Review: Roca Patron Tequila

Roca Patron Reposado

Quien es mas rico? No es Patron. Es Roca Patron.

If standard Patron isn’t ritzy enough for you, now there’s Roca Patron, an artisanal version of the tequila classic. What’s a roca? And how is this different from the regular bottling? In Patron’s words:

Roca Patrón starts with a tahona, a giant two-ton stone wheel hand-carved from volcanic rock (roca) that slowly crushes the cooked agave to break the bonds of fiber and release the rich agave juice. From here, both the juice and the agave fiber are placed together into wooden fermentation vats for 72 hours, and then distilled in small-capacity copper pot stills. Only a handful of the more than 150 working tequila distilleries in Mexico still utilize the tahona process.

While Roca Patrón is the company’s first line of tequilas crafted exclusively from the tahona process, the process itself is nothing new to Patrón. From the brand’s very beginning, every tequila in the Patrón portfolio has included tahona tequila in the blend. The core line of Patrón tequilas, and Gran Patrón Platinum and Gran Patrón Burdeos, are created from a combination of tahona tequila and tequilas produced from the more modern roller mill process. Patrón has also recently introduced a tahona-only extra añejo, Gran Patrón Piedra.

The aged variants are rested in single-use American bourbon barrels – Roca Patrón Reposado for five months, Roca Patrón Añejo for 14 months; this differs from the core Patrón line, which are aged in a blend of new and used oak barrels. The Patrón master distiller determined that the ideal flavor characteristics of Roca Patrón Silver came through at 45 percent alcohol (90 proof). Similarly, Roca Patrón Reposado is optimal at 84 proof, and Roca Patrón Añejo at 88 proof.

We tried the blanco, reposado, and anejo expressions. Thoughts follow:

Roca Patron Blanco Tequila – Silver, unaged. Classically herbal on the nose, grassy with lemon/lime overtones. Surprisingly similar on the palate. This is more vegetal than standard Patron — or, more accurately, my memory of the last time I had Patron — with more bite, more acidic tang, and a clear focus on fresh herbs. A lot of this is likely due to the 45% alcohol that Roca Blanco is bottled at. A fully capable but decidedly simplistic blanco; you’ll find more nuance and depth of flavor in other bottlings on the market. 90 proof. B+ / $70

Roca Patron Reposado Tequila – Aged 5 months. The nose is quiet, with a crisp focus on lemon — think lemon meringue pie — and agave in the distant background. The body is silky as all get out. This is the kind of tequila people will invariably describe as “smooth” as they knock it back a handle at a time. It’s got just the right consistency, melding the bite of agave with more lemony citrus, vanilla custard, a dusting of cinnamon, and a touch of woody lumberyard notes. The finish fades from sweet and soothing to drying and clean with a twist of lime, a nifty little trick and one that will sure have happy drinkers ordering a second shot at the bar. Firing on all cylinders. 84 proof. A / $80

Roca Patron Anejo Tequila – Aged 14 months. Exotic nose. Lots of agave hanging in there at first, bringing aromas of rosemary and sage to mingle with some burnt marshmallow and anise notes. But after a sip or two you clearly see the impact of wood just having its way with this spirit. 14 months isn’t all that old for a solid anejo, but here the astringent wood barrel notes nonetheless overpower both the agave notes and the sweetness you’d normally see from barrel aging. Instead of that classically anejo silky caramel character we get a slug of raw lumberyard that dominates the spirit and never lets up. A disappointment considering the promise of the reposado. 88 proof. B / $90

All in all: A mixed bag, but I can think of nothing but this when the bottle’s in front of me.

Review: Milagro Tequila UNICO Edicion II

unico 2 milagro

Two years ago, Tequila Milagro aimed to reinvent tequila with UNICO, a $300 blend of blanco and aged tequilas that had been filtered back to white — a technique born in the rum world that is exploding in popularity with tequila, too.

1,200 bottles were produced — and sealed in impossibly elaborate decanters — and surely these sold out quickly. Now Milagro is back with UNICO II — unico edicion dos — made using basically the same process: “aged silver tequila with rare barrel-aged reposado and añejo reserves, creating a super-premium joven blend.”

How does the 2014 expression of UNICO fare? We tried it so you don’t have to spend $60 a shot to find out.

Very pale yellow in color, the nose of UNICO II is one of a solid, well-aged reposado or possibly an anejo tequila. Classic vanilla and caramel mixes with a bit of bite of agave, creating a rather enchanting opening statement. The body is sultry — lemon pepper, marshmallow, lightly browned sugar, and a healthy slug of racy agave on the back end. The finish is vegetal and clearly, classically tequila, with just the slightest tempering of sugar syrup.

Overall this is an improvement over the 2012 expression of UNICO, but frankly it remains a simplistic rendition of the spirit, as my limited tasting notes might indicate. By filtering out all the color-bearing solids, I fear Milagro takes with it a lot of the flavor of those “rare reposado and anejo reserves,” leaving behind, basically, water and alcohol. Why not leave this at its natural color?

Anyway. The bigger issue here is, of course, the obvious one: 300 bucks can go an awfully long way toward buying some amazing tequila. Or you can get this pretty crazy bottle. YOU DECIDE.

80 proof. 1,500 bottles produced.

B+ / $300 /

Review: El Luchador Organic Tequila 110 Proof

el luchador tequila

Tapatio 110 isn’t the only overproof tequila in the game. Now comes El Luchador, a tequila from David Ravandi that also hits the 110 proof mark.

El Luchador (“the wrestler”) is made from organic agave, single estate grown. Grown at 4,200 feet, the agave hails from the upper reaches of what is considered a Lowlands spirit. Individually numbered and bottled in antique-looking recycled glass bottles, the masked Mexican wrestler on the label makes quite an impression before you ever crack into it.

This is heavily overproof tequila, so naturally it’s appropriately racy on the nose, stuffed with agave, lemon pepper, and fresh sea salt. On a second sampling, I found a lot more citrus than I’d originally expected. (Citrus notes are a hallmark of Lowlands tequilas.)

The palate is rich and powerful, as you’d expect from a 110 proof spirit, but also silky-sweet with notes of nougat and coconut — with a growing character of cinnamon-inflected horchata. It is not “too hot” at all, and drinks surprisingly easily with no water added. The agave notes build on the finish, offering white pepper, lemongrass, and soothing touches of mint as it fades. The cinnamon sticks around for quite a while, helping to spice up the finish.

Altogether El Luchador offers a lovely, creamy complexion with a nice balance of the sweet and savory, making it both exciting and quite complicated for a blanco.

Arriving this fall.

A- / $45 /

Review: Casa Noble Tequila, 2014 Re-Review

casa noble Bottle_Anejo_2014_final_cut

From time to time we like to revisit spirits we’ve spent time with in the past. Management changes. Production practices change. Formulations change. Climate changes. And stuff varies from bottle to bottle even when none of the above changes. Sometimes our reviews are identical. Sometimes they’re wildly different.

Today we look again at Casa Noble, a venerable ultra-premium tequila line that we last reviewed in 2009. Very little seems to have changed on Casa Noble’s end, and from my perspective, very little has changed too. My ratings are all the same, with one slight (yet watershed) upgrade for the masterful anejo.

You’ll note some slight packaging changes (the reposado bottle is no longer blue but is now clear; the anejo is still in its distinctive purple bottle), but otherwise I expect nothing much has been altered behind the scenes of these three tequilas. (Amazingly, prices seem to have fallen a bit in the last few years!) All are of course 100% agave and all are 80 proof.

New thoughts follow.

Casa Noble Crystal (Blanco) – Pungent on the nose, with deep, deep agave notes, white pepper, and cayenne. The body isn’t nearly the agave bomb you might be expecting. It is both sweet and peppery, but not really vegetal at all. Instead you’ll find notes of tart lemon juice, caramel sauce, and a touch of rhubarb. Very well crafted. Everything a blanco should be. A / $35

Casa Noble Reposado – Spends 364 days in French white oak, making this a very well-aged reposado. The nose has that trademark peppery pungency of the blanco, but with an undercurrent of stone fruit — peaches and apricots — to give it some balance. The body is very fruity, slight tropical notes atop lemon and oranges, plus notes of chocolate peppermints and ample wood-driven vanilla. It doesn’t drink nearly as leathery and “old” as my prior comments indicated, but perhaps that’s just my increased experience with tequila over the last five years talking. Still delightful, either way. A / $45

Casa Noble Anejo – Aged “to perfection” for two years in French white oak. Nicely dark, but not overdone. That peppery agave is still front and center on the nose, with more of a caramel/marshmallow character attempting to overtake it. The body shows that it’s a silky dessert sipper all the way. The palate starts with bittersweet chocolate and graham crackers, then hops to burnt caramel and dark brown sugar notes. The fruit is absent save for a little flamed orange peel, which plays nice with the molten chocolate cake character that bubbles on and on on the finish. A benchmark anejo that mixes a racy attack with a silky sweet finish. A+ / $50  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal

del maguey Iberico

Del Maguey’s Pechuga Mezcal is legendary in the mezcal world, and justifiably so. For those not in the know, in Spanish, a pechuga is a poultry breast, commonly a chicken breast. Why would you call your mezcal Pechuga? Because it has a chicken breast in it.

How’s that? Del Maguey mezcel is distilled three times, and during the third distillation of Pechuga, a whole chicken breast (bones and all) is suspended in the air within the still. As the distillation progresses (a 24-hour process), the vapors interact with the chicken meat in a strange and incredibly compelling way. How anyone came up with this idea is beyond me, but the proof is in the bottle — Pechuga is easily my favorite of Del Maguey’s increasingly vast lineup of single village mezcals.

What then is Iberico? If you’re up on your gourmet foodstuffs, you’ll recognize the name Jamon Iberico, a ham made of free-range, acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pigs from Spain. Using your deduction skills you’ve probably figured out what Iberico Mezcal is by now: In lieu of a chicken breast, it’s made with an Iberico ham hanging in the still. A collaboration between Cooper and chef Jose Andres, it’s an equally bizarre and decidedly non-kosher approach to spirits production.

So, how’s it taste?

As with all mezcals, the nose is smoky, but here that pungent aroma takes on a curious scent of cigar smoke with fleeting undertones of mint chocolate. The body is beautiful. Racy with notes of cracked black pepper, the spicy body is tempered by a melange of flavors that include orange peel, grapefruit, nougat, and vanilla. That smokiness rushes back up on the finish, along with notes of camphor and incense. Complex with a load of flavors, yet extremely easy to sip on for hours, Iberico is nearly the same masterwork that Pechuga is — even though it doesn’t exactly remind you of Iberico ham at all.

Maybe I just need to enjoy a glass or two alongside some pata negra and see if that makes a difference…

100% agave espadin from Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca. 98 proof.

A / $250 /

Review: Blue Nectar Tequila

blue nectar special reserve

Blue Nectar is a new brand producing three varieties of tequila from the Lowlands of Mexico. The three expressions are not the traditional trio you might be familiar with in the tequilaverse, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

All expressions are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – Intense bell pepper, jalapeno, and red chilis on the nose lead to a racy and spicy initial rush. This manages to settle down quickly to reveal some surprising layers of sweetness — light butterscotch and a bit of vanilla. You can’t keep that vegetal/pepper character down for long. It makes an overwhelming encore on this enigmatic — and slightly off-putting — spirit. B / $37

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado – Claimed to be “a unique blend of reposado and limited production extra anejo” tequilas, which puts this into a category of bizarre tequila recursion. Is Blue Nectar Reposado somehow blended with itself? No matter. The addition of some three-year anejo aside, this is a well-made reposado, offering a pleasing mix of rich agave, silky caramel, and gummy vanilla notes. Both the savory and sweet sides of this spirit are in balance here, giving it a punchy, peppery counterbalance to its sweeter side. Lots to like. A- / $40

Blue Nectar Tequila Special Reserve – You might presume this is a fancy name for Blue Nectar’s Anejo. You’d be wrong. It is actually reposado “tequila infused with natural spice flavor.” Said spices are not revealed, but they do include “vanilla, nutmeg, and orange peel, plus a hint of agave nectar.” The overall impact is a bit weird and hard to pin down. It’s a very light, almost fruity spirit, with notes of orange juice, banana, vanilla ice cream, and a dusting of agave spice on the back. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad product. In fact, it’s pleasant enough, but it’s harmless to the point of being nearly inconsequential. I’m not sure what Blue Nectar did to this spirit, but it ultimately did a bit of a disservice to the raw material. B- / $45

Review: 1800 Milenio Extra Anejo Tequila

1800 milenio

1800 is a top notch 100% agave brand that’s been around for decades, and now the distillery is putting out a new extra anejo bottling called Milenio. 1800 last had Milenio on the market way back in 2000. For this second edition, the spirit is aged traditionally in American Bourbon barrels for five years, then — in a unique spin — finished for four months in former Cognac barrels.

The nose starts off with a rather traditional agave nose, somewhat sharp with fresh herbs, and a brisk, winey character I attribute to the Cognac finishing. Strangely, I also picked up whiffs of what I can only describe as chlorinated pool character, which is either a bizarre anomaly or part of a well-known problem associated with using chlorinated water to bring the spirit down to proof. Either way, it blows off over time.

The body’s largely in keeping with your finer extra anejo tequilas: Rich, layered caramel notes spread atop peppery agave and herb notes. The body does finally wend its way into some secondary characteristics, largely coming along on the finish, but it’s never terribly spicy at any point along the way. As with many extra anejos, the extensive wood regimen has largely shoved the agave into a supporting role, for better or for worse. But what is notable in that finish is a mintiness, almost mint chocolate-like in this spirit, which gives 1800 Milenio even more of a dessert character than most other (admittedly already digestivo-esque) XA tequilas. With all that said, it’s quite satisfying and easy to sip on, and a fairly good value in relation to many other extra anejos.

The bottle design is cute — a taller, elongated version of the iconic trapezoidal 1800 bottle — and comes packaged in a custom display box.

80 proof.

A- / $125 /

Review: Solana Tequila

Solana imageSolana is a new 100% agave budget tequila from the Los Altos de Jalisco region. Triple distilled, it certainly looks a lot more expensive than it is, with an upscale presentation. Available only in a silver/blanco expression (for now), we got a sneak peek at this new brand.

Lots of fresh agave, black and red pepper, and lemon notes on the sharp nose. The body follows in stride, bright with acidity and bold with spice. The substantial agave notes are well-integrated into a lightly sweet, mildly citrusy body. The finish is clean but racy, offering plenty of crispness. The sweet-meets-lemon kicker recalls a glass of lemonade with a cayenne rim.

Totally solid.

80 proof.

B+ / $22 / no website

Review: Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila

hornitos Black Barrel Bottle Image

The world’s love affair with whiskey has now come… to tequila.

Say hello to Hornitos Black Barrel, a unique spin on an Anejo from the Sauza-owned distillery. The production process is on the complex side, so let’s let Hornitos tell the tale for us:

Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila is redefining the premium tequila experience. Hornitos Black Barrel is a super smooth, triple aged, 100% agave tequila uniquely aged to embark distinct and complex whiskey notes. The tequila starts with 100% Hornitos Tequila, which is aged in traditional American Oak barrels [presumably ex-Bourbon barrels -Ed.] for 12 months. Once the soft, smooth, complex flavor of the Añejo tequila has been achieved, the liquid is placed in deeply charred American Oak barrels for four months to ensure that the tequila breathes through the caramelized layer of sugar, imparting the rich character, golden amber color and smoky notes traditionally found in whiskey. Lastly, the tequila is aged in specially-toasted American Oak barrels for two months to impart a creamier, vanilla character to add depth and complexity to the final spirit.

I’m still not entirely sure what all of that means, but the goal here is clearly to pump as much wood character (read: whiskey) into the tequila in as short a time as possible. Hornitos Black Barrel arrives on April 14 in limited release. Look for the black-frosted bottles.

Thoughts on both Black Barrel and a fresh review Hornitos Plata (last covered here (weakly) in 2007!), from which it is born, follow.

Hornitos Plata Tequila – Unaged, but it tastes like it has a bit of wood on it nonetheless. Fresh citrus (heavy on the lime) is on the nose, along with spicy agave. The palate is racy, but tempered by fruit. There are touches of pear, hints of mango, and hints of cinnamon, vanilla (that wood-seeming influence), and butterscotch. The body’s a little on the watery side, but overall it’s got a good kick and stands as a solid base from which to build some aged expressions, particularly at this rock-bottom price. 80 proof. A- / $17

Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila – At the outset, it’s a wholly different experience than pretty much any tequila I’ve ever had. (See if you can fool your friends!) The nose is distinctly whiskey-like, but what kind of whiskey is hard to say. I get notes of raw wood (foremost), VapoRub, brandied cherries, and a ginger spice that recalls Christmas cake, punched up with chili powder. The body largely follows suit. Chewy with vanilla and nougat with touches of fresh charcoal, it’s got a whiskey kick but it can’t mask that agave, at least after it opens up in the glass. Over time, Black Barrel develops more of a traditional anejo character, where agave and vanilla notes are a little more balanced. Unconventional — and purists will hate it — but tradition aside, it’s pretty good stuff. 80 proof. A- / $30

Review: El Jimador Tequila Blanco

el Jimador BlancoLooking to boost its presence off the lower tier of tequilas (albeit the still-100% agave ones), venerable El Jimador, the #1 selling 100% agave tequila in Mexico, is revamping its image with a new bottle design. The new look is sleeker and considerably more upscale… but what of the tequila within?

2014-era El Jimador (we tasted only the blanco) is a Lowlands spirit, unaged and named in honor of the jimador, a Mexican agave harvester. There’s modest pepper on the nose, with red chiles, lemon, coconut, and roasted meats. The body is a little all over the place, with notes of chile oil, grilled pineapple, more lemon, and a sultry agave/herbal character on the finish. There’s quite a bit of that funky meat character on the finish, but it’s not overwhelming or pungent.

All told, El Jimador is pleasant enough for journeyman cocktail duty, but the spirit lacks finesse, and the body is decidedly on the thin side. That said, it is fortunate to be lacking the back-of-throat burn so common in cheaper tequilas. So that’s nice.

80 proof.

B- / $22 /