Despite all the recent attention paid to low-proof drinking, there’s been an equal amount of focus on spirits that provide a boozy kick. Every category’s got them, and recent years have witnessed a slew of high-proof tequilas hit the market. Now, it’s time to celebrate them. These overproof tequilas include agave-forward blancos, oaky añejos, delicate cask-strength sippers and everything between.
Dulce Vida is an Austin-based company that makes a full line of 100 percent organic tequilas bottled at 100-proof. The highland-grown agave is bright and floral, providing the blanco expression with a lemony, minty nose with hints of green olive and grassiness on the palate. It’s spicy, but the complex character jumps out of the bottle when mixed into classic tequila cocktails.
Dulce Vida’s extra-añejo release starts with a brilliant amber color in the bottle, and smells of sweet vanilla, nuts, apples and baking spices. It's warm on the tongue, but when that heat dissipates, the tequila concludes with a pleasantly dry finish.
Building on the success of his all-organic 123 Tequila line, David Ravandi made his first foray into the overproof spirits world with the distilled-to-proof, 55% ABV El Luchador. It has a brightly herbaceous nose and an intense mix of flavors. The tequila is vegetal with a bit of salinity, piny with some earthy, medicinal elements, and it has a pleasant peppery finish. El Luchador is unique and punchy, so don't hesitate to use it in cocktails.
Expresiones Del Corazón is a line of tequilas that highlights the aging process through barrel pedigree. Using casks selected from the Buffalo Trace distillery, each of these expressions is named according to the whiskey that influenced its character. Of these four, however, only one hits 90 proof: the añejo aged in former Sazerac Rye barrels. It’s got a nutty scent up front that’s kissed with toasted oats. The light amber spirit is buttery on the tastebuds at first, but it’s that elegant rye spice that helps to maintain its balance through to the dry finish.
If you're looking for something considerably more affordable from the same distillery, pick up a bottle of the mix-friendly Pueblo Viejo brand, which counts a 104-proof blanco among its ranks. While it’s not a replacement for the barrel-centric Expresiones, at $30 per liter, Pueblo Viejo 104 is a handy high-octane addition to your bar. It’s boozy, sure, but it’s vegetal and peppery enough to provide solid body in cocktails.
Enrique Fonseca didn’t get into distilling until the 1980s when, as a farmer, he had a glut of agave on his hands. Rather than sell it off at fire-sale prices, Fonseca bought a distillery and turned his harvest into tequila. Decades later, we’re now the beneficiaries of that difficult time, as the resulting Fuenteseca tequilas are some of the longest-aged tequilas you'll find anywhere. Some of the expressions, which are bottled between 84- and 90-proof, have been sitting in casks for more than 20 years.
Fonseca’s releases are blends of column- and copper alembic–distilled tequilas aged in a range of barrels, including American white oak that formerly housed California red wine, dark French oak, and Canadian white oak used to age rye whiskey. The seven-year-old expression has an aroma of dark chocolate and port that turns spicy and dry across the palate. The 15-year is nuttier, with more vanilla and wood notes and a touch more alcohol. After spending 21 years in wood, the oldest of the bunch could be overwhelmed by oak, but instead, it complements the still-shining agave with a dry, hearty finish.
If you’re not ready to drop a couple Benjamins on a bottle, Fonseca also makes the 100-proof Don Fulano Fuerte with his nephews at the same distillery, La Tequileña. This blanco features intense agave notes upfront, and zips and zings its way across the tastebuds to a minty finish with a spicy bite.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
The Patrón you’re probably used to drinking is a blend of tequila distilled from two different agave-mashing processes: Some is run through a modern industrial roller mill, and the rest is crushed by a circular volcanic rock (or "roca," in Spanish) called a tahona. Roca Patrón is made purely from the latter, an age-old traditional process that also involves fermenting and distilling the combined agave fibers and extracted juices.
The 90-proof silver expression has a mild scent of cooked agave and citrus peel, and settles gently on the tongue with a light vegetal note, plus pepper and licorice. It’s a more subtle take on Patrón’s flagship offerings, but one that’s imbued with a deeper character.
The 84-proof Roca Reposado spends five months in used bourbon barrels, taking on a pleasantly silky viscosity with a sweetness that you don’t find in Roca Silver. The agave still comes through, but it has a creaminess that rounds out in the mouth. The 88-proof Roca Añejo starts off with a characteristically caramel-like scent, and the barrel’s oak and vanilla play a big role in the spirit’s bouquet. It’s all heat the moment it hits your tongue, but that’s when its complexity comes through, mixing the wood’s sweeter qualities with some light acidity.
It wasn’t until 2013 that master distiller Carlos Camarena finally brought his family’s beloved Tequila Tapatio to the U.S. Along with the company’s blanco, reposado and añejo expressions came a 55-percent ABV offering, which is a marvel of sweet cooked agave and fruity, floral fragrance. It’s distilled to 114-proof and then bottled at 110, so what you’re getting is close to what you’d taste right off the still. The flavors are rich and pure and range from sweet to dry. This tequila is pure excitement at comparatively bargain pricing—it’s big all over, deliciously agave-forward, and particularly hard to beat for its liter-size bottling. It’s also the go-to bottle for Houston bar The Pastry War’s over-proof Margarita because it cuts so beautifully through citrus, says proprietor Bobby Heugel.
Camarena also crafts El Tesoro de Don Felipe, Excellia and Ocho, a brand he started with the official tequila ambassador to Europe, Tomas Estes. Ocho is an equally special line, which looks to the wine world for inspiration, distinguishing its bottles based on vintage and regional terroir. Along with the 80-proof version, Ocho also produces a special single-barrel añejo at cask strength (in this case, an exacting 54.57 percent), and it too is a thing of beauty. There’s a lot of agave upfront that’s set off with caramel, sweet fruit and a hint of port wine. The Ocho Añejo Single Barrel does show its cask strength with some gentle heat, but it’s keenly eclipsed by a round mix of spice, citrus and pepper that finishes long and strong.
Before there was Patrón, there was Chinaco, ostensibly the first "premium" tequila to enter the U.S. market. The man behind it was master distiller Germán González. He’s since gone on to produce a pair of his own beautifully crafted brands with t1 Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona. Both spirits start with the same high-quality highland agave, cooked in the same fashion, but it’s his distilling and aging processes that distinguish them from each other.
While the t1 line consists primarily of 80-proof tequilas, Gonzalez’s Selecto 86-proof expression is where he finds the best balance of agave flavor and alcohol. "Selecto is more like my memory of old-fashioned Mexican tequila," says Gonzalez. "I sort of created it for myself, because that is the way I like my tequila.” It's beautifully light-on-its-feet with a scent of buttery almond and vanilla that turns to creamy, sweet agave and a hint of citrus when it hits your tongue.
Gonzalez’s latest release, the 86-proof Tears of Llorona, however, is what many people are calling the "Pappy of tequila"—a robust agave expression of the highest caliber, elevated by unique aging and blending experimentation. Where t1’s reposado and añejo expressions exclusively mature in used scotch barrels, the five-year-old Tears of Llorona relies on multiple barrels. "I wanted the dryness of scotch, the fruitiness of sherry, and the sweetness of the brandy," says Gonzalez of his mixed barrel choices. The end result is something to behold: It’s deliciously agave-forward with a touch of smoke, citrus and pepper that finishes smooth and clean.