The man who scared the bejeezus out of you in movies like Cronos and Pan’s Labyrinth has now turned his attention to something even more menacing: Tequila.
What’s it all about? It’s an extra anejo, aged over five years in new and used oak barrels, that comes with a 100ml miniature of aged orange liqueur on top, “a skull exquisitely carved into the crystal.” This liqueur is “a first-of-its-kind aged Patrón orange liqueur produced from aged Patrón tequila,” and presumably you can use it along with the tequila to make the most expensive margarita you’ve ever had.
This partnership marks one of the first collaborations in which del Toro has engaged outside of the entertainment industry, and among a handful of partnerships carefully selected by Patrón over its long history. The drawings on the packaging were inspired by jimadores, the skilled laborers in Mexico who for generations have hand-harvested and trimmed the Weber Blue Agave. Only a very limited number of sets were produced, and are currently available at fine spirits and liquor retailers across the country.
We didn’t taste the orange liqueur (or get to experience the elaborate packaging) but we did get a nice sample of the tequila itself to experience. Some thoughts:
Did I say we didn’t get the orange liqueur? The nose on the tequila is so overpowering with orange notes that I originally thought we’d mistakenly been sent the liqueur instead of the tequila and actually asked for (and received) a second sample. Not so, the company swears up and down. It just so happens that the primary aroma here is citrus, particularly mandarins. A spicy agave note lingers underneath, along with some sultry caramel character, and a note of spicy, dried fig.
The palate is still quite sweet and fruity with distinct orange notes, here sweet like marmalade, but edgy with a peppery undercurrent. The sweetness endures though (and makes the bottle super-sticky as well), again giving this tequila a distinctly liqueur-like character that’s hard to shake. I like it a lot for what it is, but I just have a massive amount of trouble placing it among any tequila hierarchy. As a luxe version of Grand Marnier, that might be an easier sell.
B+ / $399 / patrontequila.com
Tequila Exotico (part of the budding Luxco empire) is a new, 100% agave tequila made from Highlands agave. With Day of the Dead styling on its otherwise understated bottles, the tequila is available in only blanco and reposado expressions. (No anejo has been produced so far.)
We tasted both. Thoughts follow. Both are 80 proof — and available for perhaps less than any other 100% agave tequila I’ve ever encountered.
Tequila Exotico Blanco – Feels immediately rustic and rather rough. The nose is hot with more of a raw agave character, with lots of black pepper mixed in with aromas of well-cooked vegetables. On the palate, some sweetness is but little relief against an onslaught of fire, smoldering mesquite, and vegetal notes of carrot, green pepper, and dried grasses. The finish is as pungent as the body that precedes it, making this suited best for mixing rather than sipping straight. C / $14
Tequila Exotico Reposado – Rested for six months in ex-bourbon barrels. As expected, the barrel aging rounds things out quite a bit, smoothing those harsh, rustic edges with a lacy vanilla-caramel character, though the intense black pepper, cayenne, and roasted agave notes are still present and accounted for, just dialed back all around. The finish sees some hints of chocolate and nutmeg, almost coming across like a Mexican chocolate, which is the most interesting part of the spirit. All told, this is much more easygoing and enjoyable tequila than the blanco, though it still lands well into “frontier” in style. B / $14
Have we reached the era of peak ghost pepper? The unavoidable “hottest pepper on earth” is used to flavor — a term used loosely here — Ghost Tequila, which actually begins with a 100% agave base spirit. Designed for consumption as a shot (perhaps the punishment the loser of a bar bet is stricken with), the spirit was actually invented by a Boston bartender as a homegrown infusion before it went commercial.
The nose leads with agave, but also with notes of orange and lemon — masking some hints of pepper underneath. This is probably intentional; without the fruit, the aroma might be too off-putting for most to even take a sip of it.
The heat is there, of course, and it hits the palate with a lot of that citrus-driven sweetness, something like biting into a mandarin orange that’s been studded with cinnamon red hots and dosed with cayenne pepper. The pepper is fortunately manageable — hot, but not overwhelming, and not pungent and sour in the way that pepper can come across in other pepper-infused spirits. Here you definitely taste more than the pepper, a classic “sweet heat” experience that offers a finish of both sides of the coin in roughly equal measures.
Drinkers looking for a “dare” bottle to keep on the back bar may enjoy this the most, but I can also see how it would work in a spicy margarita or paloma (at least in moderation).
B / $26 / ghosttequila.com
Corralejo’s striking bottles — the reposado is blue, the anejo is red — stand out on any back bar. At the liquor store, something else is likely to stand out even more: The price, which frequently comes in at under $20 for the blanco, $25 for the reposado.
We tasted both the “white” and “blue” bottlings — the anejo was not available — to see what some bright colors and low, low prices could do for our enjoyment of the spirit.
Both are 80 proof.
Tequila Corralejo Blanco – Tons of agave up front on the nose, alongside black pepper, lemon, and a hint of roasted meat. On the palate, it’s racy, with lots of alcohol weighing heavily on the tongue, the black pepper dulling the agave the way a somewhat dusty old can of McCormick spices might mar your otherwise well-crafted dish. A little bright citrus pops back into focus toward the end of the experience, but it’s too little, too late. The overall impression here is on the muddy side, a spirit designed wholly for mixing. B- / $20
Tequila Corralejo Reposado – Rested for four months in three types of oak — French, American and Encino (a type of California-sourced oak). Wood aging usually mellows out any spirit — especially tequila — but with Corralejo, an off-putting, funky/weedy character lingers, difficult to shake despite a filter of vanilla on top of it. The palate’s not much better, a melange of old wood, pepper, weedy agave, and a finish that offers just a touch of cinnamon and vanilla syrup. There may be some charms buried deep in the bottle (and this reposado has its share of fans), but I find said charms difficult to access. C- / $25
Kimo Sabe got started as a brand in 2014, and this affordable mezcal line is finally hitting the U.S. in stride. The company produces three mezcals, two of which are barrel aged in line with standard tequila styles, at present.
We sampled the younger two in the lineup, a joven (aka albedo) and reposado (aka rubedo).
Kimo Sabe Mezcal Joven : Albedo – A classically unaged expression. Quite sweet and lightly smoky on the nose, this is a lighter style of mezcal punctuated with notes of salted caramel, fresh hay, and oily lemon and orange. The palate keeps things largely in line with the nose, though it’s a bit fruitier than expected, with more lemon/lemongrass notes, a slightly malty note to the chipotle-laden smoke as the palate develops, leading to a gently caramel-laced finish. Very easygoing, suitable for any mezcal novice. 86 proof. B+ / $28
Kimo Sabe Mezcal Reposado : Rubedo – Lightly yellow-hued, though no aging information is provided. Quite a different experience, with a comparably closed nose, the focus here is on wood-driven vanilla, butterscotch, and a very light touch of smoke underneath it. The palate is reminiscent of reposado tequila, with virtually no smokiness at all, loaded instead with notes of toasted marshmallow, roasted agaves, and a vanilla-caramel-chocolate note that lingers as the finish quickly develops. Said finish lingers with a dessert-like sweetness, washing away any semblance of smoke, and fading out with a character reminiscent of Christmas, with a vague ginger spice character. 83 proof. A- / $33
Carlos Camarena is an icon of the tequila world, and of the several brands he shepherds, El Tesoro is his baby. A few months back I had the pleasure of dining with Camarena and hearing all about how this tequila is made, from harvest to bottling, and today we finally take a formal look at one of El Tesoro’s bottlings, its well-regarded reposado, which spends a lengthy 11 months in barrel before bottling.
The tequila offers a classic nose of vanilla well-mixed with pungent agave, with a healthy subtext of orange peel. On the palate, it’s aggressive for a reposado, with loads of peppery agave, notes of sage and thyme, and — finally — a cool vanilla layer that washes over as the finish starts to take hold. Warming but balanced, the drinker is left with notes of milk chocolate, some coconut, and a grate of nutmeg to reward his efforts.
A- / $45 / eltesorotequila.com
Perhaps you’ve heard of this “cousin of tequila”? But OK, what is sotol?
Sotol is a distillate of an agave-like plant called sotol — scientifically named as Dasylirion Wheeleri. It’s not agave, but a different plant that creates a finished product with a different flavor. This wild plant grows in three northern Mexico states, “100% wild,” and at maturity they are about half the size of agave plants. Fabriquero’s sotol — just now being released in the U.S. for the first time — is found on the Don Héctor Jiménez ranch of Ventanas.
When ripe, Fabriquero is harvested and cooked for five days in lava rock-lined pits using acacia and mesquite as fuel. They are then crushed by hand before being fermented in open air.
What’s it taste like?
Fabriquero Sotol (this is an unaged, “blanco” expression) is a strange and unique spirit, landing somewhere between tequila and mezcal and lemonade. The nose is smoky, but not as intense as most mezcal, with notes of lemon peel, honeydew, and some layers of evergreen. The palate is much stranger than that would indicate, a semi-sweet, semi-sour experience that kicks off with light smoke before folding in notes of ripe banana, menthol, more melon, and a simplistic sweetness that washes over the experience and leaves behind a sense of cheap lemon candy, the kind of budget fruit candy you might find in a big vat at your local taqueria.
Do I like it better than mezcal or tequila? Not at all, but I can appreciate its uniqueness, and look forward to trying other expressions of sotol as they make their way to the U.S.
B / $65 / fabriquero.mx