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.
Back in April of 2007, Kevin conducted a massive blind tequila tasting. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I’m reposting his grand experiment. I’d love to have him do this again sometime, now that his tequila palate has developed more.
With the increase in advertising, even my Tivo-filtered brain has seen a few TV ads. So I decided to see if there was good reason for the additional cost with the premium level of Tequilas. With the help of Michelle, I went for a blind tasting of 5 premium Silver tequilas with 1 well-level tossed in to see if it would be noticeable.
Silver is the entry level in Premium tequilas. Silver usually has a slightly more alcohol taste and a lot of roughness around the edges. The trade-off is the increased level of fruit in the flavor. The second level is gold, and the top tier is Reposado. The flavor is smoother, but the fruit becomes lighter and more integrated into the overall flavor.
Here is what I tried, in order of preference after the blind tasting:
The first tequila I tasted turned out to be the 1800. The alcohol came through on the nose along with a nice sweet characteristic. There was a very nice pineapple flavor that was evident on the taste. The finish had a slight burn, but was still a nicely flavored and relaxed drink.
The second one on the table was a much different drink. This turned out to be the Milagro, which had a very sugary smell almost to the level of marshmallows. The flavor had less of the fruit I expected, continuing to enhance the sugary sweetness instead. The finish had no burn, but it didn’t seem quite what I was expecting. I suspect Michelle might like this one for its sweetness. (Milagro Tequila)
Up next was a very fruity and dry smelling entry. It was a return to what I like about Tequilas, the tropical fruits and dry flavor were evident in this offering from Corazón. This return to a traditional flavor was a nice switch from the last. (Tequila Corazón)
The next tequila was an undrinkable mess. The odor was reminiscent of spoiled wet straw. Sadly, this was the Montezuma and I could not progress past the nose for this one. It proved that the extra money is worth the cost from a low end to a higher end. (Barton Brands)
My rating: (yes, it smelled that bad)
Up next was the gem of the tasting. It has a deservedly high reputation and this Patrón did not disappoint. In the interest of full disclosure, the first premium tequila I ever has was Patrón. I still find it quite enjoyable. It had a very light and crisp smell with a great full flavored taste. (Patrón Spirits Company)
Finally, the Don Julio – this had a more upfront nose and a heavier flavor. The tequila had a woodsy characteristic I did not find enjoyable. It helped me realize that I like the pineapple and guava flavors evident in other selections. I didn’t enjoy this as much as I had hoped or expected. (Don Julio from Diageo)
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