Here at WEI we drink a lot of wine and we can debate for hours on which wine from which region is our current love. However the majority of our instructors seem to have the same favorite spirit. Ed Martin takes it to another level with regular pilgrimages to Jalisco and savoring all sorts of agave spirits, Daniel and I have regular weekly "meetings" where Fortaleza Blanco is always on the agenda! We aren't alone though, the Tequila renaissance has truly arrived. Tequila is shrugging off the shackles of its earlier reputation and finally being respected in the US. The growth and big dollar sale of Anglo tequila brands like Patron and Casamigos has brought a lot of attention to Tequila and helped further establish Tequila as a sipping spirit north of the Mexican border. Sadly the lack of production controls or any serious regulation leaves the consumer with little ability to determine if a bottle is truly a quality product or merely a mass produced product in a sexy (and expensive!) new package. Mexicans have always known of Tequila's potential at home and a couple of the original, multi-generational producing families in the town of Tequila still produce some delicious tequila in the original techniques. Claims of "sustainability" by the big guys are sadly if not fraudulently overblown. Shunning the diffusors, glycerol and cane sugar additives in production means the batches are smaller, and premature harvesting of unripe agave can't be hidden with fermentation additives. Slow roasting in brick ovens, crushing with volcanic stone wheels and quality minded cuts in the distillation results in a smooth, weighty and deliciously unique spirit with the herbal and peppery notes of the ripe blue agave at the forefront of the experience.
Both Tequila Fortaleza and Tequila Arette have been producing tequila for over a hundred years in the tiny town of Tequila. Back in the 1870's Foraleza's Don Cenobio pretty much invented Tequila and was the first export "mezcal de tequila" to the United States, shortening its name to just Tequila. He implement the use of steam to cook the agave (instead of an earthen pit) unmasking the sweet character of the Blue Agave. Both of these producers take the time to not only ripen agave to its peak, but will also let plants go past ripeness where they can fully flower and reproduce. This not only strengthens the species with necessary variation but supports the bats and other animals that have historically used and helped propogate these plants.
For the purest expression of this spirit pour one of their blanco versions from either Arette's Suave line ($45-$50 a bottle) or our favorite blanco, Fortaleza Blanco ($45-$50). Just a slight chill is all that is needed, then close your eyes and imagine the small brick oven used to cook the agave, the tahona (stone wheel) gently squeezing the natural juices out of the roasted agave, the hundred year old wood fermentation vessels followed by distillation in the original copper pots. It will forever change your idea of what tequila is.
If oak-aged spirits are more your thing, each of these producers will age their tequilas in used bourbon barrels to Reposado or Anejo levels. Arette takes it even farther with their Extra Anejo which spends three years in American White Oak barrels. By that time the tequila has picked up a dark amber color (no caramel coloring added!) and can stand toe to toe with XO Cognacs and the high end Bourbons. Very limited production means its hard to find, and you'll be looking at $120-$150 a bottle when you do find it but especially Bourbon drinkers will hear angels singing at first sip. That they're singing in Spanish may just make it even more melodious!
Gotta run, don't want to be late for my meeting! - Barney