For this post we welcome Jay Erisman, our favorite instructor from The Party Source EQ Center and quite the wine and spirits expert. This is actually part 1 of a 2-party Mexican adventure (part 2 appears tomorrow).
My 2007 tour of Mexico will last forever as one of the great cultural experiences of my life, filled with warm and friendly people, fantastic food and a colorful aesthetic sensibility everywhere we turned. But for sure the highlights of the trip were the distilleries. From finding the flat-out Best Tequila Distillery to mind-bending tours of four single village Mezcal producers, I found the state of this Mexican art to be perhaps the most traditional of all the spirits in the world.
Shortly after meeting Carlos Camarena*, I decided he is a really cool guy. The passion he holds for his ultra-traditional El Tesoro 100% Agave Tequila comes burning off him like the steam that fires his old-fashioned agave ovens. Working the La Alteña distillery in his father Don Felipe’s footsteps, Carlos does things with Tequila that other distillers would consider insane.
Carlos’ estate-grown blue agave plants are the ripest in the industry, covered with brown spots like a banana.
The workers laboriously trim by hand the part of the male plant that creates bitter flavors in the finished product. (Hmm. Bitter male parts. There’s a joke in there somewhere.)
He persists in crushing the cooked agave—which are baked three days in brick ovens—with a giant millstone (as opposed to a modern mechanical shredder).
Unlike nearly all other Tequila producers, Señor Camarena ferments his agave totally naturally, with no added chemical fermentation accelerators. He then distills the fermented juice with the agave fibers for added flavor, in pot stills so small they could fit in the back of a van.
All this obsessive attention to detail leads to the most flavorful Tequila I’ve ever had, bar none. El Tesoro has a crackling intensity, a sustain, a hang-time in the mouth that simply outclasses other Tequilas. You don’t just get stony, mineral, earthy flavors—you get a faceplant into the red highland Tequila soil. You don’t just taste green bean—you get the snap of the bean, the juice of cucumber. The difference between El Tesoro and other Tequilas is like the difference between normal and high-definition TV. The operative word is clarity.
*I’m pleased to say there is another Camarena-crafted Tequila on the market. (No, not the “Camarena” brand owned by Gallo; that’s made by Carlo’s cousin from another branch of the family.) Carlos’ brother Felipe joined forces with a Tequila ambassador Tomas Estes to create Tequila Ocho, which takes the Camarena family estate-grown agave to its logical conclusion. Ocho is a single vintage Tequila, chosen each year from only one agave field. Ocho reveals the terroir of an agave field very much like the cru system in Burgundy reveals the truth of Pinot Noir. I’ll write more about Ocho another time, but suffice to say that Felipe’s Ocho surpasses even Carlo’s El Tesoro, with the fattest, ripest, most glisteningly fresh and viscerally thrilling Tequila I’ve ever had.
– Jay Erisman
Photos © Jay Erisman 2007-2010
Want to know more about Mezcal? Tune in tomorrow morning for the conclusion of Jay’s adventure and a primer on Mezcal.
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