It’s been seven years since we looked at Milagro’s core line of three tequilas, and that early review is certainly showing its age. It’s time for an update of this readily available and largely affordable Highland tequila. Here’s a look at the standard lineup as of 2015.
All expressions are 100% agave and 80 proof.
Milagro Tequila Silver – An unaged blanco. Vegetal agave, with some sweetness on the nose. The body is relatively lightweight and heavy on sugary character, which leads to a very gentle experience. Notes of tinned peaches, some tobacco, and burnt marshmallow make an appearance, but they don’t add much nuance to an otherwise simplistic experience. Best for mixing. B- / $22
Milagro Tequila Reposado – Aged in oak for three to six months. It’s a very slight improvement over the silver, still sweet, with its agave rounded out with some notes of sandalwood, cinnamon, and dusky cloves. Some raw lumber character develops as the tequila sees time with air. Still not a challenging tequila, but also worthwhile as a mixer. B- / $28
Milagro Tequila Anejo – Aged in oak for 14 to 24 months. Easily the best of the lot, with a better balance of sugar and agave. The lumber has smoothed out as well, adding stronger vanilla notes to the spirit along with some light milk chocolate character and a bit of bitter root essence on the finish. This one’s also the most mellow of the bunch, but it’s still very light bodied and a little thin. Again, it’s harmless tequila, a solid mixer, and a pleasant enough sipper in its own right. B / $35
Santera is a new Highlands-based tequila, 100% blue agave, and bottled in an understated, classy decanter. We tried all three standard expressions. Thoughts on each follow.
All are 80 proof. Available in New York (for now).
Santera Tequila Blanco – Unaged. Modest, but present, agave character is backed by earthy, stony, and flint-like notes. Some sweetness comes to the fore as the body develops, a slight creme brulee note that is laced with touches of red pepper. This is isn’t an incredibly complicated silver tequila, but it finds some grace in its simplicity. B / $42
Santera Tequila Reposado – Aged in oak for up to seven months. Wood is not particularly evident on the nose, but rather the aroma reveals some surprising fruity character — apples and a smattering of tropical fruit, too. The fruit follows through to the palate, tempering the vegetal notes but playing up the inherent sweetness. Again, it’s a simple tequila that doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel, but the heavy fruit character offers some distinction over other reposados. B+ / $47
Santera Tequila Anejo – Aged in oak for up to 16 months. Here baking spices build up considerably, both on the fruit-pie-meets-Mexican-chocolate nose and on the body. The anejo, surprisingly, offers more heat than the other expressions. That fiery character is compounded by the spicy notes, not just cinnamon and cloves, but cayenne too, the lattermost of which lingers on the palate for quite some time. Chocolate and vanilla make appearances late in the game, alongside some bitter notes — licorice, perhaps — that complement the spices. This is the least cohesive member of the trio, but it’s also the one with the most to say. B+ / $55
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.
A- / $50 / mezcalamores.com
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
This 100% agave tequila is not to be confused with Vida or Dulce Vida, Pura Vida is a small brand with a focus on flavored tequilas. The company also makes straight tequila, including this unaged blanco. Pura Vida is in the process of moving to its own distillery; this sample is still produced at NOM 1414.
Moderate, peppery punch kicks off the nose, with some notes of lemongrass and a clear jalapeno edge. On the palate, there’s sweetness and spice, some surprising caramel character, and a more gentle lacing of agave with the tequila’s more up-front citrus notes.
The finish is clean but still offers an ample, classic tequila character. Overall, Pura Vida doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, but it does put together a quality blanco with plenty to recommend.
B+ / $35 / puravidatequila.com
The flavored tequila world isn’t necessarily the most successful one out there. Most offerings in this space are tolerable at best.
Hornitos Spiced Honey is a more ambitious product than the Hornitos Lime Shot that came before it — lime-flavored tequila isn’t much of a stretch — adding honey and a blend of spices to standard blanco Hornitos.
The nose offers a slightly sweet take on dense agave, vegetal notes balanced by what at first seems more like apple cider than honey. On the palate, it’s quite sweet, with notes of pineapple, ripe pear, and indistinct spices — gingerbread character, with a backing of toasted marshmallow.
The palate is as sweet as expected, with notes not just of honey but of milk chocolate and a bit of cinnamon. Some coffee notes emerge with time, and the herbal agave character shows its face as things open up. Not so much pungent as it is mildly sultry, the agave meshes fairly well with the honey and the spice notes — though these don’t really add much aside from a layer of sweetness atop an otherwise straightforward blanco.
B- / $18 / hornitostequila.com
We covered Vida Tequila’s Blanco expression in 2012. Now we’re back with the Vida Anejo, a 100% agave tequila that’s aged for 18 to 24 months in oak barrels before bottling.
The nose is laden with sweet stuff, marshmallow and brown sugar, but the agave — powerful in Vida Blanco — still peeks through. On the palate it’s dessert time from the start. Caramel kicks things off, then notes of cinnamon and an emerging clove character. The agave is gentle but ever-present, nicely balanced for a tequila at this age. An echo of toasted marshmallow returns on the finish, a great way to cap off a well-crafted (and relatively affordable) anejo.
A- / $55 / vidatequila.com