in the lowlands of Jalisco, Mexico under the direction of Master Distiller Pepe Zevada, a veteran of the spirits business for four decades.
In the past, Zevada developed and nurtured brands for several of the big companies, including introducing Tequila Espolon to the American market. When he was offered the opportunity to create his own craft tequila, he jumped at the chance.
All three tequilas are made from seven to nine year-old Blue Agave plants — older than the norm — and are bottled at 80 proof. The Reposado and Añejo are both aged in Canadian white oak barrels rather than the more typical ex-bourbon barrels. Zevada is trying some unique things with his tequilas, a refreshing alternative to the mass-market brands.
Z Blanco Tequila ($30) – I started with the crystal clear silver tequila, a spirit bottled straight from the still. A lively, vegetal smell is followed by a burst of flavor and heat on the tongue. This blanco has a lot of rich, tequila taste, but not a lot of subtlety. It was a little too much for me to enjoy on its own, but it was smoother with a little dilution, and mixed up very nicely in a Margarita. (Some people say you shouldn't make cocktails with tequila like this. To them, I say: it was delicious!) Final Grade: B
Z Reposado Tequila ($33) – The Reposado has a more welcoming presence. The color of light straw, this expression spends at least nine months resting in barrels. The aging has smoothed out some of the rougher edges, lending it a crisp, woody and dry taste. It has the floral aroma of agave, with a nice, spicy presence on the palate. A fine sipping tequila. Final Grade: B+
Z Añejo Tequila ($35) – The Añejo was my favorite of all. A lovely golden hue, this tequila is aged for nearly two years in oak, and it's all the better for it. All of the harshness that I found in the blanco is gone. Simultaneously more flavorful and yet subtler as well, the Añejo demonstrates the mastery of Zevada. It has a lovely balance between spicy and sweet, and a finish that keeps you thinking of this tequila for a long time. Very well done. Final Grade: A
My only complaint with these tequilas is a small one. I found the bottle tops to be annoying. They look like wood stoppers, but are really just decorated screw caps. The Anejo top broke off in my hand when I opened it, and the Reposado has a frustrating pour restrictor on it, causing the spirit to dribble into the glass. Not a big deal, but such fine tequilas deserve better.
Last weekend we had family visiting from California, which could only mean one thing: I was mixing up cocktails. We were making Mexican food for dinner, so we decided to spice it up a little by having a tequila tasting to kick things off.
I brought out five varieties of silver (or blanco) tequilas to taste. We started off by sipping all of them neat to compare the flavors, and then we tried them in Margaritas. The shots of tequila were accompanied by shots of Sangrita, a Mexican aperitif that is traditionally served along with tequila. (It's kind of like a tangy Bloody Mary mix.)
All five of these tequilas are made from 100% Blue Agave, and all of them are the unaged expressions from their distillers. They each come in at 40% abv (80 proof).
As a general rule, silver/blanco tequilas are usually used for mixing, while the aged varieties (reposado and añejo) are saved for sipping. However, only by tasting it straight can you enjoy the pure flavor of the tequila, and a few of these made very respectable sippers.
Here are the results, compiled from the reactions that the three of us had. The grades are based on the flavor/quality of the tequila, without regard to price.
Milagro Silver (Final Grade: B)
A solid, herbal aroma of agave. Very zesty flavor, but slightly bitter and citrusy. Came in on the hotter side of the "smooth" scale — it had more of a burn than some of the tequilas we tasted. Not as balanced. Made a delicious Margrita.
Avión Silver (Final Grade: A)
A wonderful grassy aroma. Pure agave on the tongue; spicy, floral and bursting in flavor. Very smooth and balanced. Easily the best of the night. I didn't mix this one in a Margarita — I wanted to save it to enjoy neat.
Corazón Blanco (Final Grade: B+)
Another tequila with a plesant, vegetal smell of agave that carried over into the flavor, along with hints of fruit. This one was a little sweeter than the other tequilas, with a moderate, welcome heat on the finish. A very nice flavor overall. I didn't mix this one in a cocktail, but I'm confident it would work quite well.
Familia Camarena Silver (Final Grade: B-)
Good agave aroma and a peppery flavor, but not as smooth as the others. This one definitely had the most heat of the brands we tasted. This tequila was solid all around, but didn't leap out as a sipper. It did make an excellent Margarita, however, so use this one for mixing.
Cazadores Blanco (Final Grade: B)
The strongest aroma of the five tequilas — it was almost pungent on the nose — but the lightest flavor. Very smooth, with the only heat coming on the brief finish. Certainly not bad, but not much point in sipping it. Clearly designed for mixing, and it made delicious Margaritas.
The Avión Silver was easily the winner of the taste test — it stood out from the pack with its delicious taste and smooth character. It's the one I would go to first for a sipping tequila. It was also the most expensive, so this is an example of getting what you pay for.
I wouldn't hesitate to use any of these five tequilas in a cocktail. All of them have the agave flavor that you want from a tequila and are very mixable. At its price point – I've seen it on sale for around $16 – the Camarena Silver would be hard to beat. I would recommend the Cazadores Blanco to those drinkers who aren't "tequila fans" and are looking for something lighter in their drinks.
Here's my Margarita recipe, so you can try some of your own:
1 1/2 oz Tequila 1 oz Triple Sec 1/2 oz Lime Juice
Shake with ice, then strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.
Make sure you use a good quality Triple Sec. Cointreau is the gold standard, although I used Patrón Citrónge this time around and it worked very well.