Category Archives: Tequila

Review: Tequila Clase Azul

I’m never quite sure what to make of the ornate tequila bottles like this. They’re striking to look at, but I always feel like they’re trying to hide something behind a lot of glass, metal, and ceramic.

Perhaps my fears are founded in the case of Clase Azul, a very expensive and unique but ham-fisted tequila that stretched the boundaries of my tequila taste glossary. This brand is beloved by many a tequila fan, but the sweetness of the house style is just too overwhelming for me. This 100% agave Highlands tequila is made with 9 to 10 year old organic agave plants, double distilled in copper alembic stills.

We tasted both the Plata and Reposado. Both expressions are 80 proof.

Tequila Clase Azul Plata is a striking blanco, unlike any other I’ve tried. On the nose: Agave and peppers, a mere hint at what’s in the glass. Take a sip and Clase Azul’s Plata goes nuts: There is so much going on here I scarcely know where to start. First off: It’s bracingly sweet, not sugary, but like Nutrasweet. Powerful and palate-jarring. If you can push past that, you get some of that agave character, plenty of nutty notes, a bit of spice, and a finish that tastes like a candy bar. It’s long and lasting, more like a liqueur than a tequila. If any 100% agave tequila could use lime and salt to balance it out — not because it’s alcoholically heavy in the slightest, mind you — this is it. C+ / $75

Tequila Clase Azul Reposado is mellowed in deep char oak for at least 8 months, which gives this tequila more character, but it retains that funky sweetness that the Plata is imbued with. Here the sweetness veers into a vanilla character, more like a creme brulee than the candy bar of the Plata. That offers more nuance to play with the slight pepper notes, but not much: The sugary notes remain overwhelming — and I am normally a huge fan of sweeter tequilas — again leaving you with a finish that coats the mouth, making you reach for the salty bar mix. B- / $90

claseazul.com

Review: Vida Tequila Blanco

vida tequila blanco 200x300 Review: Vida Tequila BlancoVida is a relatively new brand on the tequila scene, 100% blue agave and available in the usual expressions. We tasted the Blanco expression, which is a pure agave/unaged rendition.

This silver tequila is classic in structure. Some time in the glass is helpful at airing things out and letting some of the heavier agave notes out. Once they flitter away, Vida reveals itself to be a really fun and lively tequila, mildly sweet with fresh and granulated sugar character. Below that, plenty of apple and pear fruit, perhaps a touch of pineapple and banana. The finish: Very light caramel notes.

Nice balance, once that initial agave rush clears.

A- / $40 / vidatequila.com

Three Tequila + Sage Cocktails

jalisco daisy 300x199 Three Tequila + Sage CocktailsQuick, name a green herb popular in cocktails. If you said mint, sorry, you’re wrong. We’re talking about sage!

Our friends at Tequila Partida put together these oddball libations all revolving around that staple of turkey stuffing.

Partida Sagerac, by Jacques Bezuidenhout, Tequila Partida Bartender Ambassador

1.5 oz Partida Reposado
1.5 oz Partida Anejo
5 to 8 Sage leaves (depending on the strength of the leaves)
Herbsaint Pastis
3 bar spoons simple syrup
4 dashes Peychauds Bitters
1 dash of Angostura Bitters

Chill a cocktail glass with ice and coat ice with Pastis. Leave to chill. In a mixing glass, add Bitters, simple syrup and sage leaves. Lightly muddle to release the oils from the sage. Add ice and Tequila and stir. Discard the ice and Pastis from the cocktail glass. Strain cocktail into chilled Pastis-coated cocktail glass. Garnish with sage leaves.

Autumn Woods, by Mike Ryan, Sable Kitchen & Bar

2 oz Partida Reposado
1/8 oz Partida 100% Organic Agave Nectar
3 Sage leaves
3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Walnut Liqueur

In first glass, rinse with Walnut Liqueur, fill with crushed ice. In second glass, muddle sage leaves. Add all other ingredients. Stir with ice. Dump out ice in 1st glass and strain ingredients into it. Drop a sage leaf in.

Jalisco Daisy, by Mike Ryan, Sable Kitchen & Bar (pictured)

2 oz Partida Blanco
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz Partida 100% Organic Agave Nectar (cut with 1/4 oz water)
2 Sage leaves

Shake all ingredients. Fine strain. Serve up.

Review: t1 Tequilas

t1, aka Tequila Uno, is a new brand of Highlands-grown, 100% blue agave tequila brought to us by the master distiller of the well-regarded Chinaco Tequila line, German Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s twist on the spirit? For some of his varieties, instead of aging in Bourbon casks for his reposado and anejo, he uses ex-Scotch barrels (which were probably Bourbon barrels before that, of course). I don’t know that I’ve never heard of such a thing — but I was instantly intrigued.

The company dropped off all three varieties — including the just-launched anejo — for us to sample. All are 80 proof. Thought follow.

t1 Tequila Blanco Ultra-Fino - Straight, unaged white tequila. This exhibits the classic sweet and fruity character common to Highland tequilas, amazingly bright with pear and apple notes, a bit of lemon, and a little cinnamon on the finish — almost apple pie-like. The agave is heavy on the nose, at least initially. With air, this fades pretty quickly, leaving behind these wonderful fruit flavors and a soothing, mint-like agave lacing. Beautiful, one of the most subtle blancos I’ve experienced in a long while. A / $40

t1 Tequila Reposado Excepcional – t1 makes a standard reposado (we didn’t try it); this is the one aged in Scotch casks, where it spends 6 to 9 months soaking up goodness from that island up north. This is a really intriguing spirit. For starters, it’s quite sweet, much more so than I expected, but who knows what Scotch barrels are used here? Really bright citrus flavors here, lots of pineapple notes. It’s tough to pick out malt whisky character on this one, that sugariness is overwhelming. It even drowns out the agave notes for the most part, leaving behind something that approaches — as near as I can describe it — a lightly aged rum. As tequila goes, this is, put simply, something else. Frighteningly easy-drinking. B+ / $50

t1 Tequila Anejo Estelar – Intense coffee and burnt sugar dominates this anejo, which spends up to 24 months in Scotch barrels. I lively bronze in color, the body recalls the sweetness of the Excepcional, but is tempered with more candy bar notes, dark chocolate (again), plus coconut, almonds, and a cappuccino finish. Again, intensely drinkable, but not entirely challenging. A- / $55

t1tequila.com

 Review: t1 Tequilas

Review: Trader Joe’s Silver Tequila

trader joses tequila 168x300 Review: Trader Joes Silver TequilaExcuse us… Trader Jose’s Premium Silver Tequila is a natural private label spirits extension from the upscale grocers at TJ’s, and this bottling is a 100% agave, unaged spirit. Other than that info and a NOM (1558), there’s no other data about this tequila’s provenance. But you’re only paying 17 bucks a bottle, and that’s a deal you’re just not going to get from any other 100% agave tequila, so maybe you should shut up with all the questions and start drinking the stuff instead. Sir.

This is straightforward stuff, with big big agave character the predominant character of the nose. The body however reveals more nuance: Lots of vanilla, surprising in a blanco, plus plenty of more traditional tequila character — agave, pepper, lemongrass, and hay.  The finish is long and lasting, and while the sweetness of the vanilla fades, a bitterness slowly rises. It’s not a deal breaker, but it mars a bit what is otherwise a pretty classy silver.

80 proof.

B / $17 / facebook page

Review: Casa de Reynoso Reposado Tequila

The companion tequila of Rancho Nuevo, Casa de Reynoso has a fun story behind it, as related to me by it’s importer.

“After being scorned by a beautiful women, Reynoso’s friend went to see him at this house (casa in Spanish) and took a bottle of tequila to enjoy and forget about what happened. Reynoso was taken by the elixir and being an entrepreneur, decided to investigate further! That’s how the tequila came to be — at Reynoso’s house (Casa De Reynoso). By the way, after realizing what a mistake the beautiful woman made she approached him only to hear that he had a new love — his tequila! Needless to say, he was no longer interested in her… to her regret!”

So there you go, a tequila born of a man scorned and named for his buddy. Aged 8 1/2 months in oak, we reviewed the reposado expression. It appears that a blanco and anejo are on the way.

The color is quite light, like a light pilsner beer, and the nose speaks of big agave character. It’s quite similar to its Rancho Nuevo sibling, pungent and a bit peppery. A sip smooths things out, with lots of warm caramel notes, lemon, and tea leaf. Some cinnamon in there, too. But the agave pervades it all. The finish is long, lasting, and sweet.

Ultimately it’s a very pleasant reposado that improves further with glass time. Sounds like Casa de Reynoso’s creator made the right choice when it came to selecting his muse.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / ocoimportaciones.com

casa de reynoso tequila Review: Casa de Reynoso Reposado Tequila

Review: Rancho Nuevo Tequila Reposado

This new tequila is only available in a reposado expression (time in barrel is 10 months, very lengthy for a reposado). 100 percent agave, of course, the nose is pungent and big, loaded with agave and pepper character, plus a touch of wood. The body reveals more nuance: Lots of sweet caramel and honey, maple syrup, and a dusting of citrus. The sweet sticks to your ribs, and your teeth: Nougat, chewy and rich, with a creamy, lasting denouement.

The label may not be the most sophisticated we’ve seen here, but what’s inside is solid.

80 proof.

A- / $35 / tequilasanlorenzo.com

rancho nuevo tequila reposado Review: Rancho Nuevo Tequila Reposado

Drinkhacker’s 2011 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Happy Thanksgiving! While you’re enjoying your turkey, stuffing, and pie, many a thanksgiver’s thoughts turn to booze. Specifically, what one might buy for a favored loved one come holiday time. I’ve collected all my favorite spirits from 2011 here for you, but this is just a small sampling of what’s worthy on the market right now. Scan through the category of your choice for other ideas, and chime in with your own gift ideas!

Also check out our 2010, 2009, and 2008 holiday guides.

big bottom two years old 212x300 Drinkhacker’s 2011 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Big Bottom Whiskey 2 Years Old Port Cask Finish ($40) – Technically not a Bourbon, but close enough. I gave only two A+ grades (outside of event coverage) all year, and this was one of them. Finding this now will be tough (we’ll have a review of the 3 Years Old version shortly), so if this doesn’t pan out try Parker’s Heritage Collection Cognac Finished 10 Years Old ($80) or Col. E.H. Taylor Old Fashioned Sour Mash Bourbon ($70). You can also try Angel’s Envy ($45), technically a 2010 release but also Port-finished and about as good as Big Bottom.

Scotch – The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve ($375) – This is my “go-to” whisky right now, though it’s rapidly depleting, and the price may make it a big much for anyone short of a spouse. If you can find  Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix ($95) or Laphroaig Cairdeas ($60), both make outstanding gifts. And MacKinlay’s “Shackleton” ($150) is worth the price alone for the conversation value.

GinBloom Gin ($29) – No question on this one. The floral but not perfumy Bloom is one of my favorite gins today. It may be made for a woman, but it’s powerful enough for a man.

russian standard gold vodka 185x300 Drinkhacker’s 2011 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasVodka – Russian Standard Gold Vodka – At $45, it’s pushing the boundaries of what anyone should pay for a neutral spirit, but it’s good and the package is striking enough to require no wrapping paper, saving you a few bucks. For your more avant-garde friends, check out Sub Rosa’s Flavored Vodkas ($30) or a bottle of Skyy Blood Orange ($18).

Rum – Montanya Platino Rum ($30) – So much good rum came out this year, but Montanya’s simple, pure, and bracing white rum is my winner for what you should give a loved one. Bottled in Colorado, not Latin America, they’ll immediately want to know more. For more traditional gifts, I also loved Berrys’ Own Panama Rum 10 Years Old ($80) and Brugal Extra Viejo ($27).

Brandy – “Original Gangster” XO Brandy ($25) – This gift works on a couple of levels. First, the packaging and name are so ridiculous that your hipster friends will get a solid, 25 dollar laugh out of it. Second, the brandy is actually pretty good, so you can actually drink it when you’re done giggling.

TequilaCasa Dragones ($275) – The other A+ I gave this year, but considering the price of this. Tequila is still on the rise, and lots of good stuff is on the market, including Gran Dovejo Blanco ($47), El Gran Jubileo Extra Anejo ($65), and Excellia Blanco ($50), among many others.

Liqueur – Tatratea (up to $60) - A collection of five tea-flavored liqueurs, each increasing in proof level. Exotic and bizarre, and totally worthwhile for the liquor snob who has everything. Home cocktail enthusiasts would also love a little Pimento Dram ($28) or the all-new Drambuie 15 ($56).

Need another custom gift idea? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Review: Don Julio 70 Tequila Anejo Claro

Take an anejo tequila and filter out the color, and what do you have? Don Julio 70, a new — clear — tequila with the character of an anejo.

Don Julio claims that 70 is the world’s first anejo claro, and depending on how you look at it, that’s true: Maestro Dobel does the exact same thing, but it is a blend of reposado, anejo, and extra anejo tequilas, filtered back to white. Technically it would only be considered a reposado if bottled unfiltered. But really this is an old trick that the rum industry mastered long ago. That it is now coming to the tequila world is only a mild surprise.

And so back to Don Julio 70. Composed of 18-month-old anejo tequila, filtered back to silver, I tried it side by side with both Don Julio Blanco (tasting tough and a bit green) and Don Julio Anejo (rich, caramel, cocoa-finished, quite lovely). Don Julio 70 is, surprisingly, a whole different beast. I was expecting something close to the Anejo, but that’s not the case. The nose is distinctly redolent of bananas and light wood, a weird combination of flavors that are not harmonious in the nostrils. The palate is another thing altogether. Here a butterscotch sweetness takes hold, attempted to wrestle with the wood. It fails, and the wood overwhelms everything. It’s quite jarring compared to the smooth richness of the (unaltered) Anejo, yet none of the brash agave notes that the Blanco provides.

I tried it against Dobel just for kicks, and the spirits could not be more different. Dobel adhere’s closely to its agave roots, while punching things up with a bit of sweetness yet keeping it all in balance. DJ70 is like walking into a Pier One store, full of potpourri and more wicker baskets than you can count.

80 proof.

C / $70 / donjulio.com

Don Julio 70 Review: Don Julio 70 Tequila Anejo Claro

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2011

WhiskyFest remains the whiskey enthusiast’s festival to beat. With hundreds of whiskeys, it is a mad dash for all sorts of great stuff — if only you can find it in the scattered auditorium and muscle your way to the front of the line. Don’t worry, you can do it, and even though the 2011 installment of this awesome event had more than its share of no-shows from the advance whisky list — Isle of Jura Shackleton, Tomatin 30 Year Old, Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale Cognac, the entire Usqueabach table — there were so many amazing whiskeys here it is hard to complain.

Favorites were unilaterally from the private bottling companies, including Duncan Taylor’s killer 36 Year Old Lonach Blend, Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old — all that time in ex-sherry butts — and maybe by new favorite whisky ever, Samaroli Evolution 2011. Notes on all of these follow, plus comments (however brief) on everything else I sampled during the evening.

Thanks again to Whisky Advocate (nee Malt Advocate) for putting on such a terrific show (and inviting me).

Scotland

Samaroli Evolution 2011 / A+ / this Rome-based private whisky bottler was a fave at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and this bottling was a revelation; a vatting of whisky stocks dating back to 1957, it is incredibly supple, complex, and impossible to put down

Samaroli Glenlivet Top Class 1977 / A- / amazing elegance

Samaroli Linkwood Top Class 1983 / B+ / bit tougher

Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / B+ / rich and chewy

Samaroli Highland Park 1989 / B+ / has an edge to it

Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / B+ / surprising sweetness

Auchentoshan Valinch / B / hard finish

Auchentoshan Bordeaux 1999 / B+ / sweetness up front leads to a rough finish

Auchentoshan 21 Year Old / B+ / my fave of the Auch line, better balance

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve / B

Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage / B / big nougat notes lead to a strange, funky finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt 25 Year Old / B+ / almost American in styling, sweet finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt Decades / A- / a vatting of 5 decades’ worth of whisky; complex and lots of fun

Isle of Jura Superstition / A- / nice balance with the peat here

Isle of Jura 16 Year Old / B / big grain notes, exotic

Laphroaig Triple Wood / B+ / finished in sherry, which adds just a touch of citrus to standard Laphroaig’s peat and iodine; interesting but could go farther

Gordon & MacPhail Benromach 10 Year Old / B / young but charming

Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila Port Finish 10 Year Old / B+ / nice mix of smoke and sweet, needs more aging

Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Year Old / A-

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old / A / spends all 21 years in sherry casks, an amazing whisky, deep and rich (by far the darkest Scotch I saw all night)

Gordon & MacPhail Tamdhu 30 Years Old / B+ / a bit over the hill, wood-wise

Compass Box Great King Street / A- / a masterful blended whisky

Springbank 14 Year Old Manzanilla Cask / B+ / big olive notes

Springbank 18 Year Old / B+ / not feeling it tonight; too much of a coal character

Kilkerran WIP 3rd Release / B+ / like Kilbeggan, Kilkerran is doing releases as its whisky ages; at 3 years old it is young but exciting, lots of promise ahead

Duncan Taylor Banff 35 Year Rich and Rare / A / amazing fruit and wood here, lovely finish

Duncan Taylor Lonach Blend 36 Year / A / cinnamon and apple pie, all sorts of fun

GlenDronach 21 Year Old Parliament / B+ / curious wood and spice notes

GlenDronach 15 Year Old 1995 Pedro Ximenez Cask #2045 / B

Macallan 18 Year Old / A-

Highland Park 25 Year Old / A- / musky finish

Bruichladdich Black Art 2 / B+ / finish delves deep into grain character

Bruichladdich Octomore 3/152 / A- / the new “most peated” whisky in the world, actually quite pleasant and not the bowl-you-over dram I was expecting; more like a barbecue than a smoke bomb

Ardbeg Corryvreckan / A

Ardbeg Alligator / A- / Ardbeg’s latest, aged in ultra-charred oak barrels; the wood really does battle with the peat here, giving it a curious but less enthralling character, I think

Ireland

Redbreast 12 Years Old / B+ / really woody kick; the reputation exceeds the whisky

Redbreast 15 Years Old / B+ / not terribly different

United States

Bardstown Riverboat Rye Whiskey / B / a younger version of Redemption Rye

Bardstown Temptation Bourbon / A- / good sweetness, balance

Bardstown Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon / A / intensely rye-focused, and intensely alcoholic; not released (the company is hoping for 2012)

Koval Lion’s Pride Spelt Whiskey / B+ / aged 2 years; not bad, lots of grain character

Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old / A- / love the rye kick; probably better since it was poured by Jimmy Russell himself (picture below!)

George Dickel Barrel Select / A- / nice rye going on here

Not Whiskey

Frapin Cognac VS / A- / 4 years old; surprisingly clean for a $49 Cognac

Frapin Cognaac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A- / big nose on it, great citrus and sherry finish

Frapin Cognac  VIP XO / A- / quite similar to the Fontpinot

Frapin Cognac Extra / A / 75 years old, extremely complex, mellow, and lingering

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Selection des Anges / A- / beautiful, smooth

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Cigare / A / not smoky, and in fact not as big a body as you’d expect with a name like that; very well crafted and lush; drink with or without a cigar

Tequila Corrido Extra Anejo Barrel #2 / A / a killer, and the only tequila here; lovely chocolate finish

chris null and jimmy russell Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2011

Review: Tequila Gran Dovejo

This new highland tequila is a single-estate spirit, double-distilled in copper alembic stills. It is, of course, from 100% blue agave… the pinas of which are “fermented with the use of champagne yeast while the harmonious sounds of music play in the background as this is found to optimize the sugar conversion.” Hmmm.

We tasted all three of the traditional expressions. All are 80 proof.

Tequila Gran Dovejo Blanco - Unaged and unrested. A really delightful and unique blanco. Very smooth for a silver, it offers surprising sweetness, almost butterscotch in its character. Long, smooth, and lightly herbal finish — it fades into rosemary and bay leaf character in the end. A great sipping tequila for those who like the punch of herbs but don’t like the harshness that often comes along with them. A / $47

Tequila Gran Dovejo Reposado -Aged 6 to 9 months. A touch of wood changes this tequila quite dramatically, pumping it up with cinnamon and allspice notes, further increasing the sweetness, and giving it a bit of a Mexican chocolate character on the finish. This is quite a departure from the relatively delicate Blanco, bold, punchy, and aggressive. Enjoyable but striking in its own way — and perhaps a bit on the brutish side. A- / $53

Tequila Gran Dovejo Anejo - Aged 1 to 3 years (quite a range!). Here, the caramel and vanilla take over — often the case with anejo tequilas — and the herbs (both the Blanco’s green ones and the Reposado’s brown ones) are drowned out with the flavors of flan. Nothing wrong with that, and this is a gorgeous dessert drink. Nuanced? Not really, but sweet tooth tequila fans won’t care. A- / $55

tequilagrandovejo.com

gran dovejo tequila lineup Review: Tequila Gran Dovejo

Review: 123 Tequila

123 — pronounced, of course, “Uno Dos Tres,” is a new, 100% organic tequila from David Ravandi, a 15-year veteran of the tequila business. I won’t expound on his past successes, but Ravandi knows his stuff, and he does it again with this high-quality series, which I had the fortune to try recently.

Using 100% Lowlands agave (4200 feet qualifies as “low” in Jalisco, by the way) from tha Amatitan Valley, these tequilas were designed with the wine connoisseur in mind. You’ll find each of the expressions has a very different character to it, though they all contain the same DNA.

Here are thoughts on each. All are 80 proof and bottles are hand-numbered.

123 Blanco Tequila (Uno) – Unaged and clean. Vibrant with lemon peel, black pepper, and minerals. Smooth as silk, with a slight sweet kick on the finish, which is so easy it’s criminal. The cleanness makes it perhaps my favorite tequila in this lineup, though it’s awfully close (as the grades will indicate). A- / $40

123 Reposado Tequila (Dos) – Aged 6 months in oak, which gives it a very light color and no real hint of wood. Rather here we see salted caramel, creme brulee, and toffee notes. There’s agave on the nose, but it quickly dissipates as you head for a light dessert course, complete with minty finish. Probably the most complex tequila in the lineup. A- / $45

123 Anejo Tequila (Tres) – After a year in oak, Tres’s wood character is more prominent, and on first blush it is heady on the nose with tannin and wood oil notes. This fades after time in the glass, revealing richer versions of those characteristics in the Reposado: Caramel, and some chocolate notes. A lovely anejo, it really opens up if you give it time. A- / $50

123tequila.com

123 tequila Review: 123 Tequila

 

Recipe: Herradura Smoked Peach Iced Tea

smoked peach iced tea Recipe: Herradura Smoked Peach Iced TeaOur pals at Herradura Tequila sent in this delicious-sounding recipe in honor of the end of summer. Get to your local farmer’s market: Peaches are tasting great right now.

Herradura Smoked Peach Iced Tea

1 ½ oz Herradura Reposado
½ oz Lemon Juice
1 ½ oz Peach Juice
1 ½ oz Earl Grey  tea
¼ oz Simple Syrup
¼ oz Mezcal
1 Lemon Twist for garnish
1 Peach Slice for garnish

Fill a highball with good quality cubed ice. Add all ingredients and stir thoroughly with a bar spoon. Garnish with a long lemon twist and/or a peach slice.

Review: Ambhar Tequila

A name like Ambhar makes me think more of my local tandoori shack than a line of tequilas, but such is life… and such is the booze business. The company behind Ambhar says the name refers to an ancient goddess of the same moniker, but all I can find online when googling “Ambhar” are searches in Las Vegas for a bikini-clad “tequila goddess” to represent the brand.

All of these tequilas are 100% blue agave, bottled at 80 proof. Bottles are hand-bottled and individually numbered. All are 80 proof. All of those reviewed below are from batch #1.

Ambhar Platinum Tequila – This plata/silver tequila is exceptionally clean, and while it offers a smooth and rich agave character, it’s got more of a citrus, lime, and almost tropical character to it. Ambhar calls the nose floral, I’d suggest they’re a bit more perfumy than flowery. A very delicate spirit and quite delicious. A- / $50

Ambhar Reposado Tequila – Aged in oak for just under a year, this pale yellow spirit is easygoing but offers a strong wood punch, which mutes a lot of the nuance of the Platinum, replacing it with oak chips and some brown sugar notes. It’s a fun and lively tequila, but it’s not as intriguing as the Platinum. B+ / $55

Ambhar Anejo Tequila – Aged over two years in Bourbon barrels, giving this Anejo a whiskey-brown color and a deep, cocoa-inflected flavor to it. The agave is, surprisingly, stronger in the Anejo than in the Reposado, and it’s balanced by caramel notes. Lots of wood here, still, as you’d expect, but slightly better balance than the Reposado. B+ / $60

ambhar.com

ambhar tequila Review: Ambhar Tequila

Review: Craft Distillers Mezcalero Release #2 San Baltazar Guelavila

First a primer on how most mezcal makes it into the U.S.: Some American gets on a plane and road-trips through Oaxaca, Mexico, tasting his way through artisan distilleries until he finds something he loves. That American then becomes an importer, and in the case of really good mezcal, sometimes only a few hundred bottles make it into the States.

Craft Distillers did just that with Mezcalero, now in its second edition, and available initially with less than 200 bottles allocated to our country, all in California. The company has just 60 bottle left on hand, so if this sounds at all interesting to you, now’s the time to act before it’s all gone.

Distilled from the wild tobala, wild tepeztate, and domestic espadin agave varieties by the San Baltazar Guelavila distillery, Mezcalero #2 makes no bones that it’s going to be intensely fiery and smoky. Where many modern mezcals rest of their smoldering smoothness, Mezcalero is a torrid heat-bomb. Smoke is overwhelming on the nose and on the tongue. Great mezcal can have lots of interesting secondary character, but aside from notes associated with the grill — black pepper, onions, maybe a touch of brown sugar on the very end — this one is lacking. The body lacks weight and there’s just no balance to the BBQ character. This is wholly drinkable, especially with water, but I’d hoped for more.

96.4 proof.

B / $84 / caddellwilliams.com

Mezcalero no 2 san baltazar guelvila Review: Craft Distillers Mezcalero Release #2 San Baltazar Guelavila

Dispatches from Aspen Food & Wine Classic 2011

“Is this your first Classic?”

It was a question I’d hear more than once over the three days I spent in Aspen last month at what has become the pre-eminent annual food and wine event in America. Emphasis on food. In a single evening I encountered Mario Batali, Jacques Pepin, Jose Andres (who personally prepared the salt-crusted grilled prawn I ate while berating someone for disturbing his onions), and Andrew Zimmern (who heroically saved me from a deadly spider).

A few weeks later, so much of the Classic, hosted by Food & Wine magazine and an event of absurdly high expense to those who pay to attend it, is now but a blur. Is it the Aspen elevation? The long days of seminars and tasting sessions? Or simply the mountain of business cards I now have to follow up on that makes the whole thing seem so daunting in retrospect?

Structurally the Classic sounds like an easy-to-manage thing. For two and a half days, the schedule (basically) runs like this: Sessions (there are a dozen food, wine, or spirits-focused seminars to choose from) start at 10, then the grand tasting event (more on that later) is open for a couple of hours after that. The tent shuts down for a while to allow for more sessions, then it reopens in the afternoon, closing promptly around 6 o’clock so dinners can be had and the parties can begin. Depending on who you know there may be a half dozen to chose from each night.

Friday and Saturday are “full” days, and Sunday is a lighter one, as most people try to get home, fast (not an easy feat from remote Aspen, Colorado).

“The tent” — the grand tasting pavilion — is , for most people, the centerpiece of their experience here. Hundreds of exhibitors represent wineries around the world, spirits sellers, food merchants, kitchenware purveyors, restaurants, even countries hoping to get tourists, cruise ships, car companies, and just about anything else have a booth. Everyone is either pouring or cooking: A quick spin through a fraction of the tent will have you noshing on Korean noodles, sashimi, barbeque, chocolate, salad, root beer, and pork rinds — and probably in that order. While there’s plenty of supermarket brand stuff being poured here, a lot of it is upscale, sometimes extremely so. While there were many fabulous wines (including a whole sub-tent devoted to Spanish wine), I found the spirits purveyors to be the most rewarding: Casa Dragones tequila, private bottlings of all sorts of whisky from Samaroli (see pics), and Ron Cooper personally pouring just about all of his company’s Del Maguey mezcals, including the bizarre but fantastic Pechuga (which is made with a whole chicken breast), of which only 650 bottles were made. I probably looped back to Cooper’s table four times over the two days I was in the tent.

The seminars should not be underestimated. I attended two great ones: One tasting the audience members on old wines dating back to 1980, and another comparing Oregon and California Pinot Noirs of various vintages and regions. (Discovery: I liked southern California Pinot the best of these.) If you’re more into cooking, copious celebrity chef-led demonstrations are available, as are sessions dedicated to all levels of expertise.

Then there are the parties, and one finds that in the tiny town of Aspen, it’s easy to hop from a Macallan event to a tasting of two vintages of Penfolds Grange in a manner of minutes. (The 2006 Grange stands as my favorite wine tasted the entire weekend.) Everywhere you go, someone’s cooking a whole pig or three (as with the Wines of Spain party), or pouring something surprising (as with the “Magnum” party, where several dozen large-format bottles of wines are available to try — all self-serve).

I feel fatter just writing about it.

If you’re a gourmand and you have the means (all-access tickets are over $1,000, but tent-only consumer access runs under $400 for the weekend), this is worth an excursion once in your life. Some advice if you go: Stay as close to town as you can, over-prepare for the extreme altitude (various supplements were recommended to me), and get some rest before you arrive. You’ll need it!

foodandwine.com

Review: Tres Agaves Tequila

The spawn of some old-school tequila execs (and a spinoff of the Tres Agaves restaurant, now just called Tres), Tres Agaves burst on the scene last year as another producer of high-quality, 100% agave tequilas. The company also makes a very good agave nectar and naturally-flavored margarita mix, with key lime and agave nectar as main ingredients.

We tasted both the blanco and reposado tequilas. Both are 80 proof.

Tres Agaves Blanco Tequila - A very archetypal blanco, with a big agave nose, punchy agave on the palate, then a finish that soothes that beast with a touch of sweet vanilla and lemon. Some lingering bitterness follows. I was a bit curious that this might have actually seen a week or two of barrel time before release as a way to rest the spirit, but that seems not to be the case? All in all, a solid margarita tequila. B / $28

Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila - Aged in ex-Bourbon barrels (a variety of companies’ barrels are used) for 6 to 9 months. This tequila is a total surprise. Very green in character, perhaps more so even than the blanco. Big agave notes remain surprisingly prominent, punctuated with black pepper, lemongrass, and wood. But the sweetness of the blanco is inexplicably gone here, leaving you with a punchy and quite bitter finish. C+ / $33

tresagaves.com

tres agaves tequila Review: Tres Agaves Tequila

Review: Jose Cuervo Low-Cal Margarita/No-Cal Margarita Mixes

Pre-bottled margarita mix is certainly one of the biggest scams perpetrated on the American public since the Flowbee. Really, people, how hard is squeezing out some lime juice and adding a little sweetener, if you’re so inclined?

And yet the just-add-tequila margarita mix remains and, judging by the vast amount of shelf space these mixes command, it remains a top seller.

Now Cuervo is taking things to an extreme: Ripping the calories out of margarita mix with a no-calorie mix and, if you’re too lazy to dump in your own tequila, by offering a sub-100-calorie pre-mixed “Light Margarita” as well.

It’s not our usual bailiwick, but we took a stab at tasting them both.

Jose Cuervo “Zero Calorie” Margarita Mix isn’t terribly surprising: It’s simply a blend of artificial sweetener and some kind of lime essence (sans calories). The flavor is a bit like a diet Sprite that’s gone flat, which could be worse, and if you’re on an extreme diet, well, you probably shouldn’t be drinking margaritas but, if you can’t stop yourself, then I guess this will do in a pinch. Adding tequila (even 100% agave good stuff) actually doesn’t help things at all: It gives the mix a bitter edge and brings out its artificial character. Bottom line: If you want to save calories, skip the mix altogether and just add lime juice the way you’re supposed to. C- / $7 per 1.75-liter bottle

Jose Cuervo Authentic Light Margarita (pictured) – I’m not sure how Cuervo can put the words “authentic” and “light” right next to each other, considering this product certainly has no actual lime juice and is flavored with the same artificial sweetener as the “zero calorie” mix above. This one works better, probably because there is so little alcohol in it. (Cuervo claims it is composed of Cuervo Gold, triple sec, and “a twist of lime.”) And yet somehow this ends up at just 9.95% alcohol. It’s not awful, with real tequila bite, better and more authentic-tasting citrus character, and only a mildly cloying finish. If you need something for a tailgate party in a plastic bottle and there’s a diabetic in the crowd, well, I suppose it will do.* C+ / $15 per 1.75-liter bottle

cuervo.com

Cuervo Authentic Light Margarita Review: Jose Cuervo Low Cal Margarita/No Cal Margarita Mixes

 

* Drinkhacker does not offer medical advice and has no idea if this stuff is diabetic-friendly.

 

Review: Sino Tequila

This Los Altos tequila is one of very few — if not the only one — to be 100% crafted by women (or, as they say, 100% Latina owned and operated). (We know of just one other female Tequilera.)

Judy Rivera is the owner of Sino Tequila — which is only available for the time being in silver and reposado expressions — and she’s building this brand one account at a time. We were excited to be able to review the bottlings for Drinkhacker, and look forward to the future anejo.

Both are 80 proof.

Sino Blanco Tequila – Mild agave on the nose, plus peppers black and green. The creamy, almost milky body is overwhelming and surprising, drowning out much of the agave notes. The finish is reminiscent of young corn whiskey (or white dog), rough and full of grain character. Agave makes an appearance in the end to remind you this came not from Kentucky but from Mexico. B- / $35

Sino Reposado Tequila – Aged a quick four months in ex-bourbon barrels, and what a difference it makes. The sweet vanilla character is a perfect match for Sino’s creaminess, and the agave notes meld nicely with that silky body. This is a sipping tequila that’s a stunner on the palate, smooth and easy. I’d love to see more complexity from this spirit, but for a relatively simple reposado, it hits it on the nose. A- / $38

sinotequila.com

Re-Review: Partida Reposado Tequila

I first encountered Partida when this blog was young. Very young, just a few months old. Given the chance to sample the full Partida line, I greatly enjoyed the product. In fact, I remember recommending it by name to numerous young tequila enthusiasts.

I have encountered Partida several times since then, but in a formal tasting environment it next arrived this February at the infamous blind silver tequila tasting I attended. This time Partida fared dismally: Its meaty, smoky character earning a solid C on my paper.

Bad bottle? Bad product? Bad reviewer? Who knows, and recently I got a new bottle of Partida — reposado this time — to compare notes, at least vs. that 2007 review.

The results: My notes were basically in line with the old review, though tempered this time, probably because I’ve had vastly more tequila experience since then. No insane “meat” flavor here, but I did get a whiff of smoke. I’ll never know what the issue was with the Partida at the blind tasting, but I’m at least happy to learn that I wasn’t wholly insane back in 2007 when I first sipped Partida’s tequilas. I gave it an A- then and my rating today is close.

2011 comments: The nose is lightly smoky and woody, with mild agave notes. The body: Bigger agave character, tempered by sweet vanilla character, which carries on to the finish. As it goes down, the agave shows its face again, bringing burn and a slight amount of vegetal character at the back of the throat. Not unpleasant at all, but a bit at odds with the sweetness in the middle of the shot.

Check back in 2015 for the re-re-review!

80 proof.

B+ / $55 / partidatequila.com

Partida Reposado tequila Re Review: Partida Reposado Tequila