In early August of 2016, I received an email from USA Today asking me to weigh in on their craft spirits-themed Readers’ Choice contests, and in our case (at press time), the soon-to-be-launched craft tequilas list.
I’ll be honest, I dread these lists. What’s worse is, I dread being asked to participate in compiling them.
Let me tell you why.
It’s A List
In the Digital Age, everyone wants things in bite sized form and they want it now. It is also proven that numbered lists draw attention. And, there are so many of them out there on the Interwebs–
Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover…
The 10 Best Ways to Cheat On Your Mate…
Six Ways Your Cat Plots to Kill You…
A Word About Your Sins
Ever wonder why those numbered titles are so enticing?
It’s because they are aimed at the 7 Deadly Sins.
A steadfast rule of copywriters is to compose content that elicits an emotional response from readers to take action.
To drive your particular sin even further to cause you to read the content, the word YOU is hammered into every title.
[Editor’s note: See what I did with my title? You choose which sin fits best for YOU.]
Craft Is A Buzzword
As we thoroughly examined in our reports, Craft Tequila: WTF Does That Mean? Parts 1 and 2, the term craft has been kidnapped by marketers writing fancy copy to confuse the consumer.
While the instructions in the email required at least 20 selections from me, the contest will butcher the selections down to only 10–
Selected by those who are unaware of what a craft tequila really is, and…
Curated by someone whose job it is to find ways to engage USA Today’s readers.
It’s A Contest
When our COO, Lisa Pietsch, examined the contest website and the myriad of other pre-existing lists, she found that this is a clever way for USA Today to increase reader engagement.
Reader engagement translates to readers’ time spent on USA Today’s mammoth website, which in turn translates to money they charge advertisers.
The term we use is “sticky” as in spider’s web sticky.
Which leads me to–
Having been paid to ghost write Editor’s Choice lists in the past, I am fully aware that many times, spirits sponsors of major magazines and websites tend to sneak onto them.
This, despite my vehement objections to the editors that such a move invalidates the list altogether.
So, before any of the Usual Suspects wind up on USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards Craft Tequilas list, here are my selections. Bear in mind, I was limited to only twenty brands.
[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.
In mid-August of 2014, the organizers of the 6th Annual Monterey Bay Tequila & Cuisine, which took place on October 11, 2014, graciously asked Tequila Aficionado Media CEO, Mike Morales, to participate as a judge. Their unique, take-at-home blind tequila tasting competition used the Tequila Matchmaker smartphone application to score and bestow awards. You can review the results of the tasting competition here.
I dreaded tests and pop quizzes in school. I never did well on them no matter how long I studied. The only answer for someone like me to improve his grade was to do extra credit work. Often, that meant the blessing of the occasional take-home test.
aficionados in finding tequilas that are suitable to their taste preferences. It also allows enthusiasts to rate and grade brands on a sliding numerical scale.
Grover has introduced Tequila Matchmaker in some of the leading and trending tequila bars in the US. The Monterey Bay Tequila & Cuisine is the first event to exclusively use the Tequila Matchmaker app for its blind tasting competition.
In this Facebook interview, Grover shares some of his thoughts on the aftermath of the competition.
TA: So…did the results amaze you?
GS: Not really. I wish there were more brands involved so we could get a better comparison.
Last year, when we announced the results, several brands were in the room. They immediately asked questions about the judges. This gave me the idea to “test” the judges as a way of giving the brands an idea of who they were dealing with.
So, duplicating a tequila as a way to “judge the judges” was my answer. A total experiment. Not totally scientific, but definitely interesting.
TA: Did they know who the judges were this time around?
GS: No, we didn’t disclose which judges gave which scores. Also, all of the judges, except for one, did well.
TA: Did they know the names of the judges on the roster?
GS: I believe so.
Also, rating these tequilas from home is a totally different method than rating them with all of the judges in the same room. Not that any one is better than the other, just
that they are different.
I would actually like to try an experiment where the same judges rate things at home, and then again, together (like the SOM [Spirits of Mexico competition] format) and then see the differences.
GS: I also want to experiment with the order of the selection. We can actually use our app to create a random order for each person, so nobody will have the same [order].
TA: That would be a cool variable.
GS: For me at SOM [Grover was a judge at 2014’s contest], palate fatigue is an issue, so it would be interesting to see if tequilas at the end of the line tend to do better. I am fascinated by blind ratings, so I’m having a blast trying all these new experiments.
GS: I know that the SOM guys insist that spirits must be evaluated in the morning, but that seems a little odd to me. I think the judge needs to be consistent, but should be able to choose when they drink. I don’t usually drink in the morning. usually. :-). There’s an element of “real life” that isn’t present when you drink Tapatio 110 at 9am.
TA: Did the certified catador do better than was expected?
Before I go into my pros and cons of rating tequilas using the Tequila Matchmaker app for the Monterey Bay Tequila & Cuisine, let me get a few pet peeves off my chest.
Judging Competitions–What A Concept!
In all my time studying, analyzing and observing the Tequila Industry, not once have I ever known any tequila enthusiast, purist, newbie, connoisseur, collector or consumer (let alone brand owner and/or importer) to be happy with the results of any spirits judging competition.
The older the judging tournaments are, the more importance their annual medal counts are given by an unsuspecting public who only purchase award winning beers, wines and spirits based on their perceived value, instead of trusting its own taste buds.
Those long running competitions become more expensive to enter, forcing smaller more deserving brands out and leaving the larger, transnational corporations with deeper portfolios and bigger budgets to duke it out.
Accusations of alleged backroom negotiations for awards has also been an issue, of late.
And let’s not forget the most lucrative part of the tasting event–
Paying for the rights to use the competition’s branded medals and seals in addition to the entry fees per spirits expression submitted.
Yet, spirits brands in general, and tequila brands in particular, continue to allocate hard-earned marketing dollars toward entering these yearly competitions for the privilege of hanging neck tags from their bottles or affixing stickers onto their labels named for precious metals or gemstones.
At the end of the day, it seems like everyone who participated in the competitions scored some sort of hardware and the rest of us are left shaking our heads in dismay or agreement.
I was once told by a very respected spirits writer that a unified scoring system was good for an event should the organizers decide to hold other branded spirits competitions.
Whoever said that a templated numerical scoring method used to grade different kinds of spirits was appropriate for tequila tastings? Diffusers aside, tequila itself is so unique, it doesn’t compare with the flavor profiles of all other spirits, so why rate them that way?
How about a rating system that’s good for the juice instead of one that’s good for the show? (BTW…one already exists.)
Pros And Cons
Pro–scoring on the Tequila Matchmaker app is amazingly simple.
Con–There’s no numerical rating for the tequilas’ appearance on the Tequila Matchmaker app. Takes the whole sensorial feeling out of tequila tasting. Only your nose and mouth get to have all the fun.
Pro–Shipping two ounce samples is neat and cost effective for the organizers of the show.
Con–See what happens when minis are compromised. (Warning: It’s not pretty.)
I particularly found that my sealed reposado samples were extremely alcohol-y even after sitting at room temperature for a couple of days.
Pro–It’s lovely to take your time judging samples at your leisure. I agree with
Grover that it saves on palate fatigue, too.
Con–I miss the camaraderie of other expert judges and learning from them. It ups your game like playing one-on-one with LeBron James or batting against Clayton Kershaw.
Pro–Depending on my schedule, I chose what time of day to judge my samples.
Con–According to the guidelines set forth by the original Mexican Tequila Academy, tastings should begin by 11 AM when a catador’s (tequila taster’s) palate is freshest. [See also their tequila scoring sheet and criteria.] This article here explains where this custom began.
Pro–I knew which glassware and other tips and tools to use to make me, as a judge, more effective.
Con–The lack of uniformity and protocol among the judges could have affected the final results.
Pro–It was exciting to use Tequila Matchmaker’s breakthrough scoring system.
Con–I can’t, in all honesty, say that I was pleased with the awarded outcomes or my graded performance.
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!
On the anniversary of the first importation of tequila into the United States, Tequila Aficionado proudly presents Carlos Camarena’s most recent offering to Mayahuel as Alex Perez and Mike Morales taste & discuss Tapatio 110 Blanco.
On two separate occasions, Carlos Camarena, the third generation master distiller of El Tesoro de Don Felipe and the equally famous and classic Tequila Tapatío, stepped outside of Las Perlas mezcal and tequila bar in the heart of downtown Los Angeles to enjoy a cigarette.
Taking in the scenery of a chilly and overcast Sunday afternoon in early June, he witnessed the pursuit of a purse snatcher by LAPD, and then an attempted carjacking by another perpetrator while the police were arresting the purse snatcher!
Carlos smiled and shook his head. Surrounded by movie cameras and flood lights outside the front entrance to Las Perlas, his only thought was…
Another average day in LA.
La Perla Tapatía
Once inside the rustic and darkly lit Las Perlas, one of the more complete tequila and mezcal bars in Los Angeles, one realized that the movie cameras weren’t there to record street crimes or another TV reality show. They were there to film an historic event–
The triumphant entrance of the iconic Tequila Tapatío into California and the rest of the United States.
Jeff Couch and Vaughn Halyard, the co-partners of Congenial Spirits, a nimble distributor focused on boutique, handcrafted spirits, and the chosen distributor for Tapatío, had the foresight to sense the importance of documenting its US premier, even adding a professional photographer and a press wall for that red carpet feeling.
The invitees, comprised of LA spirits industry professionals and mixologists, settled in and Raul Yrastorza, the general manager and curator of Las Perlas, began the introductions for this question and answer segment with the guests of honor.
The Charbay Connection
Producing wines, ports, liqueurs, aperitifs, vodkas, rums, and whiskies at the famed Charbay Winery & Distillery in St. Helena, CA, Marko Karakasevic is also the importer of Tapatío under his Marko K Spirits of California banner.
Marko, a bear of a man who looks more like a right tackle for the Oakland Raiders instead of a barely 40 year old 13th generation master distiller, jokingly explains:
“In a family of distillers, no fruit, no root, is safe.”
Here, Marko recounts his first meeting with Carlos Camarena that lead to his family being invited to distill its own brand of Charbay Tequila at La Alteña distillery.
Heads, Hearts & Tails
So what do master distillers talk about in the wee hours of the morning over endless tequila? Distillation, of course!
Carlos Camarena and Marko Karakasevic tell the story of their awkward first encounter that turned into what can only be an enduring relationship based on mutual respect and admiration.
The Upside Down World of Agave Spirits
Carlos chuckled that Miles Karakasevic, Marko’s father, the retired 12th generation master distiller of Charbay, and he did not get along that evening.
Whenever Carlos tried to explain the physics and biochemistry of tequila distillation versus the distillation of other spirits, it was in complete contrast to Miles’ years of education.
Bullshit was uttered more than once.
“It’s not right!” exclaimed Marko.
Carlos discusses the upside down world of agave spirits distillation in depth…
Why Did It Take So Long To Get Here?
On my first visit to La Alteña in 2006, I asked Carlos what would happen if there was a sudden demand in El Tesoro de Don Felipe. Would he be able to fill orders, or be forced to cut corners?
He declared that at any given time, he had approximately one million liters of tequila in storage to handle any spike in demand. There would never be any need to cut corners and suffer a loss in quality. No doubt, his policy also carried over to the Tapatío brand.
Here, Carlos demystifies his reasons for taking almost 76 years to bring Tapatío into the US market, and gives a bit of family history, as well.
During the course of the question and answer session, Congenial Spirits’ Vaughn and Jeff made sure that each of the Tapatío expressions were being served to the crowd in specially branded Tapatío shot glasses, starting with the 80 proof blanco and ending with the stellar Tapatío 110 proof.
Sipping it immediately brought back fond memories of my first trip to La Alteña and tasting this tequila directly from the still.
It hadn’t changed a bit.
Once the Q & A ended, it was time to unleash the infinite possibilities that Tapatío 110 could provide. Amanda Gunderson, Tapatío’s brand ambassador and designer of the evening’s drinks menu, wowed the crowd with her signature cocktails.
Names like Lolita Swizzle and La Alteña guaranteed that everyone in attendance would get a feel of what it would be like to visit Tapatío’s legendary distillery. To say that these cocktails were lethally delicious would be an understatement.
Be aware that Tapatío 110 proof will not only shine in your cocktail and take you back to the Highlands of Jalisco, but it will sing to you for the rest of the evening. Definitely, sip wisely.
The Source Of Life
Since many in attendance weren’t as well versed in the science of distillation as Carlos and Marko were, I asked Camarena how he would define distillation to a lay person.
Here’s what he had to say…
When Tequila Tapatío can be considered the source of life on this planet, there can be no such thing as just an average day in LA–or anywhere else, for that matter.
View more photos of this momentous event on our Facebook page here.