[The fourth annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference was held from January 15 to January 18, 2015 here in San Antonio, Texas. Tequila Aficionado Media attended with particular interest in all events surrounding agave spirits.]
Wednesday Night Media Party #SACC2015
As most of San Antonio’s cocktail culture creatures were safely at home in their jammies on the eve of the opening of the Fourth Annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference, every foodie, cocktail and spirits blogger, writer, photographer or pretender from all major cities in Texas, hobnobbed, photographed hors d’oeuvres for future food porn, and took selfies while collecting their official press credentials and tickets for their requested seminars from the organizers’ public relations company.
The St. Anthony Hotel, considered the Grand Dame of hotels in
downtown San Antonio, was the site of this evening’s sedate affair for the thin press corps.
Having hosted such dignitaries as Eleanor Roosevelt and Princess Grace of Monaco during its illustrious history, this early 20th century monumental inn was San Antonio’s first luxury hotel. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its importance to this city’s nightlife can’t be denied.
With a recent renovation under its belt, the lobby’s grandeur alone was impressive. The St. Anthony’s timeless elegance would also be the site of the Waldorf on the Prairie soiree later that week.
Edwardian-era furnishings, high ceilings and crystal chandeliers made most of us feel underdressed, and the DJ spinning hip hop for the millennials in the group, seemed anachronistic.
After a greasy and unappetizing crab cake morsel, it was time to
hit the bar.
The Roca Patrón Roadshow Rides Again
The Roca Patrón roadshow finally hit San Antonio, and the response was unimpressive and underwhelming.
In sharp contrast to the all-out event that Tequila Aficionado Media attended in Austin, Texas at the Brazos Hall in late summer 2014, the San Antonio media’s introduction to Roca Patrón and Patrón’s other lines, was hardly noticed.
And, even though this was a major cocktail conference, only a small crew of four bartenders took orders from a prepared menu of Patrón signature drinks that included a build-your-own Old Fashioned using each of Roca Patrón’s expressions. It left no room for imagination, and a lot to be desired. But, hey, it was an open bar.
We preferred to sip the Roca Patrón reposado neat since we had determined it to be the star of the line up. Our bartender that evening agreed, but, sadly, only rocks glasses were available to sip from.
In the end, the juice’s nose and flavor unceremoniously dissipated into the hip hop’s baseline.
Ready to call it an uninspired night with no reason to linger, we were again distracted by Patrón.
…But First, A Selfie
With an unusual take on the traditional photo booth, Patrón hired a photographer who encouraged willing souls to pose for black and white photos with, or without, their Patrón signature cocktails in hand.
A separate printer would instantly spit out the Patrón branded selfies where another assistant would graciously frame them for you. You could even text the photos to your own cell phone.
Never missing a chance to educate their audience on its products (and to mine more followers on all its social media platforms) the back of the frames shared Patrón production factoids (“Did you know the high quality agave used to produce Patrón is slow baked in small brick ovens for 79 hours?”) while the inside flap invited us to share our photos on their social media accounts with specific hashtags.
[In early November of 2014, San Antonio resident and neighbor, Germán González, joined us at our home office. That evening, he brought his full array of Tequila Uno (T1)–Ultra Fino, Selecto, Excepcional, Tequila Estelar, along with the much acclaimed ultra-aged Tears of Llorona.
In a more relaxed atmosphere and without his signature Panama hat and guayabera, Germán guided us through a tasting of each of his offerings while sharing his wit, wisdom, and knowledge.]
“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts–such is the duty of the artist.”–Robert Schumann
What strikes you first about Germán González is his intense modesty when he discusses his vast accomplishments. Secondly, it’s realizing the level of genius he possesses as a Master Distiller. Thirdly, you are awed by the depth of his artistry.
Distilling what was arguable some of the finest tequila available in the
spirits market in the past with his historic family brand, Chinaco, today Germán humbly pours us proper amounts from his own equally lauded labels, T1 (Tequila Uno) and Tears of Llorona, and teaches us his trademark “toast from the heart.”
Taking his branded Riedel Ouverture tequila glass held at the stem, Germán places it over his heart and says, “salúd, from the heart.” He then reaches out to each of us and, instead of touching at the rim of the fragile vessels, he turns his glass almost sideways and boldly tags the bowls sounding a lyrical crystal clang.
Afterwards, he lovingly looks at the platinum liquid inside his stemmed glass and says, “This tequila is amazing,” as if surprised that it turned out so well.
Coming from a family that played an integral part in both Mexico’s and Tequila’s sweeping history [you can read more about his family history here], Germán González is at once inspired by his past and firmly focused on his future.
A gentleman farmer by trade and a romantic at heart, Germán literally learned his profession from the ground up under the watchful eye of his father, Guillermo, a lawyer and politician.
At eighteen, Germán permanently moved to the family ranchos in Tamaulipas by himself instead of attending university. For several years, he spent intensive weekends learning about the land from Don Guillermo, growing agaves, chiles, corn, soybeans and raising cattle. He felt privileged and grateful to have his father as his instructor and mentor.
Don Guillermo also purposely kept him away from the La Gonzaleña distillery until he felt Germán was ready for the responsibility.
After several years of piloting Chinaco to unprecedented heights, creative differences with his older brothers caused Germán to seek a new distillery from where he could challenge himself to distill even greater tequila.
Luckily, his lifelong friend and owner of La Tequileña (NOM 1146) Enrique Fonseca, himself a celebrated tequilero, most recently with his Fuenteseca brand, literally gave him the keys to his distillery and allowed Germán to pursue his dream of producing the ultimate expressions of tequila that have ever been realized.
At the same time, Germán uprooted his family and moved to San Antonio, Texas in 2007 to learn about the liquor distribution system and also to study the fickle American palate. He officially launched Tequila Uno in 2009.
Germán memorized two very important principles from his father where tequila was concerned–
That the quality of the agave will always assure favorable results and consistency. That’s why he insists on using estate grown agave from a single plot of land or grove (huerta), and…
Used scotch whisky barrels are the secret to capturing just the right balance when resting tequila.
He deliberately employs the used barrels to take only the rough edges off of the Selecto when resting for his Excepcional. Germán believes that this practice results in a more traditional reposado.
“It’s how reposados should taste–not like añejos,” Germán declares.
Then, he boldly adds, “I don’t care about the color, I care about the flavor.”
The Meaning of Mature
Germán believes the maturity of blue agave has nothing to do with the plant’s brix (sugar content) or age. He judges the maturity of agave by its look and feel.
He prefers using agave from Atotonilco, in the highlands of Jalisco, since he determined that they produce a close flavor profile to agave from Tamaulipas, and thus, compliment each other.
He had blended highlands agave with those from Tamaulipas when in charge of Chinaco during its second resurgence. At that time, La Gonzaleña didn’t have enough agave in reserve as it had in its heyday.
Inside the Mind of An Artist
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” –Michelangelo
Behaving more like a painter or chef–hands on, using all of his senses–Germán González has in mind exactly what he wants Tequila Uno and Tears of Llorona to taste like and what effect he wants to attain with each expression.
He knows that flavor profile exists within the plant and the resulting juice, just like Michaelangelo knew that inside each slab of marble was a statue waiting to be released.
Germán distills Tequila Uno to set the flavors free!
Chemistry vs. Alchemy
“Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.”–Ludwig van Beethoven
Unless prompted, Germán never talks about the numbers, the chemistry or science of distillation like famed Master Distillers Carlos Camarena (Tapatío), Marko Karakasevic (Charbay), or Melkon Khosrovian (Ixa Tequila by Greenbar) have been known to do. In fact, those were Germán’s worst subjects in high school.
Much like a mezcalero (mezcal distiller) does when producing mezcal, he uses his senses to tell him what alcohol by volume (ABV) his tequila should have to achieve the desired flavor and aroma. The numbers then become minor details in the entire scope of things. He allows the formation and density of the lingering bubbles (perlas) in his glass to be his signposts that he has succeeded.
Balance Is Everything
Germán asserts that alcohol in tequila is not just about getting drunk. He describes it as a necessary element in any tequila’s flavor profile. In fact, he contends that mezcals, by and large, should be distilled at 45% ABV or higher to achieve its balance and to acquire its unique flavor profiles.
The key is finding the balance between the ABV and other elements of the highlands agave to bring about the nuances Germán demands for T1. That’s why Selecto is at one measure of ABV and Ultra Fino is at another. It has allowed him to produce two types of tequila for different
The novice just beginning to explore tequila (Ultra Fino), and the collector or connoisseur (Selecto, Excepcional, Estelar) with more discerning tastes. We encountered this technique at our tasting of Roca Patrón. González has perfected this method into his own signature art form.
Germán González shares his global desires for T1.
Composer, artist, distiller–Germán González has elevated tequila into what it has always aspired to be–
A spirit worthy of the attention and appreciation of the masses throughout the world.
Whatever Germán’s next composition, be assured that it, too, will be a work of art, from his heart to yours.
All across the country, in carefully selected cities where the beautiful people roam like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, and San Francisco, the Patrón PR machine (which spent a reported $34.1 million in measured media in 2013), is rolling out its new Roca Patrón line of tequilas.
Here in Tejas, on August 11, 2014, at the famed Brazos Hall in Austin, Tequila Aficionado Media was invited to the head of the line and behind the braided rope to be one of the first to try this new offering from Planet Patrón.
The Brazos Hall was entirely furnished with wooden Roca Patrón branded furniture, fixtures, barrels and props, along with its own stage where a dynamic digital screen replayed a two minute silent video that was programmed to pulsating club music at deafening decibels.
Besides coming with its own publicity campaign that includes a stylized knockoff of their familiar bottle, projecting the Patrón name and iconic bee symbol onto the walls and some snappy slogans on ads and cushy sofa pillows, the entire experience is designed to embed a feeling of Old World rustic tequila-making with a modern twist.
What makes this new addition to the Patrón portfolio any different from its usual ho-hum juice?
Roca Patrón (a Spanish corruption of the English word rock) is made exclusively using a tahona or volcanic stone wheel to macerate agave piñas to extract its juice. Until the invention and adoption of more efficient and less labor intensive shredding machines, this was once how all tequilas were produced.
In this clip, Patrón Quality Director, Mario Chavez, explains why they settled on a 90 proof blanco and reveals some of the details in the pre-planning of the Roca line.
Mario explained that the tahona has always been part of the tequila making process for regular Patrón which they blend after distillation with juice that has been shredded. This method was made famous by Tequila Siete Leguas, Patrón’s original producer, and eventually pilfered by Patrón. For Roca, however, no blending occurs.
In his passion, Mario was sure that there were no other tequilas produced exclusively using a tahona. I reminded him of the sought-after Fortaleza brand which he acknowledged, and Suerte, which he had never heard of. But, why would he? He is so engrossed in his own line that it figures that he would be oblivious to any other ones. An honest, and forgivable, mistake.
The Roca Patrón website has plenty of signature cocktails, but for each of the other 40 odd launch cities including Austin, original recipes were created by hired hot mixologists.
As previously pointed out in our reviews of Cabeza, Tapatío 110, and the entire Dulce Vida line, overproof tequilas shine in cocktails and Roca Patrón is no different.
Both myself and Mario agreed, however, that for a purist, a tequila the caliber of Roca
Patrón would be much better served either neat, or simply on the rocks.
The Break Down
For the sake of transparency, we were served Roca Patrón on tap at room temperature in branded champagne glasses. (Don’t be fooled by the lit-from-behind liquid lines viewed through false tequila barrel tops. Patrón invented the art of visual illusion for these events.)
Patrón reps that evening admitted that it was not the best way to taste test tequila, but considering the amount of guests invited to the launch, it proved more cost effective.
Due to the darkness of the Brazos Hall, observing Roca’s color was next to impossible.
Roca Patrón Silver–90 proof
At first sniff, instant piedra (tahona, rock) with barely any hint of alcohol. The nose gives no warning for what’s to come, however. Extreme agave on the entry, so brace yourselves. Light to medium finish that lingers on the palate, not down your throat. On the second intake, more sweetness is evident.
Roca Patrón Reposado–84 proof
Instant butter on the nose to go along with the wood notes, vanilla and caramel. Mario confessed that his wife is even able to pull some pineapple and pear on the entry. Both were slightly noticeable, again with very little to no alcohol. Aged in American oak barrels and guaranteed to coat your palate.
Roca Patrón Añejo–88 proof
Aged 14 months, mas o menos, there is evidence of dried fruit, nuts and some citrus. Again, very little if any alcohol was present in the nose. Very easy finish, but not as memorable as the reposado even though it, too, will coat the palate.
Both at the event and in digital print, Patrón reps and officials have admitted that there has been a gradual decline in demand for its tequila in the United States. Consumers and industry professionals alike have dismissed it as a brand that rests on its colorful past and deft marketing.
Whether this trend has been due to the rise of mixologists and their demands for better and more artisanal ingredients for their cocktail creations, a more sophisticated and educated consumer, or focusing on its ravenous rise to dominance in the overseas Duty Free market, Roca Patrón is their bold statement to these allegations.
Despite Patrón’s attempt to backpedal into the current craft tequila craze with Roca, it is still a mass produced tequila targeted to their own particular customer base–
Those willing to spend anywhere from $69, $79, and $89 for silver, reposado, and añejo expressions.
Don’t expect to see these prices drop, either. Patrón was one of the only tequila producers that refused to roll back prices during the recession even though consumers were trading down to cheaper brands.
In the end, those faithful Patrón followers who enjoy the Gran Patrón line (Platinum, Piedra, or Burdeos), but not the heady price tags, will appreciate Roca Patrón’s assertive flavor profile and less aggressive cost.
As for the Patrón Road Show…
It was an elegant, eventful, and enlightening affair. Like watching Cirque du Soleil but without the embarrassing costumes.
Watch for a future Sipping Off The Cuff(TM) featuring Roca Patrón, coming soon!