Review: Sangre de Vida Tequila and Mezcal, Complete Lineup

sdv tequila-anjeo-and-reposado

So here’s the story. I hope I have all the facts correct.

In 2009, Grace Kim Brandi founded of L.A.-based Elements Spirits, which makes KAH Tequila and packages it in unmistakable skull decanters, hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Elements was sued by the people that make Crystal Head Vodka, which comes is in a (clear) skull, which culminated in a business deal that resulted in the acquiring company taking over Elements’ legal defense. As of earlier this year, this case is still ongoing. At trial, a jury sided with Elements, but various appeals have given the Crystal Head owner the right to a new trial, citing misstatements in Elements’ original closing arguments.

Brandi left Elements in 2011 in a massive (and confusing) corporate and legal shuffle and did what any good entrepreneur does: In 2012 she founded Iconic Brands, which is now selling the Sangre de Vida tequila and mezcal product line, packaged in unmistakable skull decanters, also hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

Naturally, Elements sued Iconic over trademark infringement, citing that the decanters Sangre de Vida is using are confusing when compared to KAH’s. Iconic’s position is that Brandi herself owns the design rights, not Elements, and that Elements is supposed to pay Brandi a royalty for using the bottle design. The courts so far have sided with Brandi — though, as with the other litigation — this is still ongoing.

So while the courts settle all of this brouhaha over packaging, we actually remembered that there are spirits inside these little bottles and can see if they’re any good. With that in mind, let’s drop the legal briefs for a day and sample the three tequilas and one mezcal that SdV is marketing.

Thoughts follow.

Sangre de Vida Tequila Blanco – A fresh but somewhat flabby blanco, with a curious but appealing nose of fresh cream, milk chocolate, and restrained sweet agave. The palate showcases all of the above, in even heavier concentrations, with an almost milky body that layers in hints of almonds and cinnamon. There’s plenty to like here, but it doesn’t drink particularly like a blanco — and the finish is on the thin side. 80 proof. B / $40

Sangre de Vida Tequila Reposado – Overproof reposado, aged at least three months. A vastly different experience than the blanco, the SdV reposado is racy on the nose, punctuated with black and cayenne pepper, dense herbs, and overtones of ripe citrus. That sweetness that prevails so clearly on the blanco is also present here, though it becomes clearer after time in glass lets some of the alcohol vapors to resolve. The finish is spicy and warming, heavy on vanilla and banana notes over a relatively long fade-out. 110 proof. A- / $45

Sangre de Vida Tequila Anejo – Aged at least 12 months. Supple caramel and coconut aromas hit the nose, with herbal agave just a gentle hint. On the palate the tequila is quite sweet, with notes of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and butterscotch. Vanilla endures well into the finish, which only nods gently at pepper and earthy agave notes. I love a good anejo, but the sweetness here is a bit overpowering, dampening any residual agave character. B+ / $50

Sangre de Vida Mezcal – 100% espadin agave from Oaxaca, aged 60 days in oak. Warmly smoky, with winey and fruity notes on the nose.It starts off as rather plain for a mezcal, offering a garden-variety winey character, barbecue smoke, and notes of honey and fruit preserves. The finish is epic and not entirely in a good way, its cloying sweetness lingering for days, leaving the palate significantly out of balance and with any real sense of agave. 90 proof. B- / $50

sangredevida.com

Review: Wahaka Mezcal Complete Lineup

WAH007 - Tobala

Mezcal is always fun, but it gets really fun when you can compare different styles and species of agave that are used to create this unique spirit.

Wahaka, based in the Tlacolula Central Valley region of Oaxaca, offers five different Mezcals — four joven (silver) varieties, and one reposado. We tasted them all. Thoughts follow.

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Espadin – Espadin is the most common strain of agave used for mezcal, and from the nose you would expect this to be a rather smokily pungent expression of the spirit. The body is quite another experience, though — quite gentle, with ample sweetness, notes of apples, and some green banana. Beyond the smoke-filled nose, it’s as gentle as mezcal gets, with its savory notes quickly fading as it leaves behind a mildly herbal but mostly fruit-filled finish. If ever there was a “starter mezcal,” this is it. 80 proof. B+ / $33

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Tobala – Tobala is a wild, small, high-altitude agave known for fruity notes. Here, the nose offers a distinctly sweeter note, one that is studded with notes of peaches but also herbal rosemary notes. The palate hits the tongue with dried tropical fruits and segues into notes of fresh pineapple and mango, filtered through a smoky lens. These notes go together surprisingly well, with an especially sweet and tropical finish. If the Espadin is starter mezcal, this is the perfect chaser — and quite a little delight that doesn’t just sip well on its own, it also mixes well. 84 proof. A- / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Madre-Cuishe – Another wild agave strain, this mezcal presents with a more pungent and heavily peppered nose, offering ample sweetness but stuffing it with notes of smoked meats and a touch of molasses. On the palate, the sweeter house style endures, but considerable smoke and black pepper manage to dominate. Those looking for a burlier, meaty, and pungent mezcal will find it in this Madre-Cuishe expression That said, it is still accessible and quite engaging. 84 proof. A- / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Joven Ensamble – As the name implies, this is a blend — 50% Espadin, 25% Tobala, and 25% Madre-Cuishe. The nose is straightforward and mildly smoky, fairly in line with the Espadin. On the tongue, some citrus — oddly absent in the single-varietal expressions — leads the way, meandering into more of that green banana, brown sugar, and marshmallow notes. There’s plenty going on here, but balance is something of a concern, with Ensamble turning out to be a bit plain, something less than the sum of its parts. 80 proof. B+ / $90

Wahaka Mezcal Reposado con Gusano – A lightly aged reposado mezcal, origin unknown — worm (gusano) included. The nose offers more of a barbecue sauce character, with an orange juice kick. Much sweeter than the jovens, this reposado offers immediate notes of fresh mango and papaya, banana (again), and that barbecue character hitting hard on the finish. Smokiness takes a distinct back seat here, which is common in barrel-aged expressions. Fun as a diversion… plus you can ponder that worm staring at you. 80 proof. B+ / $47

wahakamezcal.com

Review: Mezcal Amaras Cupreata

Mezcal Amaras Cupreata Packshot 1

Mezcal Amaras is new on the scene, but it’s already got a new expression available: Cupreata. What’s cupreata? Amaras explains…

The rare cupreata agave, found only on certain mountain slopes in the Rio Balsas basin in Mexico, produces an equally rare mezcal, known for its distinctly vegetal flavor profile. Today, Anchor Distilling Company makes this special mezcal more available in the U.S. with the introduction of Mezcal Amarás Cupreata, a 100% cupreata agave unaged mezcal. This new release joins the brand’s first expression, a 100% espadín agave unaged mezcal, released in January 2015…

Mezcal Amarás Cupreata is produced by master mezcalero Don Faustino Robledo in the small village of Mazatlán in the State of Guerrero, Mexico. Of the more than 22 different species used to make mezcal, the cupreata agave, or maguey papalote (as it is referred to in Guerrero), is one of the least common agaves utilized. Semi-cultivated on the steep terrain of the Sierra Madre del Sur highlands at 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level, the plant has bright green, wide, fleshy leaves lined with copper colored thorns, and takes approximately 13 years to mature due to the harsh climate conditions of the region.

The mezcal is made with no added yeast, only open air fermentation, and is double distilled in copper pot stills. A joven mezcal, it is released unaged.

This is quite a rustic mezcal, with a nose of fresh and sweet mesquite wood, crushed berries, apricots, cut apples, and a touch of evergreen. On the palate, there’s loads of sweetness, backed by that roaring, smoky mesquite fire. The fruits create a bit compote here, with the apricot leading the way toward a woody, smoky finish that folds in all kinds of fruit. Apricots lead to overripe banana notes, which linger on the finish with some odd walnut character that comes to the fore late in the game.

Really exotic stuff, and worth checking out by any mezcal fan, particularly at this price.

86 proof.

A- / $50 / mezcalamores.com

Review: Mezcal Alipus, 4 Expressions

alipus San Juan_alta

Del Maguey isn’t the only game in town if you want to explore single-village mezcals. Craft Distillers has put together a line of six different mezcals (including one special bottling of only 600 bottles) showcasing different terroirs in the pueblos of Oaxaca — all of which are a bit south of the capital. Each of these is 100% agave espadin, of course.

Let’s try four of them!

Mezcal Alipus San Andres – Fragrant on the nose, quite floral. The body features big orange and grapefruit notes, some cinnamon and black pepper, and gentle smokiness lacing throughout it all. Sweet and spicy, with a quiet demeanor to it. 94.6 proof. B+

Mezcal Alipus San Juan – These agaves are harvested from 1100 meters, the lowest elevation in this group (the rest all hover at around 1600 meters). Quite smoky, with some fruit underneath it. This is a more brash mezcal, though notes of banana and coconut bubble up on the finish to add some nuance. Overall, though, this is the most heavy-handed mezcal of the bunch — which is a good and a bad thing, depending on your POV. 95.4 proof. B

Mezcal Alipus San Luis – Milder, and instantly sweeter on the nose, with more of a barbecue character. Applewood bacon, some citrus, particularly lime, are heavy on the palate. A touch of red pepper on the tongue gives this mezcal a little more heat than the others, while some sweeter elements give the finish a gentle way out. There’s lots going on with this mezcal, which has a complexity that some of the other Alipus expressions lack. 95.6 proof. A-

Mezcal Alipus Santa Ana del Rio – Sweet, with piney notes. The least smoky of the bunch — definitely a starter mezcal for those afraid of it. A quiet spirit, it offers distinctly floral perfume notes on the nose, then some fruit on the palate — pomelos and peaches, perhaps? A bit rocky on the finish, as some medicinal notes emerge. Curious stuff. 93.8 proof. B

each $48 / craftdistillers.com

Recipes for National Tequila Day, 2015

As with most holidays held in the summer, this one seems as if it should have its own weekend and not a single date. However, with July 24th falling on a Friday, it should be easy to stretch this one out over three days, no problem. Here are a few recipes sent to us from various folks over the last couple of weeks celebrating National Tequila Day. Some are pretty straightforward, and others do a good job at highlight tequila’s versatility in cocktails. Of course, drinking it straight up is always good, too. Enjoy!

CarpeCarpe Dia Punch
2 parts Milagro Añejo
1 part lime juice
1 part blackberry syrup
1 sage leaf
1 part ginger beer
Blackberries (for garnish)

Build all ingredients except ginger beer in a punch bowl over a block of ice. Top with ginger beer right before stirring.

palomaLavender Paloma
2 parts Milagro Silver
1 part grapefruit juice
.5 part lavender and vanilla simple syrup
.5 part fresh lime juice
Grapefruit peel and kosher salt (for garnish)

Mix ingredients and top with soda water. Add garnish. Sit on patio reading Elmore Leonard novels and listening to Steely Dan. (optional)

Fresa Breeze
Created by Tomas Delos Reyes
2 oz Partida Blanco Tequila
1/2 oz agave nectar
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
2 strawberries
2 tsp diced cucumber
Mint sprig (for garnish)

Muddle strawberries and agave nectar in a shaker. Add ingredients and shake over ice. Strain over ice and top with diced cucumber. Garnish with mint sprig (optional).

AOFAñejo Old Fashioned
2 slices of orange
2 scoops of sugar
3 drops Angostura Bitters
½ oz Herradura Añejo (we tripled this)
1-2 brandied cherries

In an Old Fashioned glass muddle the orange slices, sugar, and bitters. Add ice sphere to glass. Add Herradura Añejo. Garnish with brandied cherries.

(Note: As a resident of Kentucky, I was highly skeptical of this recipe and was ready to be offended. However, to my surprise it wasn’t blasphemous. Approach with an open mind.)

Fairweather Sour
Served at The Wayfarer in NYC
1 oz Milagro Silver
1 oz Pura Tirta Mezcal
1/2 oz pineapple puree
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz jalapeño simple syrup
Pinch of fresh cilantro
Dash of Memphis bitters
Smoked paprika Salt (for rim)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with a scoop of ice. Rim the rocks glass with the smoked paprika salt. Shake well and double strain into the glass over ice. Garnish with a slice of fresh jalapeño.

Review: Craft Distillers Mezcalero Release #11 Bramaderos (Miahuatlan)

MEZ_11Craft Distillers’ Mezcalero is a series of one-time batches of mezcal, similar to the ArteNOM tequila releases. Once they’re all sold, they’re gone for good. But don’t worry — in both cases, they always make more.

We first encountered Mezcalero in its second batch, and while I felt that release was a touch lackluster, it intrigued me enough to keep following the line. Mezcalero is now in its 12th release — and we just received release #11, still on the market, for review.

Mezcalero #11 is made from four types of agave: Semi-wild agave karwinskii  (madrecuishe) that grows on stalks, bicuishe, rhodacantha (Mexicano), and cultivated espadín. (Espadin is by far the most common type used in modern mezcal.) The spirit is crafted by distiller Alberto Ortiz (aka Don Beto) near Miahuatlan, Mexico.

Mezcalero #11 is silky and sweet and smoky on the nose, offering neat citrus aromas, iodine, and a persistent lacing of gentle smoke character. The body starts off gently, again pushing its citrus character along with ample notes of roasted meats (or bacon) and some menthol. The smoke builds slowly, then faster, but the sweetness holds its own throughout. The finish is rounded and seductive, a solid example of a well-crafted mezcal that has all the essentials in place.

1068 bottles produced, making this a bit easier to find than prior releases. 94.6 proof.

A- / $84 / craftdistillers.com

Review: Mezcal Amaras

mezcal amarasThis new brand of mezcal hails from San Juan del Rio in Oaxaca. It’s a blanco made in a decidedly traditional style. To wit:

This traditional mezcal is made from Espadín agave plants grown on the hills surrounding San Juan del Rio, which are harvested at their optimum maturity by Jimadores, and roasted for 5 days in conical stone ovens over sustainable Holm Oak logs. Next, the agave hearts are ground on a horse drawn Egyptian mill, which creates an extract that naturally ferments in open pine containers for up to 13 days.  Finally, the liquid is slowly distilled twice in copper pot stills, a process which removes impurities, refines the character of the mezcal, and produces a soft, smooth flavor with a slightly smoked, citric aroma.

Amaras (“you will love”) is a bit more smoked than that description would indicate, but it does indeed have a citrusy, barbecue-like aroma that pushes right along as the palate gets a grip. Notes of pineapple, honeycomb, and melon make for some interesting appetizers before the smoky body really begins to dig in. It isn’t overbearing or particularly harsh, but it does offer a sizable amount of campfire flavors. Notes of Mexican chocolate build on the finish if you give it time, adding a layer of complexity to an otherwise fairly straightforward but extremely well-made mezcal.

82 proof. Reviewed: Lot #1 (2014), bottle 147/3300.

A- / $50 / mezcalamores.com