Review: Santo Mezquila

Why would someone want to blend mezcal and tequila into the same spirit? I’m not entirely sure what the motivation was, but Sammy Hagar (Van Halen) and Adam Levine (Maroon 5) decided this might be the next big thing, and Santo — aka Santo Puro — has now arrived.

The tequila used is 100% blue agave, and the mezcal is from espadin agave. The two are blended 50-50 to make the final product, so the “you got your tequila in my mezcal” debate can continue unabated, forever.

Let’s give it a whirl!

The nose has the smoke and sweet citrus notes that immediately scream mezcal. Blend or no, on the nose it’s the mezcal that comes through the most clearly — peppery and full of spicy character. The palate tones things down a notch. Santo is sweet and gentle, and while the smoky and pepper are present, they’re dialed back to where even a mezcal novice could enjoy them. This isn’t a bad thing, as it allows notes of apple, caramel corn, and some ruddy carrot notes to come to the fore, which give it a savory bent. The finish is on the short side, but with lingering smokiness and hints of that vegetal character.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / santomezquila.com

Review: Nine Single Barrel Tequilas from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission – Patron, Herradura, and Casa Noble

In case you missed our previous reviews, New Hampshire — the Granite State — is one of the most enthusiastic consumers of private label, single barrel spirits in the world. Recently the state’s liquor commission loaded up on 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, the biggest single barrel purchase of JD ever made.

Tired of whiskey? Maybe not, but the NHLC is at least extending its horizons to another hot spirit category: Tequila. Its latest purchase? Nine single barrels of tequila sourced from Patron, Herradura, and Casa Noble. The total haul is about 2,862 bottles — and we got to sample all of them.

Thoughts on the full collection, all 80 proof except the one Casa Noble as noted, follow.

Patron Reposado – Barrel #219 – Aged 8 months in new French oak. It kicks off as one of the most straightforward tequilas in this roundup, a toasty, vanilla-forward spirit with a sweet but agave-sharp nose and a palate that blends nicely its flavors of caramel and vanilla with ample notes of black pepper. Ultimately complex, with notes of banana and green olive emerging, it manages to remain balanced, a study in agave and wood finding harmony at just the right time. A / $57

Patron Anejo – Barrel #140 –  Aged 26 months in new American & new French oak. The first of three studies on different wood types used to age tequila — in this case, Patron. Quite citrus-forward on the nose, with big lemon peel notes and a hint of smoke. The body folds in more of that smokiness, plus some notes of apricot, lemongrass, and some mint. On the whole, a straightforward reposado. B+ / $62

Patron Anejo – Barrel #134 –  Aged 26 months in new (French) Limousin oak. The nose of this one offers notes of green banana, soft smoke, and lightly vegetal agave notes. The palate is more peppery, but balanced with a modest caramel and vanilla. Drinks more like a reposado. B / $62

Patron Anejo – Barrel #114 –  Aged 31 months in used American oak. Billed as a monster, and yeah, there’s plenty of wood on the nose, but it’s well filtered through butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel, with hints of fresh fruit. The palate is spicy, with red pepper and cloves, some notes of molasses, and a finish that again echoes toasty wood. Drinks more like an extra anejo, perhaps, with a more savory edge to it. B+ / $62

Herradura Double Reposado – Barrel #1224 – Aged 11 months in used American white oak, then spends an additional 30 days in new American white oak. The first of two identically aged barrels. There’s straightforward agave on the nose along with some buttery pastry notes, with a relatively soft approach on the palate’s attack. The finish is creamy and sweet, with mild herbal overtones, altogether drinking a lot like a typical, dialed-back reposado. B+ / $50

Herradura Double Reposado – Barrel #1225 – As above, aged 11 months in used American white oak, then spends an additional 30 days in new American white oak. While it has some of the same sweetness, this tequila is immediately much more peppery on the nose and the palate, with a more classically agave-forward profile. The finish finds a balance of sweet and spice, with notes of cloves and lemon peel — but the finish is all dusky pepper and a bit of smoky bacon that lingers on the finish. A somewhat more interesting expression of reposado, though it was just one barrel over. A- / $50

Casa Noble Joven – Barrel #808 – Aged 6 weeks in new French Oak from the sought-after Taransaud region — new oak of any sort being an unusual move for tequila. A clean tequila with a bold nose of green agave and lime peel, the sharp palate leading to some light notes of almond, toasted marshmallow, and blonde wood. Quite pungent on the finish, with a spritz of citrus, ample black pepper, and lingering alcohol overtones. 102 proof. B+ / $45

Casa Noble Reposado – Barrel #691 – Aged 364 days in new Taransaud French Oak, just under the reposado limit. A very supple and surprisingly gentle tequila, aromas of soft brown sugar, vanilla, and gentle wood lead to a soft but highly drinkable palate that mixes up notes of lemongrass, honey buns, peppery agave, and butterscotch. Lithe and mellow on a finish that turns almost decadent, particularly for a reposado. A / $58

Casa Noble Extra Anejo – Barrel #556 – Aged 5 years in new Taransaud French Oak. “The Director’s Pick.” There’s a surprising amount of agave left here considering the advanced age of this extra anejo. Grassy and almost green, it’s a tequila that comes across at first like a reposado both on the nose and the palate… at least until the barrel influence becomes more evident as notes of cinnamon, mixed baking spices, raisins, and some notes of raw sugar cookie dough, which linger on the finish. This is a fun tequila but it seems at times a bit scattered, perhaps even lost. B+ / $130

liquorandwineoutlets.com

Review: Tequila San Matias Tahona Blanco

Casa San Matias has been making tequila for 130 years. To honor the occasion, it’s bringing its latest expression, San Matias Tahona, to the U.S., which marks its entry to the United States.

Importer Sazerac explains the way this particular blanco is made. (No other expressions of the Tahona variant are currently being produced.)

Because of its labor-intensive, costly nature, the tahona method is utilized by very few tequila makers. Once the blue agave is harvested from the Jalisco highlands, the heart of the agave (piñas) are slowly cooked in brick ovens and then carefully crushed by the very same original tahona Basalt stone that Casa San Matías used more than 100 years ago. This ancient tahona-method is used to extract the agave juices and retain the sweet, aromatic flavors. The juice is then fermented in pine wood vats, distilled twice in copper pot stills, bottled and hand-labeled.

This is an incredibly gentle silver tequila, just the slightest essence of pepper on the nose informing herbal agave, honey, and juicy lemon, which all linger underneath. The palate is silky to the point of absurdity. It just glides over the tongue like a spritz of misty air. It hits the palate with loads of flavor — some of it unexpected. On the tip of the tongue, the first hits are notes of lemon, fresh ginger, and floral notes, including some rose notes. As the palate evolves, that honey develops further, but never to the point where it overwhelms things, the pepper and some baking spice notes making a brief reprise. The finish is clean, slightly sweet with a touch of nougat and gently nutty.

All told, a very well-made blanco. I’d love to see how this one ages!

80 proof.

A- / $60 / sanmatias.com

Life in a Post-Bourbon World: Predicting the Next Big Thing in Booze

It’s no secret that bourbon has been the It Spirit for a good few years now. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how pretty much no one saw it coming. One needs to only look at the vast amount of supply shortages today to see just how unprepared most of the market was. Here’s a fun exercise. Go into your local store and ask them if they have any Weller, Eagle Rare, or even Very Old Barton. Their thousand yard stare, coupled with the nervous tick in the corner of their eye will tell you all you need to know about the current state of things.

Reports and predictions of the “bourbon bubble” bursting have so far been premature. It seems that—at least for now—for every one person who tires of the hunt, there are ten more ready and willing to take their place in line for the latest limited release. I’m not here to predict when that will end, because it’s already proven to be a pointless exercise. However, what can be a fun prediction is guessing what will follow bourbon as the almighty “next big thing.” So let’s take a look at a few spirits, and the reasons why they will — or won’t — usurp bourbon’s place at the top of the hype pedestal. For each of these four, we’re also including the all-important “Van Winkle Factor” — wherein we ask whether there is a singular product which will drive said hype train and become the bane of existence to liquor store employees everywhere.

1. Rum

For years now, rum has been talked about over and over again as being the next big spirit.

Why it Will Succeed:

Rum has a lot of crossover appeal to the bourbon fan. Many rums share a lot of the same flavor components with bourbon — vanilla, caramel, and good old-fashioned barrel spice — though with a slightly softer and sweeter side rum has the potential to appeal to an even broader audience. I have myself, and have heard many others refer to it as “summertime whiskey,” a product which delivers a lot of the same flavor notes but without the warming heat of whiskey. It’s easy and delicious. Plus, the rebirth of tiki drinks and island culture has pushed the importance of specific rum types into the minds of consumers everywhere.

Why it Won’t:

First and foremost, rum has an issue with age statements. Countries like Jamaica and Barbados require an age statement consistent with what most U.S. consumers understand, the age on the label is representative of the youngest spirit in the blend. But rum comes from so many places beyond those two countries, and in those countries age stating is much more vague. Two brands that represent this better than most are Ron Zacapa and Zaya. Ron Zacapa uses a solera aging system which puts a vague average of “23” on their entry level bottle. Zaya recently changed their bottles from saying “12 years” to now indicating that it is now a blend of 12 aged rums. It’s a clever switch of phrasing that makes marketing departments proud but makes many consumers roll their eyes. Also, and here is the obvious, rum has been talked about as the next big thing for quite a while and hasn’t really taken off. Maybe rum’s popularity as it is now is just where it is going to be. Maybe we have already reached peak rum and we are just fooling ourselves that it is going to keep growing.

Van Winkle Effect:

Does rum have that one big bottle? The one which people will wait in line for, the one which will inspire countless Instagram posts with jealous responses? It just might. The Caroni Rum Distillery has been closed or 15 years. Bottles still pop up from time to time from independent bottlers. This may be more of a correlation to a bottle of A.H. Hirsch than a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, but bottles of this rum seem to pop up and disappear quite quickly.

2. Mezcal

Why It Will Succeed:

Tequila’s funky, and smoky, compadre has been king of the mixology world for a couple years now. Not since the concept of “pre-Prohibition” have we seen such an obvious inspiration for so many new bars. In one Chicago neighborhood alone, I can count at least three new mezcal specific bars that have opened up in the last year. Yet it persists. A few weeks ago my social media feed was full of one friend’s picture of a mezcal flight, another drinking a mezcal old fashioned, and another commenting on the addition of a new bar a block from their apartment. All of this is without mentioning that mezcal has sotol and raicilla, new Mexican spirits, to bolster its rise in the same way that rye whiskey did for bourbon.

Why It Won’t:

The barrier of entry to mezcal knowledge is quite difficult for even the more advanced drinker. The variation on types of plants mezcal can use and the 8 different regions where they can all come from can create a dizzying combination of recipes and styles. While this is a wonderful thing for adventurous drinkers, it limits the amount of direct bottle to bottle comparison and debate over what is the best, which was a key component to the rise of bourbon. While mezcal may be the current king of the cocktail world, that hasn’t quite yet translated over into bottle sales.

Van Winkle Effect:

Del Maguey’s Single Village series seems to be the obvious choice here. They were among the first to push mezcal as something more than just the thing with the worm or scorpion in the bottom of the bottle. Also they fully embraced the extra funk that is the pechuga style of hanging a chicken carcass in the still for some extra gameyness. To be honest though, mezcal is the current and future king of the cocktail world, but it will have a hard time transitioning into actual off-premise consumer sales.

3. Armagnac

Why It Will Succeed:

There is an old adage which states that all old punk singers become country singers. In the same way, all old whiskey drinkers become Armagnac drinkers. It turns out that while Cognac has been all the rage, it has had a southern neighbor which has offered more value for the money all along. While both Cognac and Armagnac are grape brandies, the big difference lies in the use of the Baco and Colombard grapes. Baco is a big deal in terms of difference, it is a grape variety which can only be grown in the Armagnac region and can only be used for distillation. Also, Cognac opts for double distillation while Armagnac goes for single. Just think of Armagnac as Cognac’s rustic cousin. Only in this regard “rustic” means that bottles can be packed with complex and wonderful flavor.

Why It Won’t:

It certainly doesn’t help that the average consumer still has a hard time understanding what Armagnac is. Couple that with the fact that the TV. show Chopped recently referred to Armagnac as an “apple brandy” and you get the idea of the hill this delightful spirit needs to climb.

Van Winkle Effect:

There are stores you can walk into where you can buy a Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac which was distilled in 1865. Those types of stocks are extremely rare and should instantly spark the attention of any collector. Outside of that you have producers like Chateau de Laubade and Darroze, which have lots to offer that will happily turn heads.

4. Irish Whiskey

Why It Will Succeed:

Irish whiskey has been one of the fastest growing spirit categories in the world over the last few years — mainly because its sales started off so small. What has been a predominantly homogenized category is currently exploding with new offerings. Look no further than the style of single pot still Irish whiskey for a style of whiskey that is unique to the country that started it all. As well, there is no shortage of Jameson drinkers that are looking for something more premium and more unique. For ages all of your Irish whiskey came from one of four distilleries: Midleton, Cooley, Bushmills, and Kilbeggan. Since 2014 there are now 32 running and proposed distilleries in Ireland.

Why It Won’t:

Irish whiskey has a slight image problem. There are many consumers who have for very long looked at it as predominantly for shots. To many whiskey drinkers it can be seen as plain and boring. The heavy influx of new distilleries and producers putting out new and varying products is already starting to combat these attitudes, but it remains more a question of when change will take place.

Van Winkle Effect:

One need look no further than the relative disappearance from shelves of the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve to see how stocks of older Irish whiskey are becoming squeezed. Releases like the Redbreast Lustau Edition and the Midleton Barry Crocket Edition are helping keep the hype chatter up.

In Conclusion:

Here is the thing with bourbon. Seemingly every major bourbon distillery is expanding in some form, be it actual distilling space or simply just more warehouses to store more barrels. According to some reports, companies like Beam-Suntory are filling almost 500,000 barrels a year, which to us means only one important thing, the big producers don’t see an immediate end in Bourbon’s expansion. In fact they are looking forward to numbers that only continue to grow. And as younger distilleries across the country are able to start bringing new and more mature products to the market the demand will be there.

So yes, maybe it is poor form to say that the next big thing after bourbon is bourbon. But I’m OK with that. Because if it’s something else it will probably be mezcal, or rum, or Armagnac, or Irish whiskey.

Review: Tequila Codigo 1530 Complete Lineup

Tequila Codigo, launched in late 2016, has plenty of industry power behind it, but it also finds support in the form of country icon George Strait, who is an investor and brand ambassador.

Made in the region of Los Bajos, these are all 100% blue agave tequilas. Curiously, all of the aged expressions spend time not in ex-bourbon barrels, which is traditional, but rather in used French oak Napa cabernet sauvignon wine barrels. This takes Codigo’s tequilas in an entirely new direction, for better or for worse.

Five expressions in total are produced. Four are reviewed here — all save for Rosa, which is aged for just one month in those wine barrels and is colored pink. All expressions are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on the primary four expressions follow.

Tequila Codigo 1530 Blanco – Unaged. Very peppery on the nose, with overtones of overripe fruit. The body is unusual, with notes of baked apples, roasted meat, and ripe banana. Some cinnamon character endures on the finish, but the overall impact is a little disjointed and tough to fully engage with. B- / $49

Tequila Codigo 1530 Reposado – Spends six months in Napa cabernet barrels. Lots of dessert notes here, though they find a strange bedfellow in the nose that also showcases peppery and agave-laden notes. The palate is heavily influenced by brown sugar, banana, caramel, and some toasted marshmallow notes. Though the body’s a little on the gummy side, but it offers some fun tart and spicy notes on the finish — with hints of chocolate. B+ / $69

Tequila Codigo 1530 Anejo – 18 months of oak give this a nose of well-integrated agave and caramel, in equal proportions, The anejo pumps up the ripe fruit character of the reposado, layering in more baking spice notes and lots of vanilla. Hints of coffee on the back end — with lots of cream. B+ / $119

Tequila Codigo 1530 Origen – This is Codigo’s extra anejo, aged a whopping 6 years in those cabernet barrels. The nose here takes things in an entirely new direction, with intense aromas of camphor and antiseptic. None of the sweetness or even the base agave is present aromatically. On the palate, a similar hospital character is heavy, pungent with alcohol, rubber, and notes of motor oil. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced a tequila that has spent too much time in wood (whiskey yes, tequila no), but I guess there’s a first time for everything. D / $249

codigo1530.com

Review: Tres Papalote Mezcal

Tres Papalote is a new joven (silver) mezcal, crafted from wild Cupreata agave harvested in Guerrero, Mexico, and chatted up by celebrity spokesman Cheech Marin. (Marin even chose the image for the label, we’re told.) Two other expressions of Tres Papalote, “Normal” and “Botanical,” are also available but are not reviewed here.

This is a bold mezcal, huge with smoke right from the start, a far cry from the “starter mezcals” we’ve seen a lot of lately. The nose offers intense wood smoke, heavy lemon juice (with grilled peel), plus notes of petrol. The palate is just as powerful, melding that wood smoke with burnt sugar, some roasted apple, and hints of green banana and papaya on the finish.

Throughout it all, the smoke, rolling and penetrating, never lets up. It’s readily detectable when you crack open the bottle, and it endures for a long while after you’ve finished a glass of the stuff. That all unfortunately comes at the expense of complexity, however.

That said, mezcal fans asking cual es mas macho need look no further. Cheech knows.

92 proof.

B / $49 / papalotemezcal.com

Review: Dos Almas 55 Tequila Plata and Cinnamon Liqueur

Dos Almas is a new brand of tequila (a silver) and liqueur, made in the Highlands region of Jalisco. These are wildly different products, so let’s hop to it. Details (and thoughts) follow.

Both bottles reviewed are from production #1, which comprised 1300 and 1600 bottles, respectively.

Dos Almas 55 Tequila Plata – This is a double-distilled silver tequila, 100% blue agave, bottled overproof, “straight off the still.” You can find in-depth production information on the company’s website below. There’s a slight smokiness and dusty charcoal character on the nose here, along with notes of grilled lemon and rosemary. Some of the aromas tend to clash a bit, but the palate finds more balance between the roasted agave notes, sharp citrus, and ample black pepper character. Orange oil percolates on the tip of the tongue, while spice and heat linger on the back end. What starts off a bit rocky on the nose ultimately comes together in quite a compelling way. While hot, I’d never have guessed this was 55% abv. Note that it is wildly expensive for a plata. 110 proof. B+ / $79

Dos Almas Cinnamon Liqueur – This is a cinnamon liqueur made from 100% blue agave reposado tequila that is infused with organic Indonesian Ceylon cinnamon sticks and organic agave nectar. This is quite a lively and compelling little liqueur. (Actually, whether this is a liqueur or a flavored tequila is a matter of debate; I’d suggest the latter.) The nose is sweet but not overly so, with plenty of red hot candies amidst the notes of racy, herbal tequila. It’s an engaging start to a spirit that keeps firing on all cylinders; the palate is bold with notes of sweet and sour sauce, cinnamon jelly, and a lingering herbal character driven by the reposado. There’s ample caramel here, vanilla-scented sugar, and notes of maple-glazed donuts. Bold but approachable, it’s Fireball for the thinking (and wealthy) man. 70 proof. A- / $55

dosalmastequila.com

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