No NOM Necessary – Ohio’s Agave Spirits

Written by Jim Johnston, Tequila Aficionado Tasting Team

No compensation was provided by the brand for this article.

Fans of agave spirits may be surprised to learn that one of the newest blue agave products on the market is distilled, not in Jalisco, Mexico, but Lakewood, Ohio.

Western Reserve Distillers, a family-owned craft distillery a few minutes from downtown Cleveland, has added blue agave spirits to their large portfolio of award-winning bourbon, vodka, gin, and rum, as well as distributing in eleven states.

My Dilemma

I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about anything made from blue agave that was not produced in Mexico, let alone something that was distilled on the shores of Lake Erie.

When tequila aficionados talk about their favorite juice, they can usually identify the elements of the spirit that make it stand out in flavor and quality.

Is the agave that goes into the tequila the sweeter Highlands agave or the earthier Lowlands plant? What is the fermentation process? Do they extract the juice from the cooked pinas using a tahona or (heaven forbid!) a diffuser? Finally, where is the distillery?

I am a proud Ohioan and a staunch advocate for the excellent wines, craft beers and spirits that my state produces. I did not want to give a poor review to a distiller in my own backyard.

But, after receiving samples of Western Reserve’s Blanco and Reposado offerings to review for Tequila Aficionado’s Sipping Off the Cuff, I was pleasantly relieved. 

Mike Morales and I both found Western Reserve Distillers’ Blanco and Reposado blue agave spirits to be not just decent, but excellent.  

The Flavor Notes

The Blanco has a pleasant, sweet citrus-floral nose, with notes of agave and orange zest. It has a sweet, peppery/citrus taste with an underlying agave flavor throughout.  Plus, a nice long finish.

The Reposado retains the sweet citrus notes of the Blanco with the addition of a baked spice nose from aging in Western Reserve’s own whiskey barrels. The sweet and spice combine to make a balanced, baked citrus nose that is very pleasant.

On the palate, the barrel has imparted a lovely baked spice to the floral sweetness and agave.  The pepper at mid-palate is enhanced by a caramel note from the barrel’s char.

The Process

Using certified organic blue agave concentrate sourced from Jalisco, co-owners Kevin and Ann Thomas use a hand-crafted 24 plate column still to produce Western Reserve’s blue agave spirit.

And, if you didn’t notice the lack of a NOM number on the bottle, you would swear that this was a product of Mexico. Even the bottles for their entire spirits portfolio are sourced from Jalisco.

Why Blue Agave Spirits?

With award winning bourbons, ranging from 4 to 15 years old and organic vodka, rum, and gin, I asked the Thomas’s why bother adding an agave spirit?

“It was the natural next step,” said Ann, “and I’m a HUGE fan of tequila!”

Kevin admits that producing its own blue agave spirit in-house has cut down on their personal tequila bill.  He is not shy about noting that they were not exactly drinking bottom shelf juice before this.

“We blind taste our blanco and reposado [to our customers] against some of the biggest brands out there, and we often come out ahead,” said Kevin.

The distillery tasting room is stocked with all of Western Reserve’s products, but it also has several well know competitors sitting on the back shelf.

Brands like Casamigos, Don Julio, and Roca Patron are there waiting to be compared to the house pour by tasting room patrons.

Fearless Prediction

With the explosion of agave spirits in the US, it’s likely not too far off into the future that more offerings of domestic blue agave liquors begin to pop up. 

There will surely be additional tastings on Sipping Off the Cuff featuring more NOM-less agave spirits.

If the stellar products from Western Reserve Distillers is any indication, there are good things to come.

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