If you’ve seen Mike Morales’ article on the Top 20 Craft Tequilas you’ve overlooked then you’ll understand that picking one (or even 10) from this list is like picking your favorite child. It’s too difficult to do, so your best bet is to vote twice a day for your favorites and spend the rest of your time sipping all of them.
Congratulations to all the nominees. If Mike could pick a top 50 list, it still wouldn’t be enough. Thank you to all the wonderful brands out there who are constantly striving to produce the finest tequilas they can. We love you all!
In order to be called tequila, this spirit distilled from the juices blue agave must be made in specific regions of Mexico, most prominently Jalisco and the town of tequila. While no tequilas are produced in the United States, we want to find the best craft tequila brands available in the country, and to do so, we asked a pair of tequila experts to nominate their favorites. Unlike other spirits, tequila brands often share distilleries – there are about 70 of them producing more than 500 brands – so it’s often the brand rather than the distillery that indicates quality. Many of these 20 nominees for best craft tequila brand use traditional methods. Many of the brand owners grow their own agave and personally oversee the entire tequila-making process. All produce high-quality, distinctive tequilas available in the U.S. market. Vote for your favorite once per day until voting ends on Monday, September 12 at noon ET. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.
[An urgent text message about Kosher tequila from an agave beverage manager at a thriving new bar in New York City, and the resulting questions raised from research into this misunderstood market from all points–tequila and mezcal brand owners, consumers, and rabbinical representatives of the Jewish faith–prompted me to finally discuss the positive, often flawed, and vastly under served kosher tequila and mezcal segments of the market.]
Still confused about the Kosher dietary laws and how it could affect your favorite agave spirits? Then, check out Part 1.
Interested to learn more about how these agave spirits brands came to be certified kosher? See Part 2.
If you’re a…
Tequila and Mezcal Consumer–
Both KMD and KA-Kosher supply lists of kosher certified alcoholic beverages. As we mentioned in Part 1, so does the Chicago Rabbinical Council. In each instance, be aware that when it comes to tequilas and mezcals…
All Lists Are Flawed!
Unlike the CRT’s NOM Lists that are updated roughly each month, these kosher lists seemed not to have been touched in years. And of the brands that were listed, more often than not, were now, sadly, extinct.
Upon closer examination of the KA-Kosher list, many of the certified tequilas are brands distributed in Mexico only. The American kosher consumer is left out in cold (unless you’re on vacation in Mexico during the holidays!).
In another instance, tequila Embajador is listed as kosher. When contacted, neither the importer nor the owners of the distillery was aware that the brand was certified. When they contacted KA-Kosher about the discrepancy, a rabbinical coordinator admitted that Embajador’s certification had lapsed, likely years ago, but whose name still appeared on the list.
In KMD’s case, a quick search reveals that many of the popular global brands listed are suspect and known to process tequilas with diffusers.
In light of new industrial processes like diffusers and their use of sulfuric acid in catalyzed hydrolysis of agave, how can these tequilas be kosher–or even organic–for that matter?
We recently reached out to the cRc and confirmed in a phone conversation with a Rabbinical Coordinator that (at press time) it is taking steps to update its list of kosher tequilas, and, hopefully, adding mezcals.
In the meantime…
How Do I Tell If The Tequila Or Mezcal I Purchase
Glad you asked. First, let’s dispel a few “kosher myths.”
Aren’t All Blanco Tequilas Kosher?
At one time, that was the general point of view by kashut authorities, until the use of glycerin became widely known as an approved additive in the tequila normas.
Here is an article on the OU’s (Union of Orthodox Rabbis) stance on “blenders” such as glycerin in the case of alcoholic beverages.
A Word About Barrels
Another rumor going around is that aged tequilas aren’t considered kosher.
Not so when you consider that one of the most popular kosher brewers on the planet, Shmaltz Brewing Company, ages all their lines, including their recent 2015 holiday offering, Chanukah in Kentucky, in used Jim Beam and Heaven Hill barrels.
Dulce Vida’s 5 year Extra Añejo is also kosher, aged in used red wine barrels from Napa Valley. (And, yes, there are kosher wineries in Napa. Google it!)
Richard Sorenson, founder of Dulce Vida writes, “The barrels are Rombauer Merlot and Cabernet barrels. They are gorgeous barrels and all have the Rombauer logo emblazoned in the wood.”
Without going into too much detail, in a phone conversation with the Rabbinical Coordinator for the cRc, he informed that if a particular barrel was first used to house kosher wine, then generally speaking, that barrel could be used in aging spirits. He also mentioned that there was a way to kosher-ize (referred to as koshered) barrels for aging wines and spirits.
Research shows that some cooking utensils can be boiled or blowtorched to be spiritually cleansed.
In a follow up email with this cRc Rabbinical Coordinator, he wrote: “Kosherizing a barrel which was used to store wine is a complicated and detailed process. One method involves thoroughly cleaning the barrel, followed by a series of fresh water rinsings.”
The rabbi cautions, however, that, “Due to the complex nature of this process, it should only be undertaken by a recognized and reputable kosher agency.”
It goes without saying that each instance should be judged by that kosher agency on a case-by-case, or barrel-by-barrel, basis to ensure proper koshered rules were followed.
To learn more about the beliefs behind kosher wines, click here.
Isn’t Pareve Enough?
This one’s tricky.
A food or drink item labeled pareve means that it can be used together with either a dairy product or a meat product and will not lead to the mixing of meat and dairy as per Jewish dietary instructions. If you’ve perused the aforementioned lists above, you’ll see that term used after each brand.
Keep in mind that all agave spirits are fermented products. Depending on the distillery’s fermentation process, they could be using enzymes and yeast accelerators that could come from animal sources that are prohibited by the Jewish dietary laws, and hense, not pareve.
Given the unreliability of the existing kosher lists in circulation, and the lack of transparency on behalf of multinational corporations that mass produce tequila and mezcal, proceed like any other tequila aficionado and–
Check The Label!
Similar to NOM numbers, and organically certified products, search for the seal of a trusted and well-known kosher certifying agency. Familiarize yourself with their seals and logos shown in Part 1.
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!
Dulce Vida’s Christopher Cain was kind enough to answer the questions we had earlier this week about Dulce Vida Tequila. As you may recall, this is an organic overproof tequila so you know Mike Morales had lots of questions!
Regarding the source of their agave:
“Initially we did source our agave from both the Pacific Coastal Highlands of Nayarit as well as the highlands surrounding San Ignacio and Arandas. For the last three+ years we have moved that to be exclusively from a co-op of growers in the Highlands surrounding San Ignacio and Arandas.”
Regarding the palate feel:
“What you may taste different in our base is the MLF that we do in order to give you a fuller, coating mouth feel. Most producers do not take the time to go through this step. That secondary fermentation sets our pre-distillate apart from the herd and allows what we distill to proof here to not be offensive to the taste.”
Cain went on to say:
“We can’t thank you enough for the review and kind words. Its truly a passion and labor of love, which is why we produce it and do not allow anybody else to do it for us.”
Thanks, Christopher! Tequila Aficionado is a labor of love for us as well, so we completely understand your passion.
Malolactic fermentation is commonly referred to as “MLF”, or (in winemaker’s speak as) “malo” (pronounced may-low). So if MLF is a type of fermentation, what ferments, what does the fermenting, and most importantly, what sort of changes does MLF make to the final sensory quality of the wine? MLF usually occurs shortly after the end of the primary fermentation (when the grape sugar is converted to alcohol by yeast). It is undertaken by the family of lactic acid bacteria (LAB); Oenococcus oeni, and various species ofLactobacillus and Pediococcus. The primary function of all these bacteria is to convert one of the two major grape acids found in wine called L- malic acid, to another type of acid, L-lactic acid. This conversion is accompanied by the production of carbon dioxide (so hence the term, fermentation). Lactic acid tastes markedly less sour than malic acid. In addition lactic acid has a mouthfeel “softness” about it in comparison to the oft described “hard” and “metallic edged” malic acid. In short, MLF results in a natural de- acidification and softening of the wine’s palate. Grapes produced in cool regions tend to be high in acidity much of which comes from the contribution of malic acid. For wines produced from such grapes, de-acidification via MLF is particularly useful as it results in a more balanced and palatable wine.
Although acid reduction is the most obvious result of the growth of lactic acid bacteria in wine, their action can also significantly modify the wine’s aroma, flavour and mouthfeel. These changes may be either good, bad or positively ugly depending to a large extent on which of the lactic acid bacteria dominates the MLF. Some of the Lactobacillus species have been implicated in the production of fetid milk, sauerkraut and sweaty characters. Whilst many high quality Old World wines are characterised and complexed by lactic nuances such as these, when dominant they are rather unpleasant. Some forms of Lactobacillus are also responsible for the production of “mousy taint” which is arguably the most unpleasant of all wine faults. Oenococcus oeni on the other hand is a far more desirable LAB as it typically produces substances that have pleasant and wine sympathetic aromas and flavours. Diacetyl is the most important of these substances, as it provides the most recognisable and characteristic of all MLF characters; butteryness. However, when in excess, diacetyl imparts strong caramel and rancid butter like characters, which can easily dominate the wine. Luckily, the more oenologically desirable Oenococcus oeni generally dominates the MLF as it has a greater tolerance to the high acid and high alcohol environ- ment of wine than the other lactic acid bacteria.
MLF is also thought to generally enhance the body and flavour persistence of wine, producing wines of greater palate softness and roundness. Many winemakers also feel that better integration of fruit and oak character can be achieved if MLF occurs during the time the wine is in barrel.
Wines that typically undergo, and are improved by MLF, are the full-bodied dry whites and medium to full bodied dry reds. But it must be stressed that not all wines benefit from MLF. Rieslings are a classic case in point. As a general rule, the quality of lighter bodied fruit driven wines that require crisp acidity are reduced by the action of MLF. The growth of all LAB are inhibited by cool temperatures and the anti-microbial agent, sulfur dioxide (SO2). Winemakers are therefore able to arrest the onset of MLF when making these styles by maintaining both low temperatures and reasonable SO2 levels during winemaking and subsequent bottling.
There is also a major practical reason why MLF is encouraged during the making of many wines, and in particular reds wines that have previously undergone malo in tank or barrel are far less likely to go through malo when in bottle. The onset of MLF in the bottle is disastrous as the wine will appear to the consumer to still be fermenting (as a result of CO2 being produced). The wine may also lose its fruit integrity and take on the unpleasant lactic aroma of cured meats.
So next time you open that bottle of Chardonnay, spare a thought for those marvellous critters that helped create that complex aroma and that round out and soften its palate. Cheers to these little creators of diversity.