Who doesn’t love a shot of tequila from time to time? It’s a great way to get a crazy night started (or a really quick way to shut it down), but there’s more to tequila than getting a quick buzz. While we all know Jose Cuervo, Patron, Don Julio and Herradura, there are smaller-batch tequilas being crafted throughout Mexico (although I’m enjoying Herradura’s recent small-batch Colección de la Casa Reserva 2015, Directo de Alambique Silver). One of my favorite new finds came last year when I discovered Casamigos, a beautiful expression of agave. Sure it’s owned by George Clooney and Rande Gerber, but put the celebrity aside and you’ll discover a smooth-tasting tequila that’s wonderful in a cocktail or simply on the rocks.
To delve deeper, we talked to four tequila experts around the country to find out what they love right now and asked each to include a recipe using one of their selected small-batch tequilas.
Christopher Ware (general manager, beverage director, Paramour, San Antonio)
Selección ArteNOM 1549 Blanco Orgánico: “Jake Lustig selects tequila he finds to be the most interesting in his Selección series, and the 1549 from Ramón Sandoval is an exquisite gem of spirit sourcing. Warm, chocolaty flavors with tropical fruit aromatics combine for an extraordinary spirit.”
Tapatio Añejo: “This is an añejo that still embodies the beautiful characteristics of a blanco: fresh, vegetal fruits on the initial taste, but the spicy qualities of a product that has been aged in wood.Bonus, it comes in a 1-liter bottle and is less than $40. Its entire line is cocktail-friendly, and its extra añejo is one of the most sought-after bottles in the tequila trade.”
La Venenosa Raicilla Sierra de Jalisco: “From Jalisco, this spirit has more influence from the sea than from the interior highlands. Distilled from the Maximiliana agave in Arabic-Filipino hybrid stills and bottled after only one run at 84 proof, it’s one of the most interesting spirits in the world with notes of tropical fruits like papaya and avocado.”
Make a cocktail: Ware makes his Nationale cocktail at Paramour using Tapatio Añejo, combining it with Johnnie Walker Black, Licor 43 and Mexican chocolate bitters and garnishing with an orange twist.
Trianon: “These tequilas hail from Amatitán, Jalisco. I always miss the old flavors of Herradura back when it was actually family owned and not owned by a giant international company. Trianon brings back those types of flavors.”
Selección ArteNOM 1146 Añejo: “This is a tequila collection from my friend Jake Lustig in which each expression is produced by a different master distiller, highlighting the best expressions from the best distillers. The ArteNOM 1146 Añejo is truly world-class.”
Don Fulano: “Coming from one of my favorites distilleries in Tequila, Jalisco, every expression is exceptional. The 100-proof blanco is where it’s at!”
Fortaleza Blanco: “This lowlands blanco is the benchmark by which all tequilas in this region should be measured today. Household brands like Cuervo, Sauza and Herradura are shadows of their former selves, and Fortaleza has risen as a reminder of what once was thanks to Guillermo Erickson Sauza, the great-great-grandson of the founder of Sauza tequila.”
Tequila Cabeza: “The tequila bottling from The 86 Co. is made at the same distillery that Siembra Azul is, by the Vivanco family in Arandas. As a typical highlands tequila, the spirit tends to be more fruit-forward and bolder in style, and it shows tremendously well at the slightly above-average 86 proof, which is also why this is by far my favorite tequila to regularly use in cocktails.”
Pueblo Viejo: “There is not a better tequila for your dollar in the world. Period. Pueblo Viejo wipes the floor with every single other product at a similar price. An incredible woman, Carmen Alicia Villarreal Treviño, who is the only female owner of a tequila distillery in Mexico, owns it. Her standards for distillery working conditions and care for her employees are unmatched, and yet she still produces tequila at a reasonable price. Higher standards can be achieved without demanding $50 a bottle, and Pueblo Viejo proves it.”
Lord of the Third Sun (image: Julie Soefer)
Make a cocktail: The Pastry War general manager Kehlen Selph was inspired by Tlaloc, the Aztec god of harvest and fertility, to make a cocktail at The Pastry War called Lord of the Third Sun that combines Tequila Cabeza blanco, Laird’s apple brandy, Dolin dry vermouth, turbinado syrup and Elemakule Tiki bitters. It also happens to be Heugel’s favorite tequila cocktail at the bar right now.
Siete Leguas: “Siete Leguas is my go-to recommendation for your everyday Patron or Don Julio drinker. Lower in price and, in my opinion, higher in quality, Siete Leguas has been around since the mid-1940s and has been family owned the entire time. As far as I’m concerned, Siete Leguas is the standard for what quality tequila should taste like.”
Tequila Ocho: “A joint venture between Carlos Camarena and Tomas Estes, two tequila heavyweights, Ocho is the only tequila brand to vintage its releases, and each vintage is made from agaves from one of several ranches owned by the distiller. In my opinion, Tequila Ocho is one of the most high-quality tequilas on the market.”
Suerte: “This is the new kid on the block. Despite its infancy, Suerte is proving to be truly exceptional tequila, thoughtfully and traditionally produced. Suerte cooks the agaves for 52 hours and uses a tahona to mill the cooked agave. These slower, more traditional methods come through with every sip. This brand is really doing something special, and it shows.”
Make a cocktail: Robinson likes to muddle together jalapeño slices, pineapple and sage leaf, then combine them with Tequila Ocho Plata, Cocchi Americano, lemon juice and agave for a delicious cocktail at Barrio called the Sexy Sadie.