The weather outside can be frightful. While a fire sounds delightful, warm breezes, some quality tequila and a refreshing cocktail sound even better, right? For those of us who can’t escape to warmer climes, there are many terrific tequilas available in our hemisphere and plenty of delicious ways to play with them to create a temporary escape from the chill.
Sadly, there is a view of tequila as some rough party spirit that requires heavy concealment with syrupy fruit mixers and blenders with lots of crushed ice. Oh no, mis amigos! This is an elixir that can be sipped and savored like a good whiskey. Quality tequila is made with care and respect for the earth and the elements and is steeped in tradition.
To be labeled as tequila, it must be made in Mexico. The tequila-zone encompasses the lowland areas around the town of Tequila in the state of Jalisco, and the highlands (“Los Altos”) where it overlaps northeast into the states of Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan and Tamaulipas. The higher elevations, prolonged sun exposure, low nighttime temperatures and tierra roja (“red earth”) produce a lighter, more fruity agave than the lowlands, which are more robust, earthy and mineral. Only Weber Blue Agave is used in tequila. There are two main kinds of tequila, those produced with 100% agave and those called “mixto,” which have added sugars, syrups, base alcohols (aguardiente- “firewater”) and artificial coloring (“gold”). All the tequilas mentioned for this article are 100% Agave Weber Azul.
We’ll be sampling different brands and different ages.
Blanco is unaged or minimally aged, no coloring.
Reposado (“rested”) is aged in oak for two months to a year.
Anejo has aged in oak for a minimum of one year.
While there is also an Extra Anejo category, we will not examine those here in the interest of featuring more accessible products and those best for cocktails.
Partida Blanco: A lowland tequila produced from agave that has been grown for up to ten years in volcanic soils before picking, developing excellent structure. There’s a nice mixture of herb (lemongrass, oregano, chives), minerality, bell and hot peppers, stone fruits and vanilla, all tied together with a little sweet smokiness and brine.
Chinaco Blanco: From the highland state of Tamaulipas comes this crisp, fresh tequila. The clean, citrus finish is a natural match to fresh fruit ingredients.
Pueblo Vieja Blanco: If you’re looking for a good, solid, inexpensive workhorse of a tequila for mixing or infusing but don’t want to settle for nasty synthetic additives, this is the perfect one for you.
1921 Reposado: Named for the year of the Revolution, this Highlands tequila is meticulously crafted. While all the age releases are fantastic, the reposado stands out for its harmony of fruit, earth and smoke with a hint of spiciness and a smooth finish. A great sipper on its own, it can easily do double-duty with a variety of cocktails.
Siete Leguas Anejo: This distillery in the Jalisco Highlands is the site of the original Patron factory (before Patron became its own entity and moved to a larger production facility), and is named after Pancho Villa’s horse. The golden color comes from oak aging, not color additives, and the difference is palpable. The toasty oak adds smooth dimension to the spicy and earthy agave flavors. Great sipper on its own and works with stronger ingredients like berries, PX sherries, Port, fruit brandies and even whiskey.
Excellia: Unique Jalisco Highlands tequilas that, even in blanco form, have been aged separately in Grand Cru Sauternes and Cognac casks before blending. The brainchild of Jean-Sébastien Robicquet (G’Vine Gin) and master tequila producer Carlos Camarena (Tapatio & El Tesoro). Because of their distinctiveness, each expression deserves a mention. The blanco is the most surprising since it’s so much spicier (cinnamon, cloves, allspice) than others in this category, with notes of golden apples and pears. The reposado has warmer fruits, some raisins and banana mixing with the spice, an extra note of honey and a hint of thyme that signifies the agave. The anejo is more buttery and toasty, the fruits and spice the most pronounced, with honey turning to deep caramel. Terrific with wine-based ingredients like vermouth, Sherry and Brandy.