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

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