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.
That was my logic last fall when I bought a bottle of Tequila Ocho Single Barrel Anejo (NOM 1474). I don’t commonly spend $78 for spirits, but, hey, it was a special occasion made extraordinary by this smart splurge.
Some reviewers tend to gush over new spirit finds and wax poetic about the sipping experience. I promise I won’t do that. But what I do promise is this tequila is worthy of all praise. It is truly exceptional, one the finest I’ve ever tasted.
Made from agave harvested in 2012, the tequila was distilled and aged one year and 19 days under the watchful eye of Carlos Camarena. Bottled at barrel proof (109), the añejo is straw colored, nowhere near the golden brown common even to some reposados. But that lightness belies the profound barrel influence here. As the script on the back label promises, “You hold in your hands the truth of agave, a sepia-toned tequila terroir.”
The nose is powerful, redolent of agave, wild flowers and a hint of caramel. It’s so inviting that it’s hard to wait for it to open up. Just dive right in.
But prepare for the bite, which is neither subtle nor a punch in the face; it’s mostly what you expect from a high-proof spirit. Though it demands your attention, the sting is short lived and quickly gives way to sweet complexity of light caramel backed by citrus, agua miel, huge minerality and white pepper. A second sip delivers spice and smoky wood notes to the mid-palate. That tequila that young picks up so much wood character in only one year is amazing.
A brief rest, then a third sip brings an even greater array of flavors: coriander, lemongrass, field grasses and Vietnamese cinnamon, all riding a wave of ample body.
Some long-aged bourbons never achieve such structure, yet this anjeo gets it in a single year. Surely Mexico’s weather extremes boost body during aging.
I didn’t notice that a friend, a casual tequila drinker who’s not big on it neat, poured himself a a couple of ounces. But I caught his expression of astonishment after he sipped it.
“My gosh, that’s crazy good,” he said. “Where did you get that?” (Isn’t it fun to see someone “get it” and recognize they’re drinking something extraordinary?) He was thrilled to know it came from our neighborhood liquor store.
I’ve had Tequila Ocho’s fantastic plata, and this añejo somehow maintains that expression’s youthful agave and minerality while adding layers of complexity. The aged product is beautiful and exuberant, yet smooth and classy. It’s Rob Lowe in 2015: miraculously holding on to his boyish good looks while maturing with gentlemanly grace. Treat yourself to a bottle of this if you can find it.
Tequila Aficionado is proud to welcome rising star in tequila and travel journalism, Stephen Coomes, as a Contributing Writer and Reviewer. His steady gigs include roles as contributing editor for Nation’s Restaurant News (the U.S. restaurant industry’s largest publication), restaurant critic and feature writer for Louisville magazine, feature writer for Edible Louisville and Seafood Business magazines, Kentucky travel and dining contributor for Southern Living, and dining blogger for Insider Louisville. He also writes marketing, PR, web copy and ghostwrites for numerous private clients. You can visit Steve online at www.stevecoomes.com.