Review: 901 Reposado and Anejo Tequila

901_anejoThe Justin Timberlake-backed 901 makes an impressive silver tequila, and now the company is (understandably) back with the other two traditional expressions, a reposado and an anejo.

Both are triple-distilled from 100% agave and bottled at 80 proof.

901 Reposado Tequila – Lots of agave still shining through on the nose, balanced by pepper and wood. The body is sweeter than you might expect, offering pineapple and lime candy notes. Heavy wood character comes on strong in the finish, along with some smoky notes, ample vegetal agave flavors, and a brooding, raked-coals denouement. Worthwhile as a sipper. B+ / $45

901 Anejo Tequila – A substantial improvement over the reposado. Pretty floral notes on the nose and plenty of nougat, but balanced with chile pepper heat. Great overall mouthfeel — silky without being syrupy — and a solid balance of all the flavors you want in anejo, with vanilla running throughout the touches here and there of banana, wood oil, and cayenne pepper. Agave shows its face on the very back end of the finish. Fun stuff. A / $50

Note: In 2014, Sauza acquired 901 and rebranded it as “Sauza 901.” These specific expressions of 901 are no longer available.

901.com

Review: 3 Amigos Tequila

3 amigos tequila

3 Amigos, based in the Jalisco Highlands, produces a veritable plethora of tequilas, all of which we got a chance a experience.  These tequilas are double-distilled instead of the usual three. All expressions are 80 proof and 100% agave. (Note: Prices on this lower-cost brand tend to vary wildly.) And so, without further ado…

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila – Straightforward nose of agave touched with lemongrass. Mild pepper and spice. On the body, surprisingly mild, almost to the point of being watery. The agave takes on an earthy, almost mushroom-like character, with a rustic and hot finish. I’m not thrilled with the balance, which offers just a touch of citrus against a muddy backbone. C+ / $20

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila Organic – Certified USDA (and European Union) Organic, but still a straight silver tequila. Overall similar notes to the non-organic version, but I think there’s more life to this expression. It’s got a better body and a more rounded mouthfeel, with a more harmonious balance of flavors — though the overall notes of agave, citrus, mushroom, and mild spice — are all still there. Fortunately, here the focus is more on the citrus, and less on the ‘shrooms. B+ / $25

3 Amigos Reposado Tequila – Spends 11 months in charred oak barrels, quite a spell for reposados. The color isn’t particularly dark, and the somewhat sharp, peppery, agave-laden and slightly smoky nose hints at a more powerful experience ahead. It’s quite a surprise then with this tequila reveals a more layered journey on the palate. Agave is up front, again with a touch of smoke, and plenty of lime and orange citrus underneath. Sweetness takes hold from there, with the palate becoming increasingly creamy and sultry, with notes of vanilla creme brulee. The finish continues this journey, balancing the sugar with just a touch of pepper. A very inviting reposado with lots to offer the explorer. A- / $25

3 Amigos Anejo Tequila – Aged for two years in oak, though again the color is surprisingly light considering that. Very well aged, the nose has lost most of its pungency, leaving behind a nose of vanilla and butterscotch, flecked with red pepper flakes. The agave’s still there, though. Breathe deep. The body follows suit, plenty sweet but not overdone, with a huge vanilla-meets-gingerbread character, with a return of that mushroomy, vegetal character on the back end. Kind of like the reposado, but in reverse. I think it works better the other way around. B+ / $30

3amigostequila.com

And now, even more Three Amigos

Review: Peligroso Cinnamon Tequila Liqueur

peligroso cinnamon tequila

Bottled at the same 84 proof as its standard tequila lineup, Peligroso curiously markets this cinnamon-flavored variety as a “liqueur.” But what’s in the bottle is 100% agave blanco tequila infused with “100% pure cinnamon and a blend of secret ingredients, creating a distinct juice with a kick that leaves some sweet heat on the palate.”

The effect is surprisingly mild.

The color bestowed on this silver tequila by the spice infusion brings it into the world of anejo, and those spices push it that direction on the nose and body, too. The nose is a curiosity — earthy agave takes the front seat, with sultry cinnamon notes underneath. There are hints of red berries and a distinct floral character there too, something you wouldn’t expect to find in either unflavored tequila or a cinnamon spirit.

The body is a bit more straightforward. The cinnamon and baking spice notes are easily evident, with a strong, vegetal agave underpinning. The overall effect is something like caramel corn meets jalapeno peppers meets Cinnabon (sans the cloying sweetness). The finish is surprisingly easygoing and palatable, not nearly the bite you’d expect.

I’m still unsure what the point of flavored tequila is — a shot of tequila with a little cinnamon liqueur would let you mix things up to your own tastes — but I think what Peligroso is trying to do here is at least an intriguing and worthy experiment.

B+ / $36 / peligrosotequila.com

Review: Chinaco Tequila

chinaco blancoAn oddity in the tequila world, Chinaco — one of the first, if not the very first, 100% agave tequila released in the U.S. — is produced not in Jalisco (where the vast majority of tequila hails from) but in Tamaulipas, a state to the east which borders on the gulf of Mexico. This terroir gives Chinaco a considerably different character than most Jalisco tequilas — in fact, it is the only licensed distillery in Tamaulipas altogether.

Everything in Tamaulipas is a little different. The soil is a mix of types, quite different from the clay you will find in Jalisco, and the distillery’s location, less than 50 miles from the Ocean, offers uniqueness, too. Even the agave growing elevation — ranging from 500 to 5000 feet — spans what would be considered both highland and lowland growing areas in Jalisco. Agave used in Chinaco is all organic.

So, how does Chinaco taste? Thoughts follow.

All expressions are 80 proof.

Chinaco Blanco Tequila – Huge vegetation on the nose, pure agave through and through. The body is funky and tough, a push through the weeds and swamp water to a finish of tobacco, tar, and earthy tree roots. Touches of lemongrass and juniper add complexity, but ground it firmly as one of the more unique blanco tequila experiences. B- / $41

Chinaco Reposado Tequila – Aged for 11 months in white oak barrels not from Bourbon country but from France and England, some former Scotch casks. Still has loads of agave on the nose, but it is mercifully tempered by sweet vanilla notes from its time in barrel. The reposado’s got spice, fire, and burnt sugar notes, but it’s the racy agave — still earthy and prickly — that commands your attention. The peppery finish is long and complex. Altogether a solid and quite interesting reposado that keeps the sweetness at an appropriate level. A- / $48

Chinaco Anejo Tequila – Aged for 30 months in the same barrels as the reposado, plus some bourbon barrels, as well. Heady with alcohol notes, this anejo is again a racy and peppery spirit, only with an extra level of sweetness atop it. Clear wood character takes hold on this tequila, which is somewhat at odds with the butterscotch-meets-peppered-bacon character that lies beneath. I like the increased vanilla and creme brulee notes in the body here, but the deep wood character — rough and dusty at times — doesn’t play well with the other notes in the spirit, throwing it a bit out of balance. B+ / $59

chinacotequila.com

Review: Los Amantes Mezcal Joven

los amantes mezcalLos Amantes, “the lovers,” is a Oaxacan mezcal made via traditional methods, using an underground pit to smoke 100% Tobala and Espadin agave pinas for three days, then triple distilling the juice pressed from them.

This Joven mezcal has a faint color. Although joven mezcals can be lightly aged for up to 2 months in oak barrels, Los Amantes’ distiller says it isn’t aged at all, which surprised me. Los Amantes also makes a longer-aged Reposado, which we didn’t try.

Los Amantes Joven is excellent stuff. Here you’ll find a lightly smoky but quite approachable nose — even mezcal novices should have little trouble tucking into it. On the tongue, you’ll find plenty of delights awaiting. First is a light chocolate character, just a touch that works nicely with the rich agave core. The smoke is there, but it is balanced with sweetness, barbecue-style, coming on a bit stronger in the moderate and comforting finish. The body on this mezcal is light and lively, with citrus notes that provide mouth-cleaning acidity (a must to keep that smokiness from clinging to your palate for too long). It’s a solid spirit where everything comes together surprisingly nicely, easy to drink but inviting serious reflection.

I also love the antique bottle with oversized cork stopper. Whatever you think of the mezcal, the presentation is a conversation piece, too.

80 proof.

A- / $50 / losamantes.com

Review: Hornitos Lime Shot Tequila

I was surprisehornitos lime shotd to see Hornitos — one of the most respected names in mainstream tequila — releasing a flavored product like this, clearly aimed at the party-crowd shot market. At the same time, I was intrigued. If anyone was going to do a good job with a “lime shot” tequila, it ought to be Hornitos.

The tequila, a very pale green/gold in color, doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation. It’s a 100% agave tequila, kicked with a touch of natural lime flavor. (The website says there’s salt added too, completing the trifecta.)

The nose offers quite a bit of lime, with a modest agave underpinning. More Meyer lemon than lime, at first blush, but close enough. The agave notes build over time as you let it settle in the glass, the overall effect becoming more “tequila-like.”

The body offers more of the above, but with more sweetness than sourness in the mix. Lime is abundant, something like a lime candy, but I don’t get any salt. What I also don’t get: Much tequila. What’s there is mild, a simple plata with just a touch of vanilla to give the sugary character some interest. Other than that, you won’t be able to pick out much more given all the lime flavoring.

If the idea was to recreate a bar shot, where you really don’t taste anything but lime juice, mission accomplished. But honestly, I’m still scratching my head just trying to figure out what the point of this is. Are limes that hard to cut up?

70 proof.

B- / $18 / hornitostequila.com

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