Review: Don Amado Mezcal Rustico

da-rustico2Don Amado makes a line of regular, 80-proof mezcals (blanco, reposado, and anejo — none of which we tasted but which are pictured nonetheless), but this is Rustico, a higher-proof mezcal bottled at a big 94 proof. (The same distillery also makes Mina Real, which we recently reviewed.) These are Oaxaca mezcals, double-distilled in ceramic stills and triple filtered before bottling, but the overall production method for Don Amado (unlike Mina Real), is fairly traditional. Here’s how it shakes out.

The nose hints at smoke, but the overproof alcohol level balances that out by adding quite a bit of fire, at least at first blush. On the body, that heat isn’t anywhere nearly that overpowering. Rather, it’s a very pretty silver mezcal, not particularly smoky but rather well-balanced among light ember notes, citrus, apple wood, and a bit of marshmallow cream on the back end. The finish is moderate but cleansing, leaving you with neither a mouthful of smokiness nor a sickly sweet mess. Very inviting and easy to sip, don’t let the older-than-old-school label fool you: This is one of the finer mezcals available on the U.S. market today.

The name is also a bit of a mystery. The overall effect of this spirit is not particularly rustico but rather refinado. Really worthwhile.

94 proof. Reviewed: Lot #10.

A- / $44 / haas-brothers.com

Review: Mina Real Mezcal Silver

mezcal_mina_real_bot_highOaxaca-based Mina Real is 100% agave mezcal that is made with a hybrid modern and historical technique. Per the company: it is “made from agave that has been steam-roasted in low pressure brick kilns in order to highlight the plants’ bright highland flavor and floral bouquet without the layers of smoke traditionally found with wood-roasted mezcal agave.”

And yet Mina Real is still smoky. The nose offers an aroma of barbeque pits, sweetened up with a touch of honey. On the tongue, this sweetness is even stronger than you’d expect, with a mouth-coating viscosity that layers your tongue and throat with jammy liquid. It’s got a deep flavor of blood oranges, strawberries, and some green pepper/green bean notes — all laced with lightly smoky touches. I’m not sure it comes together the way the distillery may have hoped, but it’s definitely a mezcal for newcomers who aren’t thrilled by smoke to try — though that uncharacteristic sugariness may be ultimately misleading.

A reposado bottling (pictured) also exists, but we have not seen it for review.

84 proof.

B- / $30 / haas-brothers.com

Review: Tapatio Blanco 110 Tequila

tapatio 110 proofDoes tequila need to be 110 proof? No, but does it hurt?

Such are the questions you might ponder while sipping Tapatio 110, aka Tapatio B110 (the B is for Blanco). It’s essentially the same as the 80-proof Tapatio Blanco, but bottled at a hot hot hot 110 proof. Highland tequila, 100% agave, spends 6 months resting in stainless steel before bottling.

From the nose I would have had no idea this was overproof tequila. It’s fresh, full of lemon/lime notes, solid but hardly overpowering agave, and hints of caramel sauce. Alcohol? It’s there, but not the mega-burn you’re probably expecting.

On the tongue, again, it’s not at all overwhelming, and it’s easy to sip straight, even without water or a mixer. Notes here include fresh lemongrass (with a slight vegetal note to counter the citrus), creme brulee, chewy agave, and a lengthy finish that dances in the flames between scorched vanilla notes and elemental fire. Here’s where the overproof body makes itself known — for a long, long while at that. The finish isn’t so much a mouth-scarring alco-burn but rather a warming, fireside experience that stays with you for the better part of two minutes after a single, tentative sip until it vanishes and leaves behind a cleansing glaze, almost like a mouthwash. Believe me: This is a pleasant and comforting sensation, not the excruciating trip to hell that you might associate with the words “tequila” and “burning.”

A gorgeous, lush, and totally unexpected experience, this is a tequila to seek out and savor as a sipper — yet would also make one hell of a margarita.

A / $42 per 1 liter bottle / charbay.com

Review: Aga Vie Esprit D’Agave

aga vieWhat is it about the French and tequila? First Given blends tequila with lime juice and grape juice in Cognac, France, and now there’s Aga Vie, a commingling of blanco tequila and Cognac that have been (re-)distilled together into one oddball spirit. (This distillation removes whatever color is left behind, namely from the Cognac.)

Describing Aga Vie leads terms that are exactly as you’d expect: The nose is sweet like tequila, and the body offers an agave punch plus some of that brandied sweetness. To dig into the details, when you first get a whiff of Aga Vie, imagine not blanco but reposado tequila (there’s some wood in there), with a little honey thrown into the mix. On the palate, things get weird. The tequila’s there — though it’s not particularly definable beyond indistinct agave notes — but it’s considerably overpowered by the sweetness of the Cognac. Aga Vie doesn’t delineate the proportions of tequila to brandy in this spirit, and it’s hard to tell whether a little expensive Cognac goes a long way in a lot of cheaper tequila or whether it’s the other way around, but either way the mixture will be confusing to anyone who’s accustomed to drinking either of the two. The vanilla notes from the Cognac make you feel like you’re drinking an older tequila stock at first, but the impression soon fades as a hefty sweetness takes hold on your throat. The spirit ends with a mouth-coating candy-like character that is hard to shake and which, all things considered, is the only part of the experience that isn’t particularly satisfying.

The natural question you might ask next is: But why? Why would you take perfectly good tequila and Cognac and blend them together? The official story on the Aga Vie website evokes the French occupation of Mexico (a brief period in the country’s history), but I doubt anyone was mixing up tequila and Cognac during those years. Whether we should be doing that now is left as an exercise for the reader.

B- / $45 / agavie.com

Review: Apocalypto Reposado Tequila

apocalypto tequilaStunt bottlings are increasingly common, but a ceramic half-man/half-jaguar (with tongue sticking out) that contains reposado tequila, well, that’s a new one even for me.

Apocalypto is 100% agave tequila, sourced from the Jalisco lowlands and aged for more than six months in ex-Bourbon barrels before getting the half-jaguar treatment.

Never mind the decanter. Here’s how the stuff inside measures up.

Very, very sweet, particularly for a reposado. There’s tons of caramel, marshmallow, and butterscotch on the nose. This carries over in spades to the body, which is slightly chocolate-driven, too. The finish is curious: Clear red pepper notes that pop as the tequila fades. Terrible in a margarita — unless you like overpowering caramel — but more fun on its own.

80 proof.

B+ / $39 / apocalyptotequila.com

Review: Sombra Mezcal

sombra mezcalSombra is Oaxaca-area mezcal (from the village of San Juan Del Rio, specifically), made from organic espadin agave grown at 8000 feet.

An unaged mezcal, Sombra offers immediate and heavy smoke on the nose, more barbecue than forest fire. There’s a strong undercurrent of sweetness as well — almost a tangy apple, or perhaps applewood smoke, at least.

At 90 proof, the extra alcohol is immediately evident on the body, creating an instant level of fire that goes along with the smoke. There’s ample fruit: Again, apples, but also cherries and some banana, particularly on the finish, which offers very ripe banana, caramel, and popcorn notes. These are some interesting flavors in a mezcal, but it doesn’t all come together perfectly, never quite melding the savory and the sweet in a way that truly great mezcals manage to do.

Still, a quite drinkable little potion.

B / $34 / sombraoaxaca.com

Review: Qui Platinum Extra Anejo Tequila

qui tequilaFollowing in the footsteps of Maestro Dobel and Don Julio 70 comes Qui, a clear-as-a-bell tequila that has nonetheless been well-aged in oak barrels.

Qui markets itself as the world’s first extra anejo tequila, distinguished from Don Julio (anejo) and Dobel (a blend of various age tequilas). It also distinguishes itself by being pretty darn good.

Qui is 100% Highlands double-distilled agave which is aged for 3 1/2 years in ex-Bourbon and Bordeaux barrels before being filtered to white. Lots of agave on the nose, plus hefty caramel notes. The body is complex and rich, speaking both to the plant and the aging regimen. Here, the caramel takes on more of a butterscotch note, with a pleasant and complex vegetal note beneath it. This isn’t unpleasant but rather adds a savory character to the otherwise fairly sweet spirit, bringing it into balance.

Not at all racy or peppery, the tequila is a smooth sipper with almost no bite and a finish that recalls bittersweet chocolate.

I really love this tequila. While I can’t claim to understand what the need is to take all the color out of very old tequila — which should be gloriously amber — I commend Qui for doing such a good job at it.

80 proof.

A / $60 / quitequila.com

Review: 123 Diablito Organic Extra Anejo Tequila

123 diabolitoWe enjoyed the standard trio of bottlings from 123 Tequila when we reviewed them two years ago. Now the company is coming out with an extremely limited edition Extra Anejo to complement the group. It’s not called 4, but rather Diablito, an organic EA from this artisanal company.

A small parcel of organic agave grown at 6,000 feet of altitude is used to produce this tequila. It’s cooked for 38 hours in stone ovens and aged in 114 liter new American oak barrels (not ex-Bourbon barrels) for 40 months.

The nose is initially quite salty and briny, ripe with vegetal notes from the agave. In time this mellows out, revealing deep vanilla notes, along with plenty of fresh black pepper. The body is textbook extra anejo, a seductive melange of deep vanilla, racy spices, and chewy agave — all in harmony. The body is rich and creamy, and the finish surprisingly long lasting, offering citrus-focused tartness and plenty of bite. Inviting and dangerously easy to drink.

80 proof. 1000 bottles made.

A / $130 / 123tequila.com

Review: Suerte Reposado Tequila

Suerte_ReposadoSuerte is the tequila with the rabbit on the label. The name means fate or luck — as in rabbit’s foot — but inside the bottle you’ll find 100% agave tequila from the Jalisco Highlands. This reposado (the only expression we’re reviewing) is aged for 7 to 11 months in oak barrels before bottling at 80 proof.

I love the nose. Agave-focused with caramel underpinnings, the aroma is balanced but up-front with its sweetness. Some orange notes lie beneath if you breathe deep. The body is surprisingly peppery, an interesting balance to the relatively sweet nose. Some light smoke, more citrus (including lime notes), and a somewhat fiery — yet pleasant — finish round out a fine little reposado.

A- / $40 / drinksuerte.com

Review: Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion de 1079, 1414, and 1146

artenom 1079If you haven’t heard of what ArteNOM is doing, you’re not a tequila lover. NOMs are four-digit numbers assigned by the Mexican government to each tequila distillery. Want to know where any given bottle of tequila is made? It’s easy: Just look up the NOM, which is printed on every bottle of tequila sold. (Numerous brands are invariably made at the same distillery.)

What ArteNOM does is it eschews its own branding and simply seeks out really great products — selling them at generally reasonable prices. These are issued in limited release as “ArteNOM Seleccion de XXXX,” where the X’s roll from one NOM to the next — wherever the very best tequila is being made.

That’s the theory anyway. A three of the expressions below come from highland distilleries. Oddly, the reposado and anejo expressions don’t indicate the amount of aging they undergo — and I haven’t found this information online. All are of course 100% agave and all are 80 proof. Here’s how they shake out.

Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion de 1079 Blanco – Made at the highest-altitude distillery that makes tequila. I’ve had good blanco tequilas before, but this is something else. Immediately peppery on the nose, it features true agave character plus some sea salt/marine notes. The body brings on layer after layer of complexity. It starts with a rush of agave, then turns to a rich dessert — caramel, Mexican chocolate, burnt marshmallow. The finish is hazelnuts, long and soothing. All of this: In perfect balance. Really exquisite. Love tequila? Think you don’t like tequila? Try this blanco and see what you think. (This bottling seems to have been retired but there’s plenty of it left on the market.) A+ / $40

Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion de 1414 Reposado – Another racy tequila, rich with space and ample agave notes. Wood has mellowed things out a bit, though it’s clearly still hanging on to its agave roots. More of a butterscotch character in the mid-palate here, along with modest wood notes. The finish is a bit vegetal, not in a bad way. Good stuff, but not nearly the masterwork that the blanco is. A- / $45

Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion de 1146 Anejo – Ample agave on the nose leads to a lush and well-rounded body. Deeply complex, this anejo offers immediate caramel sweetness but also cinnamon, coffee beans, toasty oak, and a long, long finish where the agave makes a lightly spicy return. Not overdone, with agave the clear and continued focus of the spirit. Amazing balance here, it’s difficult to follow the blanco no matter what, but this anejo just about does the job. A / $50

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