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

hornitostequila.com

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 / eljimador.com

Review: Abreojos Tequila Silver

abreojos tequilaColloquially “open eyes,” this Lowlands tequila is the only 100% agave tequila you’ll find that features an enormous eye-meets-lobster drawing on the label.

Inside the frosted bottle you’ll find a standard blanco (reposado and anejo, not reviewed, are also available from Abreojos), made sans resting or aging.

The spirit’s nose is initially heavy on earth tones. These blow off with some time and aeration. What remains is a fairly racy, spicy, and nutty tequila, surprisingly agave-forward given today’s focus on generally sweeter, milder blancos. Some lemon peel notes add interest.

The body follows in kind. Agave, dried herbs, and wet earth come first, then a broad lemon and citrus character to even things out. Boldly peppery — with crushed black peppercorns and red chiles — on the finish. The overall effect is rustic and just shy of bruising, a burly tequila for those that like their blancos to wear their pinas on their sleeve.

B+ / $30 / abreojostequila.com

Review: KAH Tequila

KAH Reposado

KAH is a tequila brand you won’t quickly forget, whether you’ve tried it or not. Bottled in painted ceramic skulls with Day of the Dead motifs on them, these spirits stand out so much they’re almost too pretty to open.

But what’s inside? It’s lowlands tequila, 100% agave, bottled in the typical varieties — but with a twist on reposado, which is boosted up to a massive 110 proof. Why 110 proof? I’m not sure, but the bottle is designed in the image of “El Diablo,” a fitting moniker I’m sure among those who’ve had a shot too many.

KAH isn’t cheap, but there’s an easier way to try out this curious tequila: A sampler kit of three 50ml bottles (which are mini versions of the painted ceramic ones) is just $30.

KAH Tequila Blanco – Enticing, with intense agave on the nose, mixed with notes of creme brulee and spiced, roasted almonds. On the tongue, a powerful array of elements expected and otherwise emerge. It starts with creamy marzipan before delving into sultry spices — clove-studded oranges and cinnamon cream — while folding in plenty of well-roasted, herbal agave. It comes together marvelously in a creamy body with a moderate and engaging finish with nary a second of bite. Nearly everything a blanco should be. 80 proof. A / $45

KAH Tequila Reposado – Aged 10 months in French oak. Surprisingly divergent from the blanco. Initially hot, the nose is a bit distant and obscured by alcohol, of which there is plenty in this oddball repo. The body is a strange symphony of flavors, beginning with hard candy and toffee notes, then taking you into various notes of nougat, red wine, whisky barrel, and sharp agave herbaciousness at the end. Almost the opposite of the blanco’s creaminess, it’s a bit of a tough nut to crack and not half as enjoyable. 110 proof. B / $60

KAH Tequila Anejo – Spends two years in American oak. Big caramel and vanilla notes on the nose, typical of a well-aged, quality anejo. The body sticks close to the formula, keeping the sweetness heavy and layering on a bit of milk chocolate as the finish starts to roll over you. Agave is largely absent here… only a residual slug of herbs on the nose proves that you’re not drinking rum. Still, all in all it’s a solid dessert-like experience. 80 proof. A- / $60

kahtequila.com

Review: Mezcal El Silencio

El Silencio MezcalEl Silencio is a new brand of premium mezcal, produced in small batches in Oaxaca from, per the distillery notes, a “blend of 100% wild agave using 10- to 12-year-old plants.” It’s then double distilled and bottled, sans aging. The name is indeed a reference to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

The nose is bright and big: lemon odds with hefty smoke character. No wallflower like some more muted spirits, this is a mezcal that makes its presence known from the start. The body is even more powerful, offering more of that citrus character and touches of cinnamon and vanilla. But again the raw smokiness is palpable. It tastes the way you smell after coming back from a night-long campfire on the beach, all wet smoke and salty air clinging to you. The finish strains under its own weight, singing the throat

Beyond that, complexities are tough to find. The smoke character pushes them all aside. That’s not a bad thing — there are plenty of drinkers out there who enjoy this level of intensity (and I do as well from time to time)… but it does come at the cost of nuance.

80 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #0640.

B / $79 / mezcalelsilencio.com

Review: Baron Tequila Platinum

baron tequilaBaron is a new brand of 100% agave tequila, triple pot-distilled from organic agave. (While it’s specifically billed as gluten-free, note that all 100% agave tequilas are naturally gluten-free.)

This blanco also boasts of a “zero-zero taste profile,” but it’s actually quite a pungent spirit. The nose is full of vegetal agave notes — a punchy mix of earth, mushroom, green pepper, and baking spices. On the body, the palate is rich and offers ample depth, revealing layers of lemon, black pepper, more of that earthy mushroom character, and a touch of vanilla on the back end. The overall effect is powerful but a bit muddy, leaving this a big blanco that fans of more forward tequilas will likely enjoy.

Currently available only in New York. 80 proof.

B+ / $55 / baronspirits.com

Review: Red Eye Louie’s Vodquila

vodquilaIt’s another spirit mashup that I’m unclear who’s been clamoring for: Vodquila is… wait for it… vodka and tequila. That’s it.

There’s nothing surprising in the construction here: The bright idea was to mix 100% agave Highlands tequila with premium, imported, grain-distilled vodka. And to be honest, the whole idea baffles me. If you like premium tequila, you’ll dislike the idea of watering it down with vodka — essentially turning it into a mixto. On the other hand, if you’re a vodka kinda guy, well, you’re just going to hate having tequila in it.

The overall impact is about what you think it will be. The nose is heavy on the agave, lemony, with an undercurrent of sugar. On the palate, it’s that vodka-fueled sugar that hits you first. Your brain doesn’t know whether to prepare for a sweet, modern-style vodka experience or something else, but before you get the chance to make up your mind, the tequila hits. At first, it offers a strong herbal agave character, with more of that lemon, but then along comes a lightly spiced finish that’s absolutely loaded with sweetness — almost like a slice of cinnamon toast.

Vodquila grows on you over time. Or rather, it becomes more harmless and innocuous, much like any well-sweetened mixto tequila does, simple enough but probably regrettable later. Of course, Vodquila does have one trick up its Frankenbooze sleeve: At a price that undercuts every 100% agave tequila I’m aware of, it seems to be destined to find a home in novelty shots over sipping straight, which sounds about right to me.

C+ / $18 / vodquila.com

Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Cognac Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2013

coleccion de la casa 2013

Herradura expands its nascent Coleccion de la Casa line of specialty cask-finished tequilas with this 2013 release, which is polished off in Cognac barrels.

This release spends 11 months in American oak before being finished for another three months in Cognac casks.

This expression doesn’t reach the heights of 2012’s Port Finished tequila, starting off with a bit of an odd nose that speaks more of lumberyard notes — and a bit of odd hospital character — than it does of either tequila or Cognac. The body is more successful, though it really just comes across as a spicier style of young reposado, offering plenty of pepper and a touch of vanilla and cocoa powder. Alas, it’s the often bruising spiciness and heat that overpowers everything else, particularly any of the sweeter elements that the Cognac finishing might have added. I love tequila and I love Cognac, but here the two are just ships passing in the night.

Improves considerably with aeration in the glass.

80 proof.

B- / $90 / herradura.com

Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Back again by popular demand, it’s the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — or our “best stuff of the year awards” if you want to go that route. As usual, this list is filtered through the lens of the holidays, designed to help you decide what you might buy for the loved ones on your shopping list, should they be whiskey, rum, tequila, or other spirits fans.

The offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, with an eye toward things you might actually be able to find on the market (no Pappy on this list… what would be the point?). Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Also check out our 2012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Parker's_ALS_Promise of Hope_Bottle ShotBourbon – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope ($90) – Hard to go wrong with Bourbon this year, with so many good bottlings to pick from. But for its sheer holiday appropriateness (and quality), I have to go with the new Parker’s Heritage release, bottled in honor of Parker Beam. If you buy a bottle, a full $20 will go to ALS research, which Beam was recently diagnosed with. Other ideas? Where to start: Hillrock Solera ($90, an utter knockout), both Four Roses releases — Single Barrel ($80) and Small Batch ($90) — and Wild Turkey’s new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch ($50). On a budget? Try Rough Rider ($33), Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Old ($40), Burnside Double Barrel ($44), or even the controversial Stagg Jr. ($50). But one of my favorite bourbons of the year is also one of its cheapest: The Hooker’s House single-barrel monster of a bourbon, finished in Pinot Noir barrels ($36).

Scotch – Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 ($75) – Slimmer pickins in the world of Scotch this year, as prices have gone and quality has noticeably begun to decline. But this gem from Laphroaig, which is almost pink in color and is exquisite in its balance, is easily my top pick — and still widely available. Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 9 ($250) and Ardbeg Ardbog ($120) are also still on the market, as is Isle of Jura “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old, which can be had for significantly less than its $950 list price. Budget shoppers (well, as “budget” as Scotch gets these days) should not overlook Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve ($87), a new limited edition blend that looks as good as it tastes.

Other Whiskey – WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye 12 Years Old ($150) – I’m adding this new category this year because there are so many other worthy whiskeys on the market that don’t fit into the Bourbon or Scotch mold. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, as Collingwood 21 Year Old Canadian Rye ($70) and Powers John’s Lane 12 Years Old Irish ($65) are neck and neck in quality. But the seductive Boss Hog gets my slight nod for 2013’s most memorable alternative whiskey. Budget-minded shoppers needn’t look beyond Pike Creek Canadian ($37).

master of malt cream ginGin – Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin ($68) – You won’t find a more unique gin for sale this year, or perhaps ever. I’m shocked it’s still on the market. Also worth a look for the juniper fan in the fam: The Russell Henry lineup (3 different gins, $38 each) and the German Monkey 47 ($61, 500ml).

Vodka – Pau Maui Vodka ($30) – An enjoyable vodka distilled from pineapples, giving it added conversation value. Also enjoyable (and giftable) are Absolut Elyx ($50), and 666 Vodka ($28).

Rum – Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario Rum ($120) – It’s been a rather quiet year for rum, but this rarity is easily on top of my list (and still buyable). Also hunt for Gosling’s Old Rum ($70) and Kirk & Sweeney 12 Years Old ($40).

Brandy – Louis Royer Cognac XO ($140) – Amazing stuff, and my only top-shelf Cognac pick for the year. For something more exotic (and inexpensive) try Encanto’s Acholado Pisco ($35).

50594 Brown FormanHerradura Coleccion ImagesTequila – Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012 ($90) – Tons of great tequila releases to choose from this year, but my top pick has to go to this unique Herradura bottling, finished in Port casks. This came out in early 2013 but has a 2012 date on it… mind you don’t accidentally pick up the less masterful 2013 release. Also worth considering: Qui Platinum (“white”) Extra Anejo ($60), Tapatio 110 Blanco ($42, 1 liter), and 901 Anejo ($50).

Liqueur – Art in the Age Sage Liqueur ($30) – Try out this unique liqueur as an alternative to juniper-focused spirits for the gin lover on your list; it really switches up a martini or G&T. Also worth a look are Jack from Brooklyn Sorel Liqueur ($40) and the new Luxardo Aperitivo ($20).

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

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

AND: Get the gift guide in high-res printable PDF format, ready to take to the store!

Review: Tributo Tequila

tributo tequilaTributo, aka Tributo a Mi Padre, is a new tequila brand — 100% agave, of course — with a bit of the twist. It’s high-end stuff, with serious production values and heavy attention to detail (the bottles alone look fancy fancy if you know what I mean)… but with prices designed to move. When’s the last time you saw a $30 anejo, eh? (Too bad the well-aged Extra Anejo doesn’t stick with the value theme.)

We reviewed three of Tributo’s expressions (the Blanco was not available). All expressions are 80 proof.

Tributo Reposado Tequila – Aged 7 months in white oak. Very modest straw yellow color. A little hot on the nose. Let the vapors blow off a bit before tucking in. Here you’ll find a nose of modest caramel and some cinnamon. The body is considerably more forward with the agave, but the sweeter finish gives it an almost candied feel. The finish is lengthy and quite vegetal, but not unpleasant, with a mild mint character to it. B / $28

Tributo Anejo Tequila – Aged 20 months in white oak. A touch darker in color, but still quite light. Considerable caramel on the nose, with just a hint of agave on it. Quite sweet on the body, with some whiskey character to it. Notes of vanilla, tea leaf, and a finish that heads toward that of caramel popcorn. Very enjoyable, and surprisingly and enticingly complex. A- / $30

Tributo Extra Anejo Tequila – Aged 42 months in a combination of white oak and French oak. Again there’s lots of caramel on the nose, but a surprising spicy-agave undercurrent persists. The sweet stuff grows in power, both on the nose and on the tongue, as you sip this well-aged tequila. The mouthfeel is round and full of caramel apple character, with subtle cinnamon notes. Agave makes its return on the finish, though more vegetal than it is spicy, but the herbal character is well integrated into the spirit — if for no other reason than to ensure you realize you’re drinking tequila and not rum. I’m not sure the final analysis adds a ton over the Anejo bottling — particularly at this price — but it’s definitely a worthwhile spirit on its merits. A- / $140

tributotequila.com